Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, Part III

(This is the third of four articles about this crisis. The other articles may be found at the links: Part I, Part II and Part IV.)

I'd like to examine two background issues that have been much discussed in the context of the clergy sex abuse scandal. They are priestly celibacy (which some regard as a contributing factor to the problem) and the formation and training of priests.

This isn't the place to go into detail about why celibacy is imposed on clergy in the Catholic Church. It would take too much space and time. For those interested in learning more, Wikipedia has a worthwhile summary, as does the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Celibacy is a disciplinary rather than a theological requirement for ordination to the Catholic priesthood. The Church sees it as a supernatural, spiritual gift given by God, something to be sought from Him by candidates for ordination, rather than something occurring naturally. The Church could reverse its requirement for priestly celibacy at any time, as this would involve only a change in Canon Law, not a new or changed doctrine or a reinterpretation of a theological position.

It's generally accepted that celibacy, in and of itself, is not a factor in clergy sexual abuse of children. George Weigel addressed this in a recent article. 'Repressing' the expression of one's sexuality through celibacy has been claimed by some to be fundamentally unhealthy, and therefore a contributing factor to sexual abuses by clergy, but this doesn't hold up to logical scrutiny. For a start, statistics reveal that the father of a family is 36 times more likely to engage in the sexual abuse of children than a celibate priest. Furthermore, there are those who are celibate for reasons having nothing to do with religion, some due to the lack of potential partners; others due to circumstances (e.g. incarceration); still others due to health reasons; and a few by choice. They appear to produce no greater proportion of sexual deviants than do priests or any other group (see next paragraph). I think the attempt to link priestly celibacy to clergy sexual abuse is a 'straw man' argument, used by those who oppose the requirement for celibacy to argue for its moderation or abolition. I see no evidence that the two problems are related.

The news media have emphasized the sensational aspects of the clergy sex abuse crisis (after all, sex sells more newspapers and attracts more viewers), so it may appear as if the Catholic priesthood is filled with abusers. However, that's simply not true. Catholic clergy don't commit such offenses in any greater proportion than clergy of other denominations, or indeed other people in general. Of course, that's no excuse. One expects a priest to be holy, and therefore one would concomitantly expect the proportion of sex offenders in their ranks to be significantly below normal . . . but unfortunately, that's not proved to be the case.

Priestly celibacy has posed problems throughout history. In more sexually permissive and/or tolerant societies, these problems have usually been greater than in more straight-laced or morally restrictive milieux. In modern Western society, where sex is openly discussed and expressed in almost every aspect of life, they're encountered in an even more extreme form. It's very difficult to avoid having sex thrust under one's nose at every turn, whether one likes it or not. (I've even seen a naked woman being used to advertise a farm tractor, for Heaven's sake! I still haven't worked out the connection between them . . . )

Today, in many parts of the world, priestly celibacy is honored more in the breach than in the observance. This is particularly true in the Third World. Priest friends who've visited South America tell me that a large proportion of clergy, particularly in rural areas, have 'informal partners'. I know from personal experience that a great many African priests (I would estimate well over half, in some areas) have concubines or mistresses, if not actual wives. It's been that way for many years. A carefully blind eye is turned to this reality by the local Church hierarchy, because if they didn't tolerate it, they'd have few if any clergy left! In many tribal cultures (which are mostly patriarchal), if a man hasn't fathered a child he isn't considered fully adult, and certainly isn't regarded as competent to offer advice and counsel to other adults. This makes the observance of celibacy by the local priest (who, by definition, is expected to offer advice and counsel) an almost impossible burden. It's even more difficult because his education and position make him a very desirable partner in the eyes of many women in such a culture. (Newsweek recently published a very interesting and troubling article about celibacy in the Church in Africa.)

However, the fact that celibacy has proved difficult doesn't mean that it's not a legitimate requirement on the part of the Church. If she indeed embodies the authority of Christ, and if the New Testament message endorses celibacy as a legitimate part of the calling of a priest, then she is correct to insist on it for her clergy. It's as simple as that. To maintain otherwise is not so much to disagree with celibacy as to call into question the foundation for all the Church's teaching . . . and that road leads, ultimately, to heresy for Catholics.

Some have alleged that the celibate nature of the Catholic clergy has provided a haven or refuge for frustrated homosexuals. I think it depends what one means by that. Contrary to some alarmist and hysterical outbursts in the news media, I don't believe for a moment that the Catholic priesthood is a hotbed of homosexual activity. Certainly, in my years as a priest, I saw no indications of it. (Let me admit, however, that because I'm heterosexual in orientation, I might have missed signs that would have been obvious to someone of a different bent – you should pardon the expression.) On the other hand, I've met a fairly large number of priests who were homosexual by orientation. As far as I'm aware, those I met were not sexually active, remaining celibate and chaste. I certainly have no evidence to the contrary. (I learned to value the ministry of such men very highly. They demonstrated a sensitivity and discernment in difficult counseling situations that I lacked, and I referred several cases to them with outstanding results.) On the basis of my own experience, I'd accept that up to a quarter of Catholic priests in the US might be classified as being of homosexual orientation. Of course, I have no hard, empirical evidence for this figure; it's my personal opinion, not a statement of demonstrable fact. However, others have advanced similar 'guesstimates'.

Having only limited personal experience of them, I can't offer an opinion about homosexuality in religious orders (groups of men or women who follow the teachings of their founder(s), living in communities – although some undertake pastoral and apostolic work in isolation – and observing a common Rule of life). According to the news media, it appears that certain establishments run by some religious orders have been rife with the sexual abuse of children, involving homosexual acts in the vast majority of reported cases. This is sickening beyond belief, and I can only hope and pray that the problem was restricted to the institutions and orders so far identified. To think that it might be ongoing and as yet undiscovered in other Church institutions is a prospect too ghastly to contemplate.

Despite denials by the politically correct, I believe there's a great deal of evidence linking active homosexuality and ephebophilia, a form of pedophilia. If one examines the cases of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that have been publicly disclosed, the overwhelming majority involved homosexual encounters between male clergy and juvenile males. It's my opinion that this demonstrates the link between ephebophilia and active homosexuality so clearly as to put it beyond reasonable doubt. (This is not to say that all active homosexuals are also ephebophiles; but according to the information at my disposal, most ephebophiles have been found to be active homosexuals.) The Catholic Church has adopted a similar official position. This and subsequent Church statements have aroused vehement rejection in the homosexual community, but as I said above, I believe there's evidence to substantiate the Church's perspective. Those rejecting it can't do so on the basis of their feelings alone; they must produce their own evidence to support their position and disprove the Church's. So far, I haven't seen any.

The classical definition of ephebophilia denoted at least a romantic, and usually a sexual, attraction between adult males and male youths. In recent years, attempts have been made to broaden the definition of the term to include attraction between adults and youths of either sex. This is blatantly false, of course, as even a cursory examination of the Greek roots of the word will demonstrate. The word ephebe means an adolescent male or a young man, and has nothing to do with a girl or woman. 'Ephebophilia', derived from ephebos and philia, is thus perfectly clear in its original meaning. I can only assume that politically correct elements have sought to alter the modern understanding of the word, in an attempt to minimize its homosexual connotations.

I think it's obvious that once one's sexuality has been awakened, it's very difficult to shut it down again. I'm therefore in favor of efforts by the Catholic Church to ensure that candidates who are or have recently been sexually active are not admitted to priestly formation and training, and/or are removed from that path before ordination. This applies to both heterosexual and homosexual candidates, of course. Given the evidence exposed during this scandal, I think it's no more than common sense to place greater emphasis on identifying and excluding actively homosexual candidates, on the grounds that they're more likely to be at risk of ephebophilia. (On the other hand, any candidate who consistently and successfully observes celibacy over an extended period should be acceptable for ordination, as far as this aspect of his preparation is concerned. It shouldn't matter whether his sexual orientation is heterosexual or homosexual, or whether he was once sexually active, so long as he can keep his sexuality under control.)

Furthermore, if celibacy is to be maintained as a requirement for the clergy, I would argue that any priest who cannot maintain his promises or vows of celibacy and/or chastity (and by that I mean repeated and/or long-term violations, not necessarily a single slip-up) should be laicized rather than allowed to continue his ministry. This should, of course, apply irrespective of the priest's sexual orientation.

As for the formation imparted to candidates for the priesthood, as mentioned in the first article of this series, I believe this is a very significant element of the current crisis. During the last half of the previous century, in many seminaries, academic formation came to be emphasized as vitally important. Unfortunately, it appears that in at least some seminaries the personal, spiritual and pastoral formation offered to candidates did not receive the same emphasis as their academic preparation, and did not keep pace with the rapidly changing mores of society. It seems to have remained rooted in an expectation of self-discipline, and (at least initially) an aversion to 'new-fangled' ideas such as the insights provided by psychology, psychiatry and other useful fields of study. As long ago as 1962, the Superior General of the Servants of the Holy Spirit wrote to the Holy Office as follows:

... after more than forty year[s] in the priesthood I am personally convinced that we are not turning out today, either in religious orders or in the diocesan priesthood, men as deeply dedicated to the priesthood as we did in former days. The reason for this, if it be so, and many experienced priests agree with me that it is so, the reason in my mind is that this emphasis placed on intellectual qualifications has brought about a de-emphasis on the necessity of the priest of God being a man of prayer. Before leaving the seminary, diocesan or regular, the young priest should have at least a beginning of the foundation of an interior life. Besides this need of interior life, we have reached the conclusion from our experience with hundreds of casualties that in fully 30% of the cases of priests who have failed Our Lord their entrance into the priesthood followed upon the (exposure) of question marks against their qualifications that were overruled in one way or another by someone in authority. Red lights of warning were flashing and these warnings were not observed. More careful screening of candidates would seem to be desirable. The man of intellect, unless that intellect is balanced by moral qualities and humility, is potentially a liability rather than an asset in the priesthood.

Increasingly we find "immaturity" in the priests coming to us, which is indicative of a lack of both motivation and of capacity for the sacrifice inherent in the priestly vocation. Apparently some professors do not realize that immaturity and intellectual brilliance are not contradictory terms.

In my own experience of seminary life, I found those comments to be accurate. We were told of the necessity for a spiritual or 'interior' life, but left to develop it for ourselves, with relatively little guidance unless we specifically sought it. In addition, a great many contemporary approaches were given equal weight with the two thousand years of experience and knowledge built up by the Church in this area (a wealth of experience that is priceless). The inclusion of such short-term, untried, untested elements at the same level as those that have proven their worth over centuries was in my opinion (with the benefit of hindsight) most unwise. As a matter of fact, we students used to joke amongst ourselves that we'd end up becoming priests in spite of the seminary, rather than because of it! As long as our academic results were of the required standard, and we displayed no obvious weirdness in our behavior, it was unlikely that we'd be 'down-checked' before ordination.

In recent decades, and particularly since the eruption of the clergy sex abuse scandal, attempts have been made to reinvigorate the formation of candidates for the priesthood. Regrettably, in my view, these have often focused upon spiritual fads (e.g. the Enneagram, non-Christian spiritualities, and the like) rather than orthodoxy, and upon secular disciplines such as psychology rather than genuine spiritual formation. In my experience as a prison chaplain, working closely with psychologists, I was able to see at first hand how many inmates tried to 'game the system' by falsifying their responses to psychological testing. In a prison environment, where they could be observed closely all day and every day, this was relatively easy to detect, as their conduct tended to give them away. However, in a seminary, where such close observation is not feasible (particularly when the student is in his room, or away from the premises), it's easier for those with tendencies towards delinquency to hide them. They can fool the psychologists (not always, but quite a lot of the time).

Furthermore, psychology is a 'soft' science (some would call it a pseudo-science). It's not based on empirical facts and experiments like physics or chemistry, but depends upon human observation and interpretation, which have few absolutes. It's also influenced to a very great extent by the frame of reference within which it's conducted. Witness, for example, the different interpretations and applications of psychotherapy by the Freudian and Jungian schools, whose adherents might reach radically different conclusions about the same patient based upon their different perspectives. Much depends on the qualifications, motivation and insight of the psychologist. What if he or she is perhaps opposed to priestly celibacy, or supports a more liberal interpretation of human sexuality? Is there not a possibility that he or she will be less likely to expose someone with similar views, out of misplaced sympathy? What guarantee is there that a dissembling student won't be able to portray himself as a suitable candidate for ordination by masking or disguising his personal issues from the psychologist? In the absence of 'hard' data, it's not particularly difficult to do so.

Another problem is that young people today, particularly in the USA and other first world nations, are sexually active in far greater numbers, and at a much earlier age, than in previous generations. This, in turn, means that many (perhaps most) candidates for the priesthood are no longer virgins. Some have extensive sexual experience. I don't believe this necessarily disqualifies them from consideration, but their formation must take account of this reality. As I said earlier, it's hard to switch off one's sexuality once it's been awakened. Older priests and others involved in formation may not have enough real-world knowledge and experience to appreciate this. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that many seminarians have a far better understanding of sex and sexuality, both in theory and in practice, than their professors!

In times past, the sacrificial nature of the priesthood was emphasized during formation. Candidates knew they were entering upon a vocation that would not bring them worldly riches, would demand their total commitment, and would earn its reward not in this life, but in eternity. Today, however, there's no longer much of a sacrificial element (in material terms) to being a priest in most of the USA. His salary may be relatively low, but it's almost all available for discretionary spending, as most of his needs (accommodation, food, furniture and household necessities, utilities, transport, insurance [vehicle, possessions and medical], computer and Internet facilities, etc.) will be provided by his parish. (In contrast, priests in the Third World lack many of these benefits, or receive them on a far more limited scale. They experience the materially sacrificial nature of the priesthood far more meaningfully.)

Is this, perhaps, part of the problem? Have priests in the First World become 'soft', cocooned in a luxury unknown to their predecessors or their counterparts in the Third World, and therefore lacking the discipline of a simple lifestyle? Might this be a contributory factor to clergy sex abuse? Personally, I'd answer 'yes'. I believe the absence of a simple lifestyle and the discipline it requires has contributed to a general relaxation of the standards of the priesthood. I'm by no means advocating a bread-and-water diet while sleeping on a wooden plank; but compare religious orders that strictly observe the evangelical counsels with those that don't. Which are thriving, and which are dying? Which are receiving plentiful vocations, and which are struggling to find and retain recruits? In almost every case of which I'm aware, the orders demanding the greatest sacrifice and the strictest discipline are the ones that are thriving and growing. That says something, right there.

This is substantiated in other fields of human endeavor, of course. Look at military units. Those with the highest standards for recruits, and the toughest, most demanding training, have the highest reputation and the greatest impact on the battlefield. The US Marine Corps, or the British Royal Marines, or the French Foreign Legion, or the Russian Spetsnaz GRU, could tell you a lot about that. As a combat veteran, I know there were units we welcomed alongside us in battle due to their proven 'toughness' and effectiveness; but we looked askance on others and doubled our security, because we didn't trust them to safeguard our flanks. For another corollary, look at terrorist organizations. The most dangerous are those which demand that their members be willing to face certain, inescapable death in order to accomplish an operation, such as the 9/11 atrocities. One would think that such a prospect would deter potential recruits, but there seems to be no shortage of volunteers. To demand total commitment appears to attract a higher quality of person, whether it be for a good or an evil end.

If the Catholic Church is to demand of its clergy a difficult and costly discipline such as celibacy, should it not ask them to match their commitment in that area by observing a sacrificial discipline in others as well? If not, does it not run the risk that the absence of sacrificial discipline in some areas might make it more difficult to observe such a discipline in others, such as celibacy? If one can readily gratify one's desires in some areas, will a purely disciplinary restraint be sufficient to prevent one from crossing moral boundaries in others? I can't give a definitive answer to those questions, but I submit that they need to be asked – and answered – by those in a better position to do so.

There are those who maintain that the abolition of the requirement for clergy celibacy would solve existing problems and make for a much healthier priesthood. I see no reason why married clergy might not be very effective – after all, married deacons are doing a sterling job in many parts of the world – but I strongly disagree that removing celibacy would solve all or even most problems. On the contrary, it would add a whole new set of them! They include (but are not limited to) areas such as the restrictions imposed by family life on the amount of time the priest could make available for his ministry; the cost of maintaining a family, necessitating higher salaries and improved accommodation for married clergy; the difficulty of dealing with problems such as adultery, divorce, etc. in the priesthood (which would inevitably affect married clergy, as they and their spouses would be just as vulnerable to temptation and sin as any other human being, even as celibate clergy are now); and so on.

No, I really don't think that the abolition of celibacy would solve the clergy's problems. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the Church claims to speak with the authority of Christ Himself when she teaches that celibacy is an integral element of the Catholic priesthood. That being the case, faithful Catholics accept her right to impose such a discipline. Those who don't accept her authority to insist on celibacy are implicitly challenging that same authority in terms of doctrine and dogma as well. If they wish to be honest, they should take that to its logical conclusion and find their spiritual homes elsewhere.



Kansas Scout said...

This is where you lost me. While your opinion is interesting, it reflects a continuing ideological point of view that I would contend is not soundly based on empirical evidence and rationality. It seems to be pretty much a religous point of view. While that is good enough for many, it too often can be disconnected from the stark reality of human behavior because it is always filtering that analysis of behavior through the idea of what people "ought" to be doing in "ideal" constructs. This pits human beings as they are against expectations well removed from what they are capable of and remaining healthy.
I contend that "celibacy" promotes neurotic responses in clergy who are very often needy people. Sexuality is a normal expression and activity. Branding that normal healthy activity as undesirable and hence, to be repressed is dangerous and unhealthy. Sexuality is bound up with human need for intimacy and love and primal drives for reproduction. Remove healthy normal expressions and your going to get non normal atypical neurotic behavior. Really, the real problem is "christian" thinking on sexuality and it's repulsion and retreat from humanity. Sexuality is not sinful. As long as any church thinks so, people are going to suffer.
As you know, the vast majority of people in any church, including the Catholic Church, disregards official church teaching and go ahead and do what they want anyway. It's a fact and you know it. The rest is just a head game.
I say this respectfully. Not meant to be inflammatory against the RC or any other Church. In other areas I have deep respect for the RC.

Geodkyt said...

I would say I almost agree.

Keep in mind your own estimate that one quarter of priests are homosexual.

That is a number FAR in excess of teh general population, even if you use the (vastly overinflated, in my opinion) 10% number tossed around. . .

Given that most of the sexual child abuse cases have been homosexual in nature, and presuming that sexual deviants ocur in roughly the same percentages in homesexuals wearing Roman collars and dark blazers to work versus ones wearing blue jeans or neck ties to work, and given that the clergy is a "high access" role, can you really claim that priests are offending at the same rate as the general population? Seriously?

I have to ask -- how many homosexual Catholic young men decide (sincerely, if wrongly) that the best way to avoid the temptation of homosexual sin is to hide from their sexuality in an accepted fashion, i.e., the priesthood?

I would submit that some would -- "Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing one." It's HUMAN NATURE to try and find ways to avoid dealing with things that are tough to deal with.

We see examples of similarly wrong-headed thinking every single day, even amongst people who are apparantly bright, sane, and basically good.

Now, if you are someone who has DELIBERATELY chosen a profession, in the expectation that it will allow you to just ignore your sexuality, chances are you aren't going to have very good coping skills set up. Which makes you FAR more likely to find yourself going farther down a path you never intended to.

I'll take myself. I am a horny SOB. Always have been. Was not one prone to utter the word "No" very often (especially in my early twenties).

I never expected that getting married would relieve me of those urges -- I'm married, not dead. So I do not LET myself forget it. Therefor, the risk that I would find myself slipping up is reduced -- I KNOW I will be tempted, AND that I am particularly vulnerable to that temptation, so I stand constant guard against it.

I have known other married people (of both sexes) who, although actually quite intelligent and reasonably good people, really felt that being married would automatically change them so that their previously promiscuous urges wouldn't be a problem. And most of them ended up being unfaithful. . .

I'm NOT saying celibacy creates problems. I am saying that some people think celibacy will automatically SOLVE their personal problems. . . which makes them MORE vulnerable to temptation, as they discard their safety barriers as "unnecessary".

Given the success of Orthodox, Eastern Rite Catholics (Catholics who aren't of teh Western "Latin" Rite, but are Catholics under the Pope nonetheless), former Anglican priests, etc., I think that priestly celibacy is definately an unnecessary (and apparantly ineffective) mandatory discipline to try and enforce. I can also state that it DOES reduce the pool of candidates available to apply for Holy Orders.

Perhaps a better disciplinary rule might be considered, to take the place of mandatory celibacy (while still allowing those Orders that CHOOSE celibacy as part of their Rule to continue as is -- even if celibacy were lifted today, I don't see the probability of married Jesuits, after all. . . ).

Even if non-celibate (i.e., married) priests were limited to "priest" only functions (pastoral roles, low-level bureaucrats in higher echelons) and prohibited from consecration as a bishop, it would likely open the field of candidates much wider, allowing the Church to go to a more stringent selection process.

LabRat said...

Re "ephebophilia"...

I'd submit that it requires a special male-defined word because heterosexual male attraction to the female equivalent (young and still culturally a child but reproductivley mature) is regarded as normal and therefore not needing any special term of its own. "Barely legal" and "naughty schoolgirl" porn aren't marketed to adolescent boys, but adult men. "American Beauty" isn't the story of a man the viewers are to find so strange they're not supposed to identify with him.

Given that in Biblical times girls of a similar age would be regarded as about ready to marry- and boys the same, though most patriarchal cultures definitely favor older men with younger partners- it's hardly a modern perversion either.

What I DO regard as unusual is an exclusive attraction to youths- if only because it implies someone who cannot cope sexually with someone on an equal power level as they. Which is very dangerous indeed for anyone they might prey on. Permitted exploitation of youths, which is institutionalized in many cultures with many different arrangements of sexualities, strikes me as the real moral danger- and functionally speaking, the Church's problem.

Anonymous said...


I would agree that maybe some form of expanded married priesthood MIGHT work in the West. But I think it's more important to fix the problem with priestly formation and focusing teaching our young people to discern their callings (Priestly or not).

Opening the priesthood to married men who are as poorly catechized as anyone else and then training them with the same failed process is just asking from more trouble.

Anonymous said...

“Branding that normal healthy activity as undesirable and hence, to be repressed is dangerous and unhealthy.”

Priestly Celibacy is NOT a doctrine stating that sexuality undesirable and needs to be repressed. It is the total opposite. It’s the discipline that sex is such a wonderful gift from God that one chooses to return it to Him gratefully in exchange for a deeper relationship with God Himself. Just like any other form of “Abstinence”, either temporary or permanent, it’s not about giving up something sinful; it’s about returning something good because you want something better.

“Sexuality is not sinful. As long as any church thinks so, people are going to suffer.”

If you believe the Church teaches repressive ideas about sex being sinful, you need to look into The Theology of the Body that Pope John Paul II codified during his pontificate. It’s all about the beauty of the body and the language of sex.

“As you know, the vast majority of people in any church, including the Catholic Church, disregards official church teaching and go ahead and do what they want anyway.”

And just as Alan Gura pointed out in McDonald v. Chicago:
"Justice Sotomayor, States may have grown accustomed to violating the rights of American citizens, but that does not bootstrap those violations into something that is constitutional"

People may have grown accustomed to violating Chastity, but that doesn’t bootstrap that into something that is Saintly.

The argument that hyper open sexuality is good because everyone is doing it so it must be good is a circular argument that seeks to white wash the fact that our hyper sexualized culture has damaged women, men, and children by focusing only on our sexual appetites and not our whole being let alone our whole sexual natures. If we lived our physical lives the way modern psychology would have us live our sexual lives, we’d all be fat, lazy, and just looking for the next free lunch. Oh... Wait a minute...

Furthermore, the abuse scandal has nothing to do with celibacy, priestly or other, since even married priests (which is the norm in the Eastern Church) are still called to a Chastity befitting their state in life. Meaning they wouldn’t be allowed to have sex with anyone outside of their own marriage. And if the expression of sexuality inside the marital bedroom was a panacea that cured all other ills, then there would be no sexual abuse in families, no infidelity, no pornography in a married man’s home, and married men would never go into Hooters or a strip club.

Anonymous said...


I tend to agree but would say that the Church has to keep the idea of Same Sex Youth attraction different from Opposite Sex Youth attraction if for no other reason than solutions to managing each may be different. The Church has seen what painting with a broad brush has done on this issue so far. I think it may want to start narrowing in on the details a bit more.

But I do agree that each is reprehensible and at the core has a need to dominate and/or total sexual immaturity.

LabRat said...

I have no real quibble with that, just with the idea that attraction to youths- as well as the moral crime of acting on it- is uniquely tied to homosexuality, "active" or no. It ties into the "dangerous perverts" stereotype; I don't wish to downplay the actual dangerous perverts, or homogenize approach to specific problems- Peter's own observation of the high proportion of gay men means exploitative ones will be a bigger problem by virtue of sheer numbers. What I DO wish is to point out they're not any more dangerous perverts than straight men, which can be plenty dangerous in their own right.

Outside the church, girls are overwhelmingly more victimized by adult predators than boys. I see both as an issue of demographics, opportunity, and morality rather than sexuality.

Anonymous said...

" (I've even seen a naked woman being used to advertise a farm tractor, for Heaven's sake! I still haven't worked out the connection between them . . . )"

Think "fertility", as well as several metaphors for planting and tilling. Although I'd wager the woman in question showed none of the hallmarks of a fertile mate--like ample hips.

Unknown said...

the meaning of words is not determined by etymology but by usage. if ephebephilia is used consistently to refer to attraction of adults towards adolescents, and it is, then that is what it means, etymoology has nothimg to do woth it. The word 'Hysteria' is derived from the greek Hysterikos but not only women suffer hysteria.

Old NFO said...

Thanks for another excellent post Peter.

STxRynn said...

Thank you for writing this. I am truly gleaning a lot of information from it.

It's something we all deal with: point of view. I see things through my "glasses": upbringing, culture, faith, etc. I never understood very much about the RC (neat shorthand btw). I am a protester (protestant) of the first order.

In order to understand you better, I've been really digging into your posts. I've learned a lot. My brother is RC, and very active in the church. I know better how to communicate with him now, too.

Thank you for turning on the light of understanding. You have a great way with words. I look forward to your posts with anticipation, especially this one.


Geodkyt said...


Go back and re-read my last sentance.

Expanding the list of available candidates means you can be pickier in selecting who ultimately gets selected and ordained, and still increase the numbers of new priests.

I have known Catholic men whose only reason for not pursuing Holy Orders was the fact that they were (or fully intended to eventually be) married and father children. I knew very early on (before puberty) that Holy Orders were not for me, because I was called to be a father more than a Father. (Sometimes joked with Episcopalean friends that I wished I was Episcopalian, too, for that reason. Joke's on me -- I ended up Anglican anyway. . . but mostly as a reaction against my bishop and the Marxist sycophants he promoted for a quarter century.)

Peter said...

Kitsune9t wrote: "the meaning of words is not determined by etymology but by usage".

Sorry, but I couldn't disagree more strongly. Words have defined meanings. Those meanings may change over time, or have new meanings added (for example, 'gay' had one specific meaning, but today has the added meaning of 'homosexual' - but that hasn't invalidated its original meaning). However, if they mean whatever current usage says they mean, that would instantly invalidate our Constitution and laws, based as they are on the original meaning of the words. It would also invalidate many contracts in business, as key words might no longer mean the same thing.

Medic3 said...

Great series of articles and somewhat reminiscent of what I heard as my father decided against becoming a Father later in life. I must take issue with your repetition of Manfred Luetz's assertion that, "The father of a family is 36 times more likely to abuse than a celibate priest." Luetz does not cite any source in the article linked and it is laughably easy to disprove through publicly available statistics and basic math.

The incidence of substantiated sexual abuse by priests in the US was 4,392 priests out of 109,694 serving between 1950 and 2002, that is approximately 4% and does not include accusations made against deceased priests. (2004 John Ray Report) In order for a family father to be 36 times more likely to abuse, that would require greater than 100% (144%) be abusers.

This statistic may be a misleading poor phrasing that victims of sexual abuse are 36 times more likely to have been abused by a family father than by a priest, but that is not the same as stating that a family father is 36 times more likely to abuse sexually. The offense per capita of these population subsets points at a higher incidence among priests (at least between 1950 and 2002, in the US).

Incidence of child sexual abuse in the home is approximately 8.9 victims per 10,000 child population. (DOJ and DHHS public data) Offender statistics are harder to come by, but even assuming that each and every victim was molested by a different perpetrator (99% male, so assume 100%) and that they represent typical family sizes, that still results in an offender per capita of 0.27%. One sixteenth that of the US Catholic priests.

But aside from that, great series of articles so far.

Anonymous said...

Peter, I'm new to your blog so will begin with thanks and respect for the quality of your writing and thinking. I am not a Catholic, but grew up in Catholic schools, surrounded by the upheaval of the 1970s. I felt the traditions were both romantically lovely, and oddly irrational - but I know many Catholics feel the same, so that is not unique. I have great respect for those who choose to celebrate God and life through the RC, provided they maintain some confidence in their own powers of thinking and reason. I fervently believe that reason and faith can and must go together.

It's that issue that draws me to your fascinating comments here:

"For another corollary, look at terrorist organizations. The most dangerous are those which demand that their members be willing to face certain, inescapable death in order to accomplish an operation, such as the 9/11 atrocities. One would think that such a prospect would deter potential recruits, but there seems to be no shortage of volunteers. To demand total commitment appears to attract a higher quality of person, whether it be for a good or an evil end."

You have quite correctly implied that the 9/11 terrorists had "an evil end." But it seems to me you've not fully reasoned this perspective.

What is it that these terrorists and others pursuing "good ends" have in common, by this analogy? It is the suspension of reason. And the suspension of independent thought. To follow absolutely. That, in many cases (not all, it depends on the tradition), is often the definition of orthodoxy.

I do wish Catholics as individuals and a community of faithful find ways to heal these wounds (your series of blog posts are really fantastic, although I disagree with various interpretations of fact). But how can a Catholic, priest or lay member, find God, or peace, or himself if he hangs up his powers of independent thought?

You do not advocate this in so many words, I do admit that. But your comments advocating the recruitment of those willing to surrender all of themselves to authority, as being one solution the problem of middling or neurotic seminarians is, I believe, tantamount to doing so.

It won't shock you to know I consider myself a Gnostic. My insistence on knowing and loving God through reason as well as faith and practice brands me a heretic. I can live with that. But how many Catholics will leave their faith altogether if they cannot embrace their minds and hearts in unison?

With respect,

Peter said...

Julia, thanks for your comment. You should know that one of the primary requirements of the Catholic Church is that one's reason should be fully involved with one's faith. I invite you to read the Encyclical Letter Fides Et Ratio (On The Relationship Between Faith And Reason) of Pope John Paul II, dated 14 September 1998. It's very thought-provoking reading. You can find it online at:


(link is to an Adobe Acrobat document, but I assume you have or can download Acrobat Reader.)

Thanks again for your comment.

James Nelson said...

You lost me when you made this a homosexual issue. Child molesters go after children, not genders. I'm not carrying any water here for the gay community, they can speak for themselves. The fault is in thew Catholic Church as an institution, looking to blame a disliked segment of society is just deflecting the real blame. An older person forming a heterosexual relationship with an adolescent is hardly unusual, it often seems to be common fantasy.

BubbaDave said...

Celibacy is a disciplinary rather than a theological requirement for ordination to the Catholic priesthood.

It's worth noting that there are married Anglican/Episocopal priests who join the Roman Catholic church; they function fully as priests while still living in a mariage relationship. There are also married Catholics who seek ordination; they are required to live with their wives "as brother and sister." So it's not all cut and dried. I'd further note that to my knowledge not one of those married Anglicans-turned-Catholic (admittedly a small sample) has been accused of any sex abuse of minors.

For a start, statistics reveal that the father of a family is 36 times more likely to engage in the sexual abuse of children than a celibate priest.

I followed the link, hoping for a source for that incredible number; however, all I got was a bald assertion from the theologian/psychiatrist who also organized a 2003 Vatican congress about the abuse of children. You'll forgive me if I ask for independent confirmation of that number?

I think the attempt to link priestly celibacy to clergy sexual abuse is a 'straw man' argument

I think it's safer ground to link priestly celibacy to the Church's unwillingness to harshly discipline priests who stray. The US church is desperate for priests, and it seems reasonable that it would be easier to laicize and/or prosecute the bad apples if there were an easy way to replace them.

The classical definition of ephebophilia denoted at least a romantic, and usually a sexual, attraction between adult males and male youths. In recent years, attempts have been made to broaden the definition of the term to include attraction between adults and youths of either sex.

Whether you prefer a different word or not, I think there's ample evidence that men of any orientation are attracted to teens; a quick Google for "barely legal teens" tunred up 230,000 pieces of evidence, and "jailbait" another 1.5 million. The difference is that most, hetero and gay, avoid acting on their urges.

If the Catholic Church is to demand of its clergy a difficult and costly discipline such as celibacy, should it not ask them to match their commitment in that area by observing a sacrificial discipline in others as well?

A couple of decades ago, when I was at Creighton University, a freind and I were part of a group of young men invited to come watch a movie with the Jesuits and talk about the Order. The Jesuits took the opposite approach, emphasizing their comfortable, if not luxurious living arrangements and the camaraderie of fraternal living as well as the opportunites for study and contemplation. (I don't know if they actually won any recruits for the order that night; I can tell you that neither I nor my friend John had the slightest interest in celibacy. It was a cool movie, though.)

Anonymous said...

Peter, thank you for the reminder that John Paul II advocated for the faithful to maintain their powers of reason.

He was a fascinating pope. I have close Polish friends and, through them and my own vivid memories of the end of the Cold War, I appreciate his special role in advancing reason and combating authoritarianism in secular life.

But you'll appreciate that there are many of us, whether Catholic or not, who find it exceedingly difficult to square John Paul's defense of political freedoms with his rigid, indeed enthusiastic position fighting family planning efforts in the developing world, for example (leaving aside the more complex issues of sex abuse scandals).

I can't claim to be anything other than an inquisitive observer of the Roman church's influence in the developing world - clearly you have deep knowledge of that area, having lived and - I think - studied there.

But of all the many cognitive dissonances that rattled me most, growing up in a Catholic girl's school where our academic and spiritual needs received a great deal of careful attention, the issue that most dogged me was how any pope or church could rationally advocate against any scientific means of family planning that didn't amount to abstinence. The rational, real-life results are self evident - poverty, maternal and child diseases, horrible strains on resources, eventual violence that flows from that strain on resources.

I suppose the answer to my concern would be something on the order of "But the Pope advocates abstinence and rhythm and...." etc.. And that this is part of being a good lay Catholic, that you deny your spouse and yourself physical intimacy in order to sanctify sex as a means of procreation.

That's not a rational response to gut-wrenching poverty, disease and the on-the-ground realities those families face.

I appreciate that John Paul was an admirable pope in some ways. But if we're analyzing questions about who is attracted to the priesthood, and what the church is doing to attract the best and brightest - or send them screaming out of frustration or cognitive dissonance - I think it's valid to demand that a pope "make sense."

John Paul II was learned, deeply spiritual (this alone deserves praise and reflection because it's rare among Company Men, which he was not). But, in this area, he defended a humanitarian dissonance that I, and many rational men who might otherwise love a life in service to the Lord and to families, can not reconcile.

Perhaps you can shed light on this area. How does the rational seminarian (if indeed they exist and haven't been drummed out by the intellectually immature or the unthinking zealots), make sense of this imbalance?

You beautifully pointed out that some changes that could benefit the church and the faithful need not be deeply disruptive. If they are matters of law, and not likely to trample fundamental interpretation of gospel.

Is the family planning/poverty and disease problem such an area where Canon law might allow some flexibility due to the prevalence of male or husband-dominated families in the developing world, and wives' relative inability to control it? Or is it particularly valuable to maintaining the integrity of Catholic belief?

While I could accurately be called a feminist, I am also a woman who loves men and has fond memories and lasting respect for many of the good men I met who wore the collar. I don't automatically assume they're looking to keep me or other women down in any way. But how does the rational priest make sense of this policy on the ground? John Paul II was most particularly defensive of the church's resistance to family planning in any manner that physicians would consider functional? Rational, in other words.


Peter said...

Julia, thanks for another very good and well-phrased question. To answer it, I'm going to have to refer you to three sources. The first is the text of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter of 1968 that re-stated the Church's teaching on contraception. You'll find it at:


Second, a theologian's comments on Humanae Vitae some decades later. These give valuable background about how it came to be written, and the theological dissent between the majority and minority reports that preceded it. I find myself at one with the author in the dilemma he describes. The article's at:


Finally, an article in the National Review, which perhaps brings home the truth that the warnings sounded by Pope Paul VI over four decades ago have proved remarkably prescient. In other words, this isn't just about birth control. The article's at:


I have serious problems of personal interpretation of Church teaching in this area. To put it as simply as possible, I guess I can't understand why one science (mathematics) is good in the birth control context, and another (chemistry) is not. Seems a bit illogical, doesn't it? On the other hand, there are the official teachings, which do provide a different perspective.

I guess we have to make up our own minds, based on the evidence.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peter. I appreciate your candor and scholarly approach. I will, indeed, review the sources you've linked here.

Nice to hear from a serious, thoughtful Catholic with easy access to the pertinent source material! Reminds me a bit of my days at university. :)


Anonymous said...

You mentioned Priests in some areas that maintain "partners". Does the Church oppose marriage of those priests? It seems to me (especially if they have children with that partner) that marriage would be a much better situation. Maintaining a partner outside of marriage would seem a bit hypocritical. I guess any decisions in that respect would have to be made carefully.


Anonymous said...

Peter, I read Julia's comments in response to your segment and I must say that I feel much the same way she does, though I doubt I could express it as well. As far as religoion and ideology goes, I am everything and nothing. The most honest and accurate statement I can make in this regard is that "I don't know." I am always and maybe instinctively, in search of new information, trying to distill some new truth for myself, to little avail. I am, by experience, a weary agnostic. No banners, no flags, no frills. And no allegiances. I was raised Catholic, but have broken ranks, for many reasons, not the least of which is the central theme of your articles. Another is possibly the "gravitational differences" between fact and faith. Diametrically opposed? Mutually exclusive? A binary star locked in an eternal standoff? God AND Nature or God OVER Nature? I wonder what the little green men will have to say about "religion." A type of "internal government?"

What Julia says about an "Independent Mind" hits home hard for me. I was taught that the most important facet of intellect, the most useful and valuable thing we may ever lay claim to is a skeptical mind. An even handed awareness, a finely honed intellect (maybe the work of a hundred lifetimes), adverse to any knee-jerk adherance to ideology of any sort. Put it to a test...take nothing on 'faith'. Religion, Ideology tends to relieve us of responsibilty. What she says about hunger and poverty and overpopulation and all of the rest is painfully true. Catholic dogma is 200 years out of step, as usuall. Hell, didn't they JUST get around to clearing Galleleo's name for his 'heretical' work in Astronomy ... sun spots, etc.? Didn't they bust him for his work in thermodunamics, as well? (Didn't he invent the thermometer?)

John Paul II's rulings on birth control seem to be rooted in the old maxim which states that the surest way to vanquish an adversary is to outnumber him...on the front lines, at the voting boothes or at the banks(collection baskets). The Nazis knew this, maybe the Mormons,too. Those plural marriages put alot more boots on the ground in the quest for ideological supremacy.

The older I get, the less I'm sure of. I KNOW that I Don't Know. I'm wary. Wary of anyone who says they speak for God. Wary of the price of admission. "Ever notice how God is always short of cash?"...George Carlin. We have televangelists with $20 million private jets with no where to go but Club Med. These people are plugged into The Almighty? And we wonder why we can't weed out the pedophiles ensconced in a 2000 year old religious power structure, bent on preserving it's power, first and foremeost.

As you most likely have discernec by now, I stand well outside of any religous ideology...save what I think Christ's basic humanistic philosophy espoused. I think I still trust that. I don't trust the multitude of paint-jobs it's been given over the centuries, let alone the painters.