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March 24, 2010


Well, I'm an agnostic, but most of the eye-rolling I've encountered about men giving advice on marriage comes from the wives of the guys giving the advice.

I think the original reason for not allowing priests to marry was fear the office would become hereditary. There may once have been something to this (the Muslims have clerical dynasties and the office is almost hereditary among them) but I don't think it is such an issue now.

The main arguments these days against priest marrying are basically opposite sides of the same coin:

(1) Men without families can more fully commit themselves to their duties as priests because the don't have any competing obligations.

(2) The duties of priesthood are so onerous that that it would be unfair to their families because priests could never fully meet their family obligations. Children of Protestant ministers do complaint about this sometimes.

I don't think there's any serious ground for believing that the Catholic sex abuse crisis was caused by celibacy (after all, married men can be child sex abusers too).

Yeah. And people who don't smoke get lung cancer.

Yeah, what HSH said.

There's kind of a pattern here, with numbers that seem to exceed rates seen in the "married men" population.

I don't think it's likely that celibacy causes sexual exploitation of children (why would it cause that and not, say, straight-up hetero adultery?). It's that the promise of a celibate lifestyle is attractive to people with socially sanctioned sexual preferences like pedophilia. Unfortunately it turns out the Church doesn't offer a lot of emotional or other support for that lifestyle, but does offer lots of opportunities to work with children. It was an accident waiting to happen, until it was clear that it was happening, at which point it stopped being an accident and became a crime.

I very much agree with von: mandatory celibacy for priests has outlived whatever usefulness it had. It could possibly be retained as an option for priests who get some spiritual benefit from it.

why would it cause that and not, say, straight-up hetero adultery?

I think it has something to do with stunting sexual growth and leaving them in adolescent male state of sexual development - some have pointed to the forms of assault (not penetration or more adult sexual practices, but adolescent acts - vile as they are).

Or so the argument goes.

why would it cause that and not, say, straight-up hetero adultery?

Hello, it's hardly an either/or proposition. Or do you think no priests have sex with adult women, married or otherwise?

I suspect celibacy has less to do with rates of abuse than the nature of the job. Other jobs which include a "pastoral" aspect seem to recruit a higher than average number of pedophiles (teachers, pediatricians, other types of ministers etc).

I do think that mandatory celibacy has outlived its usefulness (it was put in place to prevent clergy from passing on church property to their children in earlier ages). There is no doctrinal impediment to removing the restriction. The church had non-celibate priest for a long time prior to the imposition of the rule, and eastern Catholic churches still allow priests to be married. In addition, when Anglican priests convert to Catholicism, they are allowed to remain priests even if they are married (which means there are married western rite Catholic priests at this time).

Besides celibacy, the real problem the church has to deal with is handling priests who abuse. Up until this point, the tendency was to protect them, which is horribly wrong. Again, the problem isn't so much that there are so many pedophiles in the church but that they haven't been handed over to the police when they abuse.

Also, what JanieM said. Rates of priests having affairs with female parishioners is exceedingly high. Also, rates of priests having affairs with non-minor male parishioners is very high too. All studies I've seen point to few priest actually successfully upholding their vow.

The church had non-celibate priest for a long time prior to the imposition of the rule

I believe some early Popes were married, unless I'm mistaken.

I'd say that Hogan is probably closest. Catholics who have pedophile tendencies may be attracted to the priesthood, hoping that it can wring them out of it. (They know they shouldn't get married and have kids, etc.) But since the Catholic Church isn't helping them deal with/channel their sexual impulses in any kind of organized and helpful way, you get the scandals that we do see.

I'm not actually sure that the incidence is really higher in priests (it may be or not, I don't know), but even if it isn't, the coordinated coverup is a shameful practice of the church.

The Greek Orthodox Church (which, with some justice, considers Catholics and Protestants to be schismatics and heretics) has two kinds of priests.

The garden-variety parish priest is not only permitted, but required, to be married. The ambitious young man who aims to rise up the church hierarchy, on the other hand, must remain celibate. Well -- join a monastic order, anyway.

It's not for me to say whether the Greek Orthodox approach is better or worse than the Catholic one. What I want to know is why no other profession seems to care about the marriage status of its practitioners.

An old joke I like asks why a scientist needs both a wife and a mistress. Answer: the wife will assume he's with the mistress, the mistress will assume he's with the wife, and he can sneak off to the lab and get some work done.


None of this will change until Ratzinger is gone.

None of this will change until Ratzinger is gone.

Old JPII joke, updated:

Benedict XVI and God are talking.

God: "Will there ever be women serving as Catholic priests?"

B16: "Not while I'm pope."

God: "Will priests ever be allowed to marry?"

B16: "Not while I'm pope."

God: "Will Catholics ever be allowed to use contraception?"

B16: "Not while I'm pope. So, will there ever be another German pope?"

God: "Not while I'm God."

Hello, it's hardly an either/or proposition.

Oh, I know. I was trying vaguely and awkwardly to address the proposition that there is more pedophilia among priests than among the married population, which would mean proportionately less plain-vanilla heterosexuality. It's not priests having sex that needs to be explained; it's priests disproportionately having certain kinds of sex.

"is attractive to people with socially sanctioned sexual preferences like pedophilia. Unfortunately it turns out the Church doesn't offer a lot of emotional or other support for that lifestyle"

Oh, I dunno, it seems to have been pretty supportive up until recently - oh, you mean the celibate lifestyle. Ah, never mind . . .

Reminds me of a line that got a local columnist in trouble in my hometown years ago when the Pope was pontificating about contraception. "If you're going fishing, you don't ask for advice from a man who's never wet a line."

I thought priests weren't allowed to marry purely for financial reasons that benefit the church. No pesky widows or sniveling brats with whom they have to fight with for inheritance of any assets. Follow the money.

Plus, if priests have wives and children to support, the church will have to pay them more. With over 400,000 priests around the world, that will be very expensive!

Bear in mind that Anglican married priests who convert to Catholicism are allowed to continue serving as priests and maintaining their married life as normal. However, married Catholic men who feel called to the priesthood must commit to living with their wives "as brother and sister" -- i.e. with no more sex. Talk about your second class citizens....

And the Catholic church allowed married priests until the tenth century; celibacy was originally introduced as a reform to keep the priesthood from being passed on from father to (possibly unsuitable) son like other professions.

"Reminds me of a line that got a local columnist in trouble in my hometown years ago when the Pope was pontificating about contraception. "If you're going fishing, you don't ask for advice from a man who's never wet a line.""

Seriously. If you look at how JPII justified the Church's anti-contraception stance, you get all this stuff about how using contraception is a rejection of the other person and telling a lie with one's body - in fact, if I understand correctly, that sex (in marriage) is meant in part as a sign of Christ's love for his Church. Now, the last part is getting positively medieval on other people's asses (it is to actual human relations as medieval bestiaries are to actual natural history, not simply inaccurate but supremely unconcerned with reality, which is ignored in favor of fanciful religious figurings and symbolism), but beyond that the whole thing starts sounding, to my mind, like the sort of things one might hear from a bright&philosophically inclined teenage boy who has yet to have his first kiss.

I mean, to echo von, as a husband and new father, there really is only (not) so much one can get from books and even second-hand observation - and indeed, one usually only realizes this in hindsight; there may be some people gifted enough that empathy can sufficiently stand in for experience, but like Dreher says, that's really pretty exceptional. When we're talking about an unmarried and (possibly, at least) celibate man who (likely) simply has no experience of open, mature, adult intimacy, shaped and surrounded by a religious&occupational culture that's more of the same - really, I think it goes beyond eye-rolling into judicious point-and-laughing.

I guess i am in general uncomfortable with the notion that one has to have had sex to understand intimate human relationships. It seems to raise a lot of questions as to what specific qualifications any kind of therapist must have to be psychologists or marriage counselors.

I am sure that there are great counselors who have never been married or had kids and bad ones who have had plenty of sex.

Empathy is a human trait, learning can obviously reinforce it but it seems extreme to demand a common experiential background.

OMG, I agree with Marty.

The problem of sexual predators in the clergy is very old. The confessional (the box) was introduced not just for anonymity but also in order to prevent the priest from taking sexual adavantage. There were times when ist was considered unwise (or indication of loose morals) for (esp. young) women to go to confession unarmed!
The bible assumes that deacons and bishops (no priests mentioned anywhere) are married ('one woman's husband', i.e. not divorced and remarried).
The official arguments of the initial supporters of celibacy are/were:
1) Priests are married to the church, so marriage to a woman would be bigamy
2) Sex causes ritual impurity (also a standard reason against female priests due to menstruation)
Practical reasons:
1) Divided loyalty
2) Unmarried people can be exploited more efficiently (the church is not the only organisation following that maxim).
One bishop (iirc German) once claimed (about the priests in his diocese): Die Hälfte hurt, die Hälfte säuft, die Hälfte ist faul (half of them whore, half of them are alcoholics and half of them are notoriously lazy).
I think the RCC clergy is a special magnet for potentially sexual disturbed humans (we should not forget the cruelty some nuns are capable of):
1) Access to victims is virtually guaranteed
2) The institution vests authority making abuse easier
3) The institution puts the blame on the victim first, then on the devil but rarely on the institution or the culprit
4) The church promises special salvation possiblities for its ordained members
4a) disturbed persons believe that the church can heal them from their inner demons
4b) for others it's a Get-out-of-jail-free card.
Additionally institutions with enforced sex separation are breeding grounds for acquired deviancies of all kinds.

When I hear someone who hasn't served in the military give an opinion about war, I just roll my eyes.


Just sayin'.

A dozen US presidents had no military service and a furher 9 did never participate in combat, so I would not necessarily assume that not having done something disqualifies one from making informed comments on it. That's different from requiring someone to have no personal experience before making authoritative statements* (like judging the relative dirtyness of different sex acts).

*the all too common idea that personal knowlege inevitably creates disqualifying bias.

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