Celibacy and Abuse

I just saw a “spiritual teacher” make a claim that mandatory celibacy for Roman Catholic priests is responsible for the pedophilia scandal in that Church. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and spreading such misinformation contributes to the ongoing culture of sexual abuse and violence in our country. I feel compelled to set the record straight, though I am sure some fools seeing attention will continue to spread misinformation in an attempt to line their pockets with dead presidents and gain more followers. Here’s the claim, with identifying details removed:

Celibacy is neither natural nor normal! Humans are not wired for it, long term and barely short. To impose it on people who feel called to ministry, strait [sic] or gay, is irresponsible, outdated and unnecessary. So far it hasn’t worked overall and I don’t expect it will or even should. Obviously it has and continues to create huge problems within the Catholic church and has caused painful experiences of abuse for both victims and perpetrators. It seems to me, both insane and obscene, to continue the practice. The present circumstances related to abuse within the priesthood of the Roman Catholic church, insist it should reconsider its position on celibacy and its effect upon, or aversion to, effective ministry and service to the people and purpose to which it is called.

Historically the celibacy requirement in the Roman Church was a reaction by Pope Gregory the Great to clergy – bishops in particular – being responsible for their own little population explosions outside the bonds of matrimony. It was about the results of sexual irresponsibility and nothing more. It certainly wasn’t about pedophilia. We can argue at length about whether or not throwing the baby out with the bath water (pun intended) was the best solution, but it won’t change history. There are other religious traditions, among them Buddhism, that have a long standing history of celibacy without any pedophilia scandals. Even within Christianity, the celibacy requirements for monks and nuns hasn’t created a problem, so the argument fails on its own lack of merit.

More to the point our ignorant friend is trying to make, pedophilia and sexual assault in all it’s forms is not about sexuality, it’s about an abuse of power. Sex is the method used to abuse power in these cases, but it is most definitely not the case that perpetrators of sexual violence are feeling a little horny and so set out to rape a child or adult. Celibacy does not cause sexual violence – though one could make a case that some people who recognize they have a tendency toward maladaptive behavior may seek out a celibate organization in the hope that the “rules” will keep them from acting out on their pathology. Clearly that doesn’t work, whether it’s pedophiles, rapists, or gay males who join a monastery hoping not to act on their sexual orientation – which is rather like someone inclined to prostitution moving into a brothel in the hopes it will keep her from acting out on her urges to sell her body.

The truth is that until we realize that sexual assault is about violence and not sexuality, that it is about abuse of power and minimizing the victim, it is going to be very difficult to effectively implement change in these areas. It only gets worse when non-Roman Catholic clergy cum spiritual teachers start spewing their own ignorant misinformation disguised as “spiritual truth” via streaming video. In fact, such “teachers” [sic] actually enable sexual predators by drawing attention away from the real problem with their nonsense.

Did you know that most people who sexually abuse children are married, non-celibate, heterosexual men, most often family members or close friends of their victim’s families – including those who abuse boys? The truth is that while the Roman Catholic pedophilia scandal is horrific in its scope, the demographic of the perpetrator as an allegedly celibate (can we get real here for just a minute?) male is the exception and not the rule? Clearly, the “teachers” who spread this nonsense haven’t got a clue – but when has that stopped an unethical spiritual teacher or pastor from opening his or her mouth.

The rapist lurking around the corner for an adult victim isn’t waiting for a victim he finds sexually attractive. He is acting out his pathology by seeking to violently harm and degrade his victim. He, too, may be married or in a relationship and quite sexually active. He could be having sex six times a day and it wouldn’t dissuade him from raping his next victim because sexual assault isn’t about seeking sexual pleasure.

Perhaps most important of all, if you show me a minister who is preaching on and on about sexual fidelity or avoiding certain sexual sins, or how loyal he is to his wife (I am not being sexist in saying “he,” by the way, the truth is there aren’t many women who do these things), I will show you a man who is sleeping with half the women in his congregation and/or every woman he can locate when he is out of town at clergy meetings.

The truth is that you can blame the Roman Catholic Church’s clergy celibacy requirement for some very real problems in that Church – chief among them the ever growing shortage of priests in the Roman Church. But to say that celibacy causes pedophilia is both ignorant and irresponsible, and it also implies that the Catholic Church is the only Church with clergy sexual scandals – and Bishop, we both know that’s about the biggest lie ever peddled, don’t we? Why don’t you do all of us a favor, and stick to what you are qualified to speak about rather than re-victimizing those of us who are survivors of sexual assault?

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