Study: “Mandatory Celibacy” and Homophobia Contribute to Catholic Sex Abuse

A new five-year study examining child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church found that the institution’s celibacy requirement continues to be “the major precipitating risk factor” in abuse cases — and that the Church’s “deeply homophobic environment” makes things even worse.

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The report, published by the Centre for Global Research at RMIT University in Australia, found that the church’s policy on mandatory celibacy “has been and remains the major precipitating risk factor for child sexual abuse.”

“There is little doubt that mandatory celibacy has been a critical factor in the Church’s successful execution of its mandate to evangelise and found local churches across the world. But it cannot be claimed that the celibacy policy has been an unparalleled success. The issue is not celibacy, but mandatory celibacy.

Common sense would point to a connection. When you’re forbidden from having a traditional outlet for your sexual desires, and you can’t even take care of yourself (everyone wave to Ted Cruz), your eventual release is bound to be something unconventional — and, in some cases, illegal.

The study notes that the mandatory celibacy rule has “led to psychosexually immature identities and sexual deprivation on the part of those priests and religious who have offended against children.”

However, the church’s rules against members of the clergy having sex don’t cause all the problems with child sex abuse.

“The evidence from this meta-analysis of the literature shows that it cannot be argued that celibacy, on its own, has been the cause of child sexual abuse in Catholic settings. There are too many good priests and religious, male and female, who have successfully lived a faithful celibate life, even though it may have been accompanied by a great struggle. However, it would seem that celibacy is the major precipitating risk factor for child sexual abuse when combined with other risk factors.”

So, what are the other factors? According to the study, which is purported to be “the most comprehensive” ever produced on the issue of Catholic sexual abuse of children and was authored by two ordained (and now married) priests who resigned from church ministry in the 1970s, there are many.

While it is often asserted that homosexuality causes Catholic priests to abuse young boys, the study suggests the problem is the opposite: institutional homophobia. Gay men who join the anti-gay clergy have difficulty understanding their sexual impulses (and therefore controlling them), according to the researchers.

“Though homosexuality is not a direct cause of abuse, the deeply homophobic environment within the Church and its seminaries, based on the teaching that homosexuality is an intrinsically disordered state and that all gays must lead a celibate life, contributes to psychosexual immaturity.”

The main conclusion of the meta-analysis is a combination of these factors: young and vulnerable kids (especially boys) were at risk in the presence of “psychosexually immature, psychosexually maldeveloped and sexually deprived and deeply frustrated male priests and male religious, particularly those who had not satisfactorily resolved their own sexual identity.”

This was especially so if these priests and religious were confused or in denial about their homosexual orientation while training and operating in a profoundly homophobic Church environment… There was little psychological evidence that the priest and religious offenders were suffering from any psychotic illnesses.”

The study provides a comprehensive look at Catholic child sex abuse in Australia and worldwide, and it was conducted by people with a unique perspective, so hopefully people will start to take notice and make some changes. If the Church can amend how it operates, it would go a long way toward protecting children.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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