On vows of celibacy & sexual sin

Luther and the Lutheran Confessions (explaining “thou shalt not commit adultery”) on the problems of forbidding marriage for the clergy, and how this manifests itself in sexual sins:

Priests, monks, and nuns resist God’s order and commandment, inasmuch as they despise and forbid matrimony, and presume and vow to maintain perpetual chastity, and, besides, deceive the simple-minded with lying words and appearances [impostures]. For no one has so little love and inclination to chastity as just those who because of great sanctity avoid marriage, and either indulge in open and shameless prostitution, or secretly do even worse, so that one dare not speak of it, as has, alas! been learned too fully.

And, in short, even though they abstain from the act, their hearts are so full of unchaste thoughts and evil lusts that there is a continual burning and secret suffering, which can be avoided in the married life. Therefore all vows of chastity out of the married state are condemned by this commandment, and free permission is granted, yea, even the command is given, to all poor ensnared consciences which have been deceived by their monastic vows to abandon the unchaste state and enter the married life, considering that even if the monastic life were godly, it would nevertheless not be in their power to maintain chastity, and if they remain in it, they must only sin more and more against this commandment.

via The Large Catechism – Book of Concord (The Sixth Commandment)

How would this apply to the pedophile scandal in the Roman Catholic Church? Clearly, individuals with that lust could not satisfy it with marriage, but might that not be something “even worse” than prostitution, something so bad that “one dare not speak of it,” that comes from repressed sexuality? Would this article of the catechism also apply to the chastity vows of the teen abstinence movement? Those, of course, are not permanent vows. But shouldn’t we encourage early marriage instead?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Winston Smith

    While “individuals with that lust could not satisfy it with marriage,” a non-celibate clergy might not have become the convenient refuge for the sexually abnormal that it has now clearly been shown to be.

  • Winston Smith

    While “individuals with that lust could not satisfy it with marriage,” a non-celibate clergy might not have become the convenient refuge for the sexually abnormal that it has now clearly been shown to be.

  • Mary Jack

    I don’t know. I think the timing of marriage needs to be supported by other family and cultural factors. My friends who married young are divorced, but many of the people I know who have a high regard for marriage have very healthy & happy marriages in their late twenties & thirties. Sometimes unsatisfied desire is just a cross to bear (and not a problem solved simply by marriage). Oaths & vows of chastity, on the other hand, place an unhealthy emphasis on our own power & the prestige of legalism (with loop-holes) or self-control. I think those are rightly denounced. But “later” marriages aren’t.

  • Mary Jack

    I don’t know. I think the timing of marriage needs to be supported by other family and cultural factors. My friends who married young are divorced, but many of the people I know who have a high regard for marriage have very healthy & happy marriages in their late twenties & thirties. Sometimes unsatisfied desire is just a cross to bear (and not a problem solved simply by marriage). Oaths & vows of chastity, on the other hand, place an unhealthy emphasis on our own power & the prestige of legalism (with loop-holes) or self-control. I think those are rightly denounced. But “later” marriages aren’t.

  • Joe

    Mary – I could cite all kinds of examples back to you about young folk who married and make it – like me and my wife for example or my parents who married at 18 and had their two kids before their 21st birthdays and are still going strong.

    The problem with young marriages not lasting has (in my opinion) more to do with misconceptions of what marriage is and is for than it does with age.

  • Joe

    Mary – I could cite all kinds of examples back to you about young folk who married and make it – like me and my wife for example or my parents who married at 18 and had their two kids before their 21st birthdays and are still going strong.

    The problem with young marriages not lasting has (in my opinion) more to do with misconceptions of what marriage is and is for than it does with age.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    In this sinful and evil age there are not guarantees against divorce. But I think Veith might be on to something with the encouragement of marrying younger than is now expected. Perhaps even in the teenagae years. It seems to me a much better way to go than winking and nodding as the teenagers learn to change sexual partners over the weekend.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    In this sinful and evil age there are not guarantees against divorce. But I think Veith might be on to something with the encouragement of marrying younger than is now expected. Perhaps even in the teenagae years. It seems to me a much better way to go than winking and nodding as the teenagers learn to change sexual partners over the weekend.

  • Joe

    I think there very well could be a link. I don’t believe the majority of the pedophile priests are actually attracted to young boys. Isn’t more likely that these priests were in the words of Paul “burning” with normal sexual desires but because of the RC mandate of celibacy they were forced to forgo a wife and at some point the repressed sexuality was perverted and diverted to young kids who were vulnerable and (I supposed thought to be) controllable?

  • Joe

    I think there very well could be a link. I don’t believe the majority of the pedophile priests are actually attracted to young boys. Isn’t more likely that these priests were in the words of Paul “burning” with normal sexual desires but because of the RC mandate of celibacy they were forced to forgo a wife and at some point the repressed sexuality was perverted and diverted to young kids who were vulnerable and (I supposed thought to be) controllable?

  • Mary Jack

    I never said “early” marriages can’t last. What I said was “the timing of marriage needs to be supported by other family and cultural factors.” In previous generations, extended families were more involved in giving reasonable expectations about marriage, modeling them, etc. But I have yet to hear why simply marrying at puberty can, unassisted by other factors, solve the problem of lust. Now, a better understanding of marriage, matched with family & church support, can certainly help to sustain marriages before the age of 30, or even 20, but in this day when 12 year olds are sexually active, are we really saying that marriage itself can entirely solve that problem?

  • Mary Jack

    I never said “early” marriages can’t last. What I said was “the timing of marriage needs to be supported by other family and cultural factors.” In previous generations, extended families were more involved in giving reasonable expectations about marriage, modeling them, etc. But I have yet to hear why simply marrying at puberty can, unassisted by other factors, solve the problem of lust. Now, a better understanding of marriage, matched with family & church support, can certainly help to sustain marriages before the age of 30, or even 20, but in this day when 12 year olds are sexually active, are we really saying that marriage itself can entirely solve that problem?

  • Joe

    Sorry Mary – I misunderstood you post.

  • Joe

    Sorry Mary – I misunderstood you post.

  • Michelle

    How about just a healthy respect for self and others to quell some of those sexual sins? I don’t think Dr. V was suggesting that any 12 year olds get married, but he may be right, in that as people are waiting longer to get married (to late 20′s and 30′s), the chance that they will have one or more sexual partners is great. I think we also fall subject to expecting that “perfect” person to appear in our lives. We are ALL flawed, and marriage takes a great amount of compromise and acceptance of imperfections. Of course, we need to find a partner that is compatable with us, who respects us, loves us, and hopefully has mostly the same values, but NO ONE is perfect. We see what the movies and TV show us, that no matter what the world throws at us, if only we are with that one perfect person, everything will be eternally bright and shiny. Hello? Welcome to the real world. It’s sometimes bright and shiny, but so too is it worn out and rusty and smelly and uncomfortable. It’s the knowing that through all that, that there is someone who you can count on to be there by your side, holding their nose and groaning along with you, that counts. How we treat each other matters.

    As for the pedophilic persons of the cloth, there is just something inherently WRONG with people with these tendencies. It is not NORMAL sexual desire that leads an adult to assault a child, boy or girl. If it was just normal sexual desire that was being experienced by these people, they would have a consensual ADULT sexual relationship. They would not be attracted to children. There is NOTHING sexual about a child. Unfortunately, most pedophiles are master manipulaters, and they can see an opportunity a mile away. Being a “trusted” religious figure is a perfect stage for an unquestionably, unfixable sick mind. Repression has nothing to do with it. Even those who are free to have whatever kind of encounters they can find, if they are so inclined, STILL go out and prey on innocents. They’re two different species, the repressed and the demented.

    Still, I often wonder how someone wholly committed to celebacy can successfully counsel others on relationships.

  • Michelle

    How about just a healthy respect for self and others to quell some of those sexual sins? I don’t think Dr. V was suggesting that any 12 year olds get married, but he may be right, in that as people are waiting longer to get married (to late 20′s and 30′s), the chance that they will have one or more sexual partners is great. I think we also fall subject to expecting that “perfect” person to appear in our lives. We are ALL flawed, and marriage takes a great amount of compromise and acceptance of imperfections. Of course, we need to find a partner that is compatable with us, who respects us, loves us, and hopefully has mostly the same values, but NO ONE is perfect. We see what the movies and TV show us, that no matter what the world throws at us, if only we are with that one perfect person, everything will be eternally bright and shiny. Hello? Welcome to the real world. It’s sometimes bright and shiny, but so too is it worn out and rusty and smelly and uncomfortable. It’s the knowing that through all that, that there is someone who you can count on to be there by your side, holding their nose and groaning along with you, that counts. How we treat each other matters.

    As for the pedophilic persons of the cloth, there is just something inherently WRONG with people with these tendencies. It is not NORMAL sexual desire that leads an adult to assault a child, boy or girl. If it was just normal sexual desire that was being experienced by these people, they would have a consensual ADULT sexual relationship. They would not be attracted to children. There is NOTHING sexual about a child. Unfortunately, most pedophiles are master manipulaters, and they can see an opportunity a mile away. Being a “trusted” religious figure is a perfect stage for an unquestionably, unfixable sick mind. Repression has nothing to do with it. Even those who are free to have whatever kind of encounters they can find, if they are so inclined, STILL go out and prey on innocents. They’re two different species, the repressed and the demented.

    Still, I often wonder how someone wholly committed to celebacy can successfully counsel others on relationships.

  • Joe

    “If it was just normal sexual desire that was being experienced by these people, they would have a consensual ADULT sexual relationship.”

    Except that they are forbidden to do so by their vow and by the fact that all of the adults they come in contact with know they took a vow and so I would imagine that short of prostitution there is very little access to consensual adult sexual relationships. I would not try to claim celibacy is why all pedophile priests do what they did but I don’t think it can be simply dismissed either.

  • Joe

    “If it was just normal sexual desire that was being experienced by these people, they would have a consensual ADULT sexual relationship.”

    Except that they are forbidden to do so by their vow and by the fact that all of the adults they come in contact with know they took a vow and so I would imagine that short of prostitution there is very little access to consensual adult sexual relationships. I would not try to claim celibacy is why all pedophile priests do what they did but I don’t think it can be simply dismissed either.

  • Michelle

    Come on, Joe. Surely, you don’t believe that there aren’t MANY people out there who would actually find it inviting to have an illicit affair with a priest. The world is full of people who don’t give a whit if someone has made a vow, of marriage, of celebacy, of faithfulness, of whatever. I don’t believe for a moment that if he were looking for it, that he could not find it without much trouble.

    I also have seen enough of these wretched people to see that it is not a NORMAL relationship that they desire. I’m not even so sure it’s SEX that they desire. These are not stupid people. As I said, they are quite often very manipulative and know exactly what they want and how to get it.

  • Michelle

    Come on, Joe. Surely, you don’t believe that there aren’t MANY people out there who would actually find it inviting to have an illicit affair with a priest. The world is full of people who don’t give a whit if someone has made a vow, of marriage, of celebacy, of faithfulness, of whatever. I don’t believe for a moment that if he were looking for it, that he could not find it without much trouble.

    I also have seen enough of these wretched people to see that it is not a NORMAL relationship that they desire. I’m not even so sure it’s SEX that they desire. These are not stupid people. As I said, they are quite often very manipulative and know exactly what they want and how to get it.

  • Catherine

    I just want to note here that sometimes, one isn’t “waiting” until they are older to have marriage. I’m 23 and would love to be married before I’m in my late twenties. But the fact of the matter is, at my church, I can see maybe one or two young men that are my age and single. I’m not about to date a non-Christian, and dating a non-Lutheran is problematic for me (I’ve tried it four times and it didn’t work).

    I want to marry a good, Godly man, but it seems that the only men interested in me don’t have the latter qualification. And yes, the whole “waiting for marriage” has been in an issue in a relationship before. People don’t “get” it, even supposed Christians. It’s very frustrating for someone like me who just wants a good Christian man.

  • Catherine

    I just want to note here that sometimes, one isn’t “waiting” until they are older to have marriage. I’m 23 and would love to be married before I’m in my late twenties. But the fact of the matter is, at my church, I can see maybe one or two young men that are my age and single. I’m not about to date a non-Christian, and dating a non-Lutheran is problematic for me (I’ve tried it four times and it didn’t work).

    I want to marry a good, Godly man, but it seems that the only men interested in me don’t have the latter qualification. And yes, the whole “waiting for marriage” has been in an issue in a relationship before. People don’t “get” it, even supposed Christians. It’s very frustrating for someone like me who just wants a good Christian man.

  • A.D.P.

    We actually talked about pedophilia in my abnormal psych class today- it wasn’t a very pleasant topic. For true pedophilia (using prepubescent children sexually), whether a person is in an adult sexual relationship or not has no bearing on them abusing children. If someone takes advantage of a 15-year-old, that is not clinically pedophilia, although it is still predatory and may be punishable by law. Depending on which category most of these priests fall into (I’m not sure how old most of the victims were- from the reports I’ve seen, it varied), vows of celibacy may or may not be contributing to their behavior.

    One thing that we discussed in class is just how poor the prospects are for rehabilitating a pedophile who has been court-ordered into treatment versus one who seeks treatment for his paraphilia on his own- usually by the time they have been caught, they have already abused dozens of children. Here in Duluth, there’s a psych clinic that treats sexual disorders and is specifically trying to help prevent men from becoming abusers in the first place- I’ve seen a few billboards, etc. I think that IF such programs do actually work in getting potential abusers to seek treatment who otherwise wouldn’t, it could save many people a lot of agony. But as I understand it, they’re not too common because people -understandably- think about prevention in terms of keeping their kids out of predators’ hands instead of trying to keep men from becoming predators in the first place.

    . . .

    Relating to chastity vows, studies show that teens who take them are statistically identical to their peers who do not take them (taking religious upbringing into account). It’s not the vow or not taking the vow that does anything, it’s the parents talking to them about sex and marriage and what they mean that leads teens to wait. And chastity vows and early marriage are not necessarily either/or.

    I will agree with Catherine, though, that encouraging early marriage may not be feasible because their really just *aren’t* that many Godly young adults, especially, for some reason, men. I think it has a lot to do with how shallow most youth programs are- if you’re really grounding growing Christians in God’s Word, of course more of them are going to develop a desire to obey God’s will in terms sexuality and marriage, as well as learning to “own” their own sinfulness (instead of making everything someone else’s fault). If you just feed them pizza and play Twister and talk about how this Bible story is sorta like what they were talking about in that popular TV show, that’s not going to keep them in church, much less prepare them for the responsibility of marriage

  • A.D.P.

    We actually talked about pedophilia in my abnormal psych class today- it wasn’t a very pleasant topic. For true pedophilia (using prepubescent children sexually), whether a person is in an adult sexual relationship or not has no bearing on them abusing children. If someone takes advantage of a 15-year-old, that is not clinically pedophilia, although it is still predatory and may be punishable by law. Depending on which category most of these priests fall into (I’m not sure how old most of the victims were- from the reports I’ve seen, it varied), vows of celibacy may or may not be contributing to their behavior.

    One thing that we discussed in class is just how poor the prospects are for rehabilitating a pedophile who has been court-ordered into treatment versus one who seeks treatment for his paraphilia on his own- usually by the time they have been caught, they have already abused dozens of children. Here in Duluth, there’s a psych clinic that treats sexual disorders and is specifically trying to help prevent men from becoming abusers in the first place- I’ve seen a few billboards, etc. I think that IF such programs do actually work in getting potential abusers to seek treatment who otherwise wouldn’t, it could save many people a lot of agony. But as I understand it, they’re not too common because people -understandably- think about prevention in terms of keeping their kids out of predators’ hands instead of trying to keep men from becoming predators in the first place.

    . . .

    Relating to chastity vows, studies show that teens who take them are statistically identical to their peers who do not take them (taking religious upbringing into account). It’s not the vow or not taking the vow that does anything, it’s the parents talking to them about sex and marriage and what they mean that leads teens to wait. And chastity vows and early marriage are not necessarily either/or.

    I will agree with Catherine, though, that encouraging early marriage may not be feasible because their really just *aren’t* that many Godly young adults, especially, for some reason, men. I think it has a lot to do with how shallow most youth programs are- if you’re really grounding growing Christians in God’s Word, of course more of them are going to develop a desire to obey God’s will in terms sexuality and marriage, as well as learning to “own” their own sinfulness (instead of making everything someone else’s fault). If you just feed them pizza and play Twister and talk about how this Bible story is sorta like what they were talking about in that popular TV show, that’s not going to keep them in church, much less prepare them for the responsibility of marriage

  • fws

    “considering that even if the monastic life were godly, it would nevertheless NOT BE IN THEIR POWER to maintain chastity, and if they remain in it, they must only sin more and more against this commandment.”

    Would someone here please apply this logic to the thought that homosexuals, for whom marriage is not an option, must remain celebate? Note that if you read the full text, the confessors call this requirement “cruel”.

  • fws

    “considering that even if the monastic life were godly, it would nevertheless NOT BE IN THEIR POWER to maintain chastity, and if they remain in it, they must only sin more and more against this commandment.”

    Would someone here please apply this logic to the thought that homosexuals, for whom marriage is not an option, must remain celebate? Note that if you read the full text, the confessors call this requirement “cruel”.

  • Ellen

    Catherine @11, I can fully empathize with you. I was in the same situation as you are. I found that even well-meaning Christians didn’t understand why I wasn’t dating someone. Sometimes God’s timing on these things is different than ours. Wait for His timing…. So while I understand the reasoning behind encouraging early marriage, I don’t think that generalization should be made. Every person is different and God’s timing for everyone is different. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Anyway, the epilogue of my story is that I met my husband when I was 30 at my little Lutheran church.

  • Ellen

    Catherine @11, I can fully empathize with you. I was in the same situation as you are. I found that even well-meaning Christians didn’t understand why I wasn’t dating someone. Sometimes God’s timing on these things is different than ours. Wait for His timing…. So while I understand the reasoning behind encouraging early marriage, I don’t think that generalization should be made. Every person is different and God’s timing for everyone is different. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Anyway, the epilogue of my story is that I met my husband when I was 30 at my little Lutheran church.

  • Rob Carter

    Recycling an old chestnut & relying on erroneous assumptions is not shedding any light on this issue. As a Catholic, I am once again disappointed with the level of discussion on this issue, which is in contrast to the otherwise high level on other topics here.

    First, the sacrifice of married life for the “sake of the Kingdom” has a strong scriptural basis. See Luke 18:28–30, Matthew 19:27–30; Mark 10:20–21. Furthermore, in 1st Corinthians, St. Paul that celibacy is the superior state of life, and his desire expressed in 1 Corinthians 7:7–8, 7:32–35:

    “For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am … I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.”

    The Catholic Church teaches that priesthood is a ministry conformed to the life and work of Jesus Christ. Priests as sacramental ministers act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). Thus the life of the priest therefore conforms to the chastity of Christ himself.

  • Rob Carter

    Recycling an old chestnut & relying on erroneous assumptions is not shedding any light on this issue. As a Catholic, I am once again disappointed with the level of discussion on this issue, which is in contrast to the otherwise high level on other topics here.

    First, the sacrifice of married life for the “sake of the Kingdom” has a strong scriptural basis. See Luke 18:28–30, Matthew 19:27–30; Mark 10:20–21. Furthermore, in 1st Corinthians, St. Paul that celibacy is the superior state of life, and his desire expressed in 1 Corinthians 7:7–8, 7:32–35:

    “For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am … I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.”

    The Catholic Church teaches that priesthood is a ministry conformed to the life and work of Jesus Christ. Priests as sacramental ministers act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). Thus the life of the priest therefore conforms to the chastity of Christ himself.

  • Rob Carter

    As for whether chastity causes sexual deviance, I refer to a recent article in Newseek by Pat Wingert (http://www.newsweek.com/id/236096):

    The Catholic sex-abuse stories emerging every day suggest that Catholics have a much bigger problem with child molestation than other denominations and the general population. Many point to peculiarities of the Catholic Church (its celibacy rules for priests, its insular hierarchy, its exclusion of women) to infer that there’s something particularly pernicious about Catholic clerics that predisposes them to these horrific acts. It’s no wonder that, back in 2002—when the last Catholic sex-abuse scandal was making headlines—a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 64 percent of those queried thought Catholic priests “frequently” abused children.

    Yet experts say there’s simply no data to support the claim at all. No formal comparative study has ever broken down child sexual abuse by denomination, and only the Catholic Church has released detailed data about its own. But based on the surveys and studies conducted by different denominations over the past 30 years, experts who study child abuse say they see little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue. “We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others.”

    Since the mid-1980s, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other congregations. Insurance companies that cover all denominations, such as Guide One Center for Risk Management, which has more than 40,000 church clients, does not charge Catholic churches higher premiums. “We don’t see vast difference in the incidence rate between one denomination and another,” says Sarah Buckley, assistant vice president of corporate communications. “It’s pretty even across the denominations.” It’s been that way for decades. While the company saw an uptick in these claims by all types of churches around the time of the 2002 U.S. Catholic sex-abuse scandal, Eric Spacick, Guide One’s senior church-risk manager, says “it’s been pretty steady since.” On average, the company says 80 percent of the sexual misconduct claims they get from all denominations involve sexual abuse of children. As a result, the more children’s programs a church has, the more expensive its insurance, officials at Guide One said.

    The only hard data that has been made public by any denomination comes from John Jay College’s study of Catholic priests, which was authorized and is being paid for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops following the public outcry over the 2002 scandals. Limiting their study to plausible accusations made between 1950 and 1992, John Jay researchers reported that about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests active during those years had been accused of sexual misconduct involving children. Specifically, 4,392 complaints (ranging from “sexual talk” to rape) were made against priests by 10,667 victims. (Reports made after 2002, including those of incidents that occurred years earlier, are released as part of the church’s annual audits.)

    Experts disagree on the rate of sexual abuse among the general American male population, but Allen says a conservative estimate is one in 10. Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says her review of the numbers indicates it’s closer to one in 5. But in either case, the rate of abuse by Catholic priests is not higher than these national estimates. [in fact, if the figures are correct, Catholic priests abuse at a rate 50% less than the general population] The public also doesn’t realize how “profoundly prevalent” child sexual abuse is, adds Smith. Even those numbers may be low; research suggests that only a third of abuse cases are ever reported (making it the most underreported crime). “However you slice it, it’s a very common experience,” Smith says.

    Most child abusers have one thing in common, and it’s not piety—it’s preexisting relationships with their victims. That includes priests and ministers and rabbis, of course, but also family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, youth-group volunteers, and doctors. According to federal studies, three quarters of abuse occurs at the hands of family members or others in the victim’s “circle of trust.” “The fundamental premise here is that those who abuse children overwhelmingly seek out situations where they have easy and legitimate access to children,” he said. “These kinds of positions offer a kind of cover for these offenders.”

    Priests may also appear more likely to molest children because cases of abuse come to light in huge waves. One reason is delayed reporting: less than 13 percent of victims abused between 1960 and 1980, for example, lodged a complaint in the same year as the assault. Two thirds filed their complaints after 1992, and half of those were made between 2002 and 2003 alone. “Offenders tend to be manipulative, often persuading children to believe that this is their fault,” said Allen. “As a result, the children tend to keep it to themselves. There are countless victims who thought they were the only one.” So what looks like high concentrations of abuse may simply reflect long and diffuse patterns of abuse that mirror those among all males.

    Another reason is that the church has historically been bad at punishing (or preventing) molesters, so that many cases might come to light when just one priest is finally exposed. A single predator priest with ongoing access to children might be responsible for an immense raft of abuse cases. (Marie Fortune of the Faith Trust Institute, which focuses on clerical-abuse issues, says Roman Catholics tend “to have many more schools and other programs that involve children.” “Plenty of other congregations have these problems, for instance, if they have a youth ministry.”) That helps explain the 200 children who were abused at a school for the deaf. It didn’t happen because the school was full of rapists; it happened because one man was never stopped. Overall, the John Jay study found that 149 priests were responsible for more than 25,000 cases of abuse over the 52-year period studied.

    Allen suggests a final reason we hear so much more about Catholic abuse than transgressions in other religions: its sheer size. It’s the second largest single denomination in the world (behind Islam) and the biggest in the United States. (Fifty-one percent of all American adults are Protestant, but they belong to hundreds of different denominations.) “When you consider the per capita data,” says Allen, “I don’t think they have a larger incidence than other faiths.”

  • Rob Carter

    As for whether chastity causes sexual deviance, I refer to a recent article in Newseek by Pat Wingert (http://www.newsweek.com/id/236096):

    The Catholic sex-abuse stories emerging every day suggest that Catholics have a much bigger problem with child molestation than other denominations and the general population. Many point to peculiarities of the Catholic Church (its celibacy rules for priests, its insular hierarchy, its exclusion of women) to infer that there’s something particularly pernicious about Catholic clerics that predisposes them to these horrific acts. It’s no wonder that, back in 2002—when the last Catholic sex-abuse scandal was making headlines—a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 64 percent of those queried thought Catholic priests “frequently” abused children.

    Yet experts say there’s simply no data to support the claim at all. No formal comparative study has ever broken down child sexual abuse by denomination, and only the Catholic Church has released detailed data about its own. But based on the surveys and studies conducted by different denominations over the past 30 years, experts who study child abuse say they see little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue. “We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others.”

    Since the mid-1980s, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other congregations. Insurance companies that cover all denominations, such as Guide One Center for Risk Management, which has more than 40,000 church clients, does not charge Catholic churches higher premiums. “We don’t see vast difference in the incidence rate between one denomination and another,” says Sarah Buckley, assistant vice president of corporate communications. “It’s pretty even across the denominations.” It’s been that way for decades. While the company saw an uptick in these claims by all types of churches around the time of the 2002 U.S. Catholic sex-abuse scandal, Eric Spacick, Guide One’s senior church-risk manager, says “it’s been pretty steady since.” On average, the company says 80 percent of the sexual misconduct claims they get from all denominations involve sexual abuse of children. As a result, the more children’s programs a church has, the more expensive its insurance, officials at Guide One said.

    The only hard data that has been made public by any denomination comes from John Jay College’s study of Catholic priests, which was authorized and is being paid for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops following the public outcry over the 2002 scandals. Limiting their study to plausible accusations made between 1950 and 1992, John Jay researchers reported that about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests active during those years had been accused of sexual misconduct involving children. Specifically, 4,392 complaints (ranging from “sexual talk” to rape) were made against priests by 10,667 victims. (Reports made after 2002, including those of incidents that occurred years earlier, are released as part of the church’s annual audits.)

    Experts disagree on the rate of sexual abuse among the general American male population, but Allen says a conservative estimate is one in 10. Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says her review of the numbers indicates it’s closer to one in 5. But in either case, the rate of abuse by Catholic priests is not higher than these national estimates. [in fact, if the figures are correct, Catholic priests abuse at a rate 50% less than the general population] The public also doesn’t realize how “profoundly prevalent” child sexual abuse is, adds Smith. Even those numbers may be low; research suggests that only a third of abuse cases are ever reported (making it the most underreported crime). “However you slice it, it’s a very common experience,” Smith says.

    Most child abusers have one thing in common, and it’s not piety—it’s preexisting relationships with their victims. That includes priests and ministers and rabbis, of course, but also family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, youth-group volunteers, and doctors. According to federal studies, three quarters of abuse occurs at the hands of family members or others in the victim’s “circle of trust.” “The fundamental premise here is that those who abuse children overwhelmingly seek out situations where they have easy and legitimate access to children,” he said. “These kinds of positions offer a kind of cover for these offenders.”

    Priests may also appear more likely to molest children because cases of abuse come to light in huge waves. One reason is delayed reporting: less than 13 percent of victims abused between 1960 and 1980, for example, lodged a complaint in the same year as the assault. Two thirds filed their complaints after 1992, and half of those were made between 2002 and 2003 alone. “Offenders tend to be manipulative, often persuading children to believe that this is their fault,” said Allen. “As a result, the children tend to keep it to themselves. There are countless victims who thought they were the only one.” So what looks like high concentrations of abuse may simply reflect long and diffuse patterns of abuse that mirror those among all males.

    Another reason is that the church has historically been bad at punishing (or preventing) molesters, so that many cases might come to light when just one priest is finally exposed. A single predator priest with ongoing access to children might be responsible for an immense raft of abuse cases. (Marie Fortune of the Faith Trust Institute, which focuses on clerical-abuse issues, says Roman Catholics tend “to have many more schools and other programs that involve children.” “Plenty of other congregations have these problems, for instance, if they have a youth ministry.”) That helps explain the 200 children who were abused at a school for the deaf. It didn’t happen because the school was full of rapists; it happened because one man was never stopped. Overall, the John Jay study found that 149 priests were responsible for more than 25,000 cases of abuse over the 52-year period studied.

    Allen suggests a final reason we hear so much more about Catholic abuse than transgressions in other religions: its sheer size. It’s the second largest single denomination in the world (behind Islam) and the biggest in the United States. (Fifty-one percent of all American adults are Protestant, but they belong to hundreds of different denominations.) “When you consider the per capita data,” says Allen, “I don’t think they have a larger incidence than other faiths.”

  • Rob Carter

    On a final note, Luther’s comments beg the question of where he acknowledges & embraces St. Paul’s exhortation in 1st Corinthians. It appears, rather, that he entirely rejects the concept.

    Eastern Catholics & the Orthodox have optional celibacy for their priests, and yet there are monks and nuns in those traditions. I see little of this in the Lutheran, much less overall Protestant, tradition.

  • Rob Carter

    On a final note, Luther’s comments beg the question of where he acknowledges & embraces St. Paul’s exhortation in 1st Corinthians. It appears, rather, that he entirely rejects the concept.

    Eastern Catholics & the Orthodox have optional celibacy for their priests, and yet there are monks and nuns in those traditions. I see little of this in the Lutheran, much less overall Protestant, tradition.

  • Dayo Adewoye

    I really think the stance of the church has contributed to this saddening issue. God has endowed us with sexual desires that, ordinarily, are met through marital union. But when we deprive ourselves of such a union, coupled with the sinfulness of our fallen human natures, our desires will be forced to seek satisfaction in some other way.

  • Dayo Adewoye

    I really think the stance of the church has contributed to this saddening issue. God has endowed us with sexual desires that, ordinarily, are met through marital union. But when we deprive ourselves of such a union, coupled with the sinfulness of our fallen human natures, our desires will be forced to seek satisfaction in some other way.

  • Joe

    Rob you are undone by your own references. St. Paul expressly notes that not all men have the gift of celibacy. So on what basis does the church force it on men. St. Paul lists the qualifications for clergy elsewhere and not surprisingly celibacy is not on the list. Having only one wife is, however, on the list of qualifications.

  • Joe

    Rob you are undone by your own references. St. Paul expressly notes that not all men have the gift of celibacy. So on what basis does the church force it on men. St. Paul lists the qualifications for clergy elsewhere and not surprisingly celibacy is not on the list. Having only one wife is, however, on the list of qualifications.

  • fws

    joe @ 19

    interesting comment. so where does that leave gay men and lesbians who cannot marry without horribly sinning, but who do not have the gift of celebacy?

  • fws

    joe @ 19

    interesting comment. so where does that leave gay men and lesbians who cannot marry without horribly sinning, but who do not have the gift of celebacy?

  • Rob Carter

    Joe, I am aware of that in additional to St. Paul’s instruction on chastity in 1 Corinthians 7, he states in 1 Timothy 3:2 that “[t]he bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach.”

    As regards Catholic clergy, it is only Latin Catholic priests who are bound to clerical celibacy. Eastern Catholic priests may marry, and minister converts from certain Protestant traditions are permitted to retain their wives.

    We can argue the relative merits of mandatory celibacy. What appears beyond argument, however, is that given the evidence presented, clerical celibacy does not cause pedophilia.

    Indeed, it appears that Catholic clergy are >no more likely to abusehalf< that of the general population.

  • Rob Carter

    Joe, I am aware of that in additional to St. Paul’s instruction on chastity in 1 Corinthians 7, he states in 1 Timothy 3:2 that “[t]he bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach.”

    As regards Catholic clergy, it is only Latin Catholic priests who are bound to clerical celibacy. Eastern Catholic priests may marry, and minister converts from certain Protestant traditions are permitted to retain their wives.

    We can argue the relative merits of mandatory celibacy. What appears beyond argument, however, is that given the evidence presented, clerical celibacy does not cause pedophilia.

    Indeed, it appears that Catholic clergy are >no more likely to abusehalf< that of the general population.


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