The Celibacy Lecture

My husband was working with the Scouts this weekend and the church scandals came up. One woman said, “if the Catholics did not insist on a celibate priesthood…”

My husband, a quiet sort, answered as he worked, “the Scouts have had their share of sex-abuser scoutmasters; none of them were celibate priests.”

I have my own response
to the “if only priests were not celibate” lecture but because it is a rather mean answer, I only use it if the lecturer has been rude about it. I ask them: was there a period in your life, where you were celibate, either because you hadn’t started having sex, or you had no one to have sex with?

When they say yes, I ask how they managed, during that time, to battle their instincts to go around sexually abusing adolescents.

Fr. James Martin has written a response from his perspective as a celibate male. As ever, he is much kinder than I am:

For one thing, if four percent of American priests were accused of abuse, it means that 96 percent of priests have not been accused of anything and are leading healthy, productive lives in the community. (Bluntly put: if celibacy causes abuse, why aren’t the other 96 percent of priests pedophiles?) For another, 30 percent of abuse takes place within families, yet few sane people point to marriage as a cause of child abuse. When schoolteachers abuse children, few sane people say that teaching leads to pedophilia. Many widows and widowers, not to mention some single men and women, are celibate. No one suspects them of pedophilia.

So why is the celibacy of Catholic priests singled out?

The critique of priestly celibacy has to do mainly with its unfamiliarity. Voluntarily refraining from sex is unnatural, so the thinking goes; it shuts down a natural part of life and thus leads to unhealthy behaviors. It is unhealthy, critics say; therefore, priesthood attracts only unhealthy people. It is impossible, others aver, so any priest who says he is celibate must be lying. Most people don’t know priests, sisters, or brothers, and we sometimes demonize those whom we don’t know. It’s easy to stereotype out of frustration and fear.

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