Catholic priests and celibacy: a flashpoint in sexual abuse crisis
The No. 2 at the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, appeared Tuesday to ease the church's absolute position on celibacy for Catholic priests. The issue continues to roil the church as it confronts revelations of sexual abuse.
(Page 3 of 3)
Technicalities aside, however, actually to broach celibacy would raise internal political and authority issues practically on a par with heresy debates like Galileo’s claim that Earth revolves around the sun: If changed, analysts say, it would open up painful questions about why, for hundreds of years, millions of priests were required to forgo families. It would shake up an all-male hierarchy and tradition. It would also challenge an often unspoken sensibility in parts of the church that males willing to forgo sex and family in devotion to church puts them in a higher or more heavenly category than others.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Pope Benedict XVI
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Inside the current crisis, argues Andrew Brown in the Guardian, the culture of celibacy reinforces a lack of transparency: “Many people blame celibacy for Catholic sexual abuse. But it's much more likely to have played a role in the coverup.”
A senior church official in Munich who has dealt with abuse in Bavaria, and who did not want to be identified, agrees. He argues that celibacy contributes to a pattern of manipulation among abusers that know who each other are, and who “embed themselves” in the system and play off its weaknesses, especially in cover ups.
Celibacy discussions in Europe and the US differ somewhat. European Catholics are quicker to raise the origins of celibacy, rather than its spiritual virtues: They point out that celibacy rules were a practical measure in the 11th century to stop married priests from claiming the parish property and handing it down to their families.
In today’s world, where it does not take a year of savings to own a cow or livestock, where “possessions” are abundant and legally rendered, it's argued, the situation no longer applies. Europeans are also quick to note that prior to the early Middle Ages, and for the first 1,000 years of the church, marriage was accepted and normal. This point is part of the Vatican rationale to now allow exceptions: Anglican priests who are married and convert to Catholicism are recognized. The church accepts married priests from Armenian and Marionite confessions and other orthodox churches where celibacy is optional.
Polls in Germany suggest some 70 to 80 percent of lay Catholics would accept married priests. In the Dutch province of Limburg, a recent survey found a third of priests questioned openly told a reporter that celibacy rules should be changed.
Typical among young Germans considering the priesthood is a comment by a Munich student: “Lutherans have married priests, and it seems to work for them.”