CNN and other news media outlets have raged with stories about corruption, the papacy, and the problem of priestly celibacy. They are shouting from the rooftops that the Catholic Church needs to change! Anyone and everyone who has an agenda against the Church cannot help but join the blind frenzy.
Many people believe the myth that priestly celibacy is the main cause of the sex abuse scandals in the Church. They also claim that it’s the main reason for the shortage of priests too.
“If the old men in Rome would get with the times and allow priests to marry, then there would be a surge of numbers in the priesthood along with a drastic decrease in children being abused.” It sounds pretty simple, right?
Unfortunately, this is very far from the truth. There are two gaping myths here that need to be examined:
1. That the out of control pedophilia “rampant in the Catholic Church” can be directly linked to priestly celibacy, along with a host of other unhealthy problems.
2. That priestly celibacy is the direct cause for the shortage of priests and lack of interest in the priesthood.
Answering the Objections
The reality is that the sex abuse scandals were not due to the issue of celibacy but a lack of it! Pedophilia itself is also not rooted in celibacy but in a psychological disorder and mental illness. This goes for anyone, religious or secular, priest or lay person, single or married.
While the media would have us believe differently – statistically and otherwise – the Catholic Church has been one of the least group of perpetrators of any institution in the world regarding sexual abuse. What the media usually fails to announce is that 99% of the abuse cases they report on is old news – most of them from 30-50 years ago – that they are rehashing. Even though they are being presented today as if they were current, most of these cases took place nearly a half century ago.
Don’t believe me? Check out the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has rigorously performed all the major research on this issue. Their latest reports from 2008 onward show that there have been only about 5-7 credible allegations each year involving minors. Not seven-hundred. Not seventy. Seven. And, this is out of the forty thousand priests and tens of thousands of workers employed in the Catholic Church. Obviously, one case is too many anywhere, but the charge that the Catholic Church still has a huge problem with sexual abuse, or that priests are all pedophiles, is a completely biased and unsubstantiated assertion.
Let’s push the envelope a little more and blow open the dirty little secrets that either people don’t know or don’t want to talk about:
– It is a fact that the majority of all sexual abuse takes place in the family! Studies reveal that about 85% of sexual abuse takes place in the family. The highest abuse rate comes from family members, then babysitters, then neighbors and friends.
– After families, the next highest perpetrator of sexual abuse is the public school system. These make up about 15% of all abuse cases.
– Toward the bottom of the abuse list comes religious institutions. And, within that category, non-Catholic faiths have an equal or higher rate of abuse than the Catholic Church, even though Catholics have 10 times the amount of people than these other churches do. If celibacy, not allowing men to marry, leads to so many problems, including sexual abuse, then how do you explain families having the biggest problem? Spouses get married. They have sex. And yet, the child abuse rate is extraordinarily lower among celibates. The proof is in the facts.
Again, one case is too many, and the Catholic Church should be held to the highest standard more than secular institutions. However, it is a fabrication to state that the Church is the biggest perpetrator of abuse. That is not an honest statement. And for all the people who yell, scream, protest, and complain that we need to crack down on the evil, corrupt Catholic Church in order to protect children, they ought to stop turning a blind eye to families and public schools where the abuse rate is 100 times higher than the Church. 100 times! If these same people were really concerned about protecting children and not attacking the Church, they would crack down on all areas where the problem is truly rampant, but instead, their apparent anti-Catholic bias is their driving force.
Remember, so many priests are good, holy and faithful, and have been so for the majority of church history. People like Jesus, St. Paul, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul II, to name a few, were all celibate and lived lives to perfection. Jesus himself (also St. Paul) was the one to teach celibacy, not the Church (Mt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:7-8). Do people who have a problem with the Church’s teaching on celibacy have a problem with Jesus too?
What about the crisis and the growing shortage of priests? Wouldn’t allowing priests to marry draw more men to the priesthood and thus help this “problem”? The answer is no. Eastern Rite priests in the Catholic Church can marry, and they have the same priestly shortage that the Roman Catholic Church does.
Moreover, celibacy is not the problem, but rather it is a crisis of faith. The main problem is not that men don’t consider the vocation of the priesthood, but that many men do not even pray or attend church, alone or with their families. They do not raise their children in the faith.
I once asked an Eastern Rite Catholic priest (who was married and part of a Rite that allowed married priests) if celibacy was the cause of the priest shortage. He admitted frankly that his church had married priests and still suffered from the same shortage. He stated that even if all priests were allowed to marry, it would not fix the problem because the problem is one of faith. He then spoke of the great difficulties of trying to run a church and manage a family, something even Protestant pastors struggle with as well.
This priest was talking from experience! What are those who persecute the Catholic Church speaking from?