conflicts, the most difficult combats are those of chastity; wherein
the fight is a daily one,
But victory rare.
St. Augustine De Agone Christiano
Is clerical celibacy a living, life giving, viable way of life
and service? Or is a life of celibacy the greatest sexual
perversion-a defiance of a scriptural directive? Is it the source of
sanctity or is it hypocrisy in the service of power and control?
The answer to all those questions is clearly, yes.
There are other questions that
need to be addressed to help foster celibate understanding and
practice. Don’t forget that this dialogue is about only one
aspect of ministry—the Christian conflict about chastity, and
even more specifically about clerical chastity i.e. celibacy in the
Roman Catholic clergy. All the concerns, problems, violations,
scandals and horrendous effects of clerical malfeasance do not
invalidate good that clergy do and have done. But we are talking
about a systemic infection, or a systemic dysfunction, cancer—call
it what you will. Part of the fiber of ministry is harmful and
destructive. Our goal is to help toward healing a sick system.
Paradoxes and ambiguity have
always surrounded religious celibacy- today more so than at any
time. It has been extolled in grandiloquent terms such as a state
of perfection and “mystagogical—a mystical reality
unreasonable, unnatural and excessive angelic and unexplainable.” That stance is problematic and destructive.
The ideal to be "like Christ"
who was thought to be celibate (based on tradition not biblical
evidence) is an unquestionably noble goal. Celibacy can be lived in
the service of humanity—in being persons for others. Some
men and women from the time of the Fathers of the Desert to the present
have pursued the practice of celibacy with remarkable productive
Celibate men and women (in a
number of religious traditions) have inspired many, including me, to
live as fully as possible because they live fully. They serve
unstintingly in parishes, missions, and schools as teachers,
scholars, artists, scientists, and spiritual leaders pointing the
way to spiritual realities and a righteous, reasonable life.
Celibacy has also served as an
empty moniker bespeaking a status and power that covers a deceptive
sexual life—from understandable missteps to wanton relationships and
The history of celibate violation and pretense is as old as the
ideal and practice itself.
I would much prefer to spend my
energy in tracing the histories of successful and dedicated
celibates like those that C. Colt Anderson
describes—those who have contributed to building spiritual,
physical, personal, and cultural monuments of eternal value—than to
explore the failures, betrayals, and hypocrisies perpetrated by some
clergy who only posed as celibates. Even the histories of this
latter group create a challenge since their service can have
survived in spite of corruption, contamination, duplicity, and
hypocrisy, as we shall see.
I have a vocation. In many ways
it is a biblical commission. I went where I wanted as a young man,
but as ‘I grew up another bound me and led me where I was
reluctant to go’.
So be it. I have looked around for models. St. Benedict was a
natural candidate; so many of his good nuns taught me as a child. I
spent 24 years and more living in his tradition in a notable
monastery. The Rule of Benedict is a magnificent heritage and a
great and lasting guide and ideal. I have been forced to experience
another side of religious ideal—its corrupt aspects—destructive
aspects of Catholic institutional structures. Venerable structures
in need of reform. But the Gospel Spirit remains a beacon of hope;
it has led the Church to many reforms before. Religious celibacy is
but one way to implement that spirit.
Luther’s experience of a church
in trouble occurred to me as a focus for reflection. What was his
journey like in the middle of what we now call a Reformation?
We are now, without any doubt in my mind, in the middle of a major
Catholic Re-formation not unlike the sexual and financial crisis
that faced t young monk Luther in 1510 and after. My novitiate
confessor once said I was like Luther in temperament—over
conscientious. I was even more anxious, troubled, and humiliated by my confessor’s
comparison at that time. [He was a good man subsequently
revealed as one of many monks of my monastery who were involved sexually with
minor boys. Another long-term confessor who became Abbot later
admitted that he, too, was sexually active, albeit with young
seminarians and monks. I suspected nothing of these men’s
inclinations or transgressions when they were my spiritual guides,
but since, I have had the sad and sorrowful education of
interviewing their victims along with many other victims of monks
from the monastery I called home.]
Now I recall his judgment as a commission—part of my vocation—and
mark it as a challenge to have courage to help the church and
priesthood I love. I am a man troubled by what I see in the clerical
practice and structure. Peter Damian is now my chosen spiritual
Our times and his are very similar concerning sexual problems of the
clergy. And the crisis that he spoke to resonated in the halls of
power—and it still does. He held men in authority responsible for
the behavior (and education) of sexually offending clergy. Even Pope
Benedict XVI has of yet been unwilling to effectively intervene in
the celibacy crisis.
The heart is critical to a
human life; it can have many defects and some impaired function and
still avoid death for a time. But a malfunctioning heart will affect
the whole body. I have had to console my self with the thought that
I have to be like a clinical cardiologist. As much as he would like
to extol the wonders of the heart—even its symbolism and its
prominence in poetry or to spend all of his time to promote healthy
heart education—he can do so only if he masters the dysfunctions of
the organ in all its variations. This is my situation in the
Catholic Church today. Celibacy (mandatory) is at the heart of
religious life and the priesthood (as it is established today). And
that heart is in distress.
Will a married priesthood cure
all that ails the heart of Catholic ministry? Will marriage
eliminate illicit or irresponsible sexual behavior among the clergy?
Will a married priesthood automatically produce more honest priests?
Will the tendency to psychopathological adjustment so endemic to
religious power be cured by marriage? Will spiritual power be
invariably used for service rather than domination simply because of
marriage rather that singleness? I will not enter that discussion;
but the dysfunctional Body of Christ is more compromised than any
one administrative declaration can cure. Father Michael Crosby, one
of the wisest priest commentators on the health and dysfunction of
the church, has delivered his diagnosis two decades ago.
The church in the United States—bishops and their supporters—have
Like it or not, the celibacy
question (that is, how the bishops and priests deal with their
sexuality) is the measure of the health or illness of the clerical
body of Jesus Christ. The reason for concern about this foundational
element of the clerical structure is because it is a measure of the
honesty or hypocrisy (health or illness) within this functioning
FIRST: Is Celibacy a vocation in and of itself, or only an adjunct
to the Roman Catholic priesthood?
Fundamental distinctions about
celibacy demand recognition and discourse. The vow of celibacy is
not an essential aspect of priesthood, regardless of church
tradition and the statements of recent popes who claim that they
lack the authority to change the requirement for ordination. Simply
Celibacy is a prior and
separate vocation that the Vatican has decreed must be pledged and
embraced if a man presents himself for ordination to the priesthood.
Celibacy has been so wedded to
Catholic priesthood especially in the aftermath of the Protestant
Reformation that some think that it is identical with the clerical
state. Even some sophisticated Catholics identify priest with
celibate. True, each priest is publicly presented as bound to
strict sexual abstinence with the hope and presumption that he will
be received and respected as sexually abstinent. Not so in
practice. There are experienced and competent voices within the
clergy like Fr. Michael Crosby,
and Fr. Donald Cozzens,
which argue powerfully against mandatory celibacy for Catholic
priests. It is interesting to observe the development in their
thinking. As their writings have evolved; they still hold celibate
dedication in high (?) regard, but it is clear that they question
the quality of its observance to the point that any mandatory
statute should be eliminated. Their arguments are rational and
strong—and in polite contradiction to popes who have said that even
they are not capable of reversing that requirement they regard as
Gospel. None of us—the people of God or popes—have not heard the
last of this critical debate.
Pope Paul VI referred to
celibacy as a "brilliant jewel whose value remains undiminished."
There is truth in this statement. Celibacy is one of those "pearls
of great price" of which Jesus speaks. But few priests—and the
church itself—have not been willing to ante up to fully invest in
I have sympathy for the cause
of a married priesthood and great empathy for those clergy and lay
people who advocate, agitate, and demonstrate for the abrogation of
mandated celibacy. I admire the dedicated Christians who crusade for
the ordination of women and married men. These are praiseworthy
undertakings. But I have never felt it was my primary calling to be
a campaigner for these timely causes. My training predisposed me to
try and understand the reality that currently prevails—priests
who are bound by a system that requires celibacy. My efforts of my
vocation have been directed to aid Catholic clergy in their
pursuits, relieve their suffering where possible, and help them
remove impediments to their celibate striving and counteract the
adverse consequences of failed attempts. All my labors have been
invested in understanding every aspect of religious celibacy. I am
struck, appalled, and frustrated by the absence of sexual/celibate
education and inadequate and faulty training for celibacy that men
undergo in seminaries and religious houses.
I have tried to move the system
to do better in educating seminarians about sexuality and for
celibacy. I have failed.
The church is reprehensible in
demanding this prior vocation as a requirement for ordination to the
priesthood without giving adequate consideration and training to
sex/celibacy. Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary that run
the gambit from "the system of seminary structure with prayer,
confessors, and spiritual direction teaches celibacy"
to the more current justification, "seminarians do go through an
intense instruction on celibacy in classroom and retreats...months
before they are ordained, these men put themselves through some
intense scrutiny" said a theology professor in 2008 from a good
seminary where some of the faculty are not practicing celibacy. [One
seminary in Washington D.C. takes its deacon class on “observation
excursions,” in supposedly unobtrusive groups, to tour gay bars and
areas of the District as part of their sexual/celibate education.]
All of the above may be good intentioned efforts for preparation of
a sexually abstinent life while being confessors, guides, and
counselors to folks who have to work out their salvation as sexually
active Christians. No seminary or religious house in the US has
yet introduced a realistically adequate sequence of training to meet
the real needs that the practice of celibacy deserves.
If the Catholic Church took
clerical celibacy seriously and had an honest interest in
maintaining its practice as a life-style commitment it would spend
as much time training for it as it requires for learning scripture,
that is: a three-year, six-semester sequence that thoroughly
investigated the history, sexuality (married and celibate),
asceticism, spirituality, and the pastoral-sociology of the reality.
Who should be the expert on celibacy if not the cleric or priest who
claims it as his way of life?
SECOND: Is Loneliness an essential element of celibate life and
is a veritable library of recent books on aspects—mostly positive,
idealistic, and mystical - of priesthood and celibacy. Even a partial
list of books published since 2003 indicate the vital interest in
celibacy and priestly life.
It is not that they lack substance, but rather most fail at
integration with practicality. Celibacy, if it is to endure as a
condition of priesthood and serve the goals of ministry its real
nature as a daily practice must be faced squarely.
Pope John Paul II did not
hesitate to speak directly to the reality of celibate practice: “
is in the context of the Church as communion and in the context of
the presbyterate that we can best discuss the problem of priestly
loneliness treated by the synod fathers. There is a loneliness which
all priests experience and which is completely normal. …Loneliness
does not however create only difficulties; it can
also offer positive opportunities for the priestly life:
"When it is accepted in a spirit of oblation and is seen as
an opportunity for greater intimacy with Jesus Christ the
Lord, solitude can be an opportunity for prayer and study, as also a
help for sanctification and also for human growth."
The factor of loneliness is the
single most powerful force that militates against living a life of
chastity and challenges the daily combat that St. Augustine talked
about “where the victory is rare.”
John Paul adds:
type of solitude is a necessary element in ongoing formation. Jesus
often went off alone to pray (cf. Mt. 14:23). The ability
to handle a healthy solitude is indispensable for caring for one's
interior life. Here we are speaking of a solitude filled with the
presence of the Lord who puts us in contact with the Father, in the
light of the Spirit. In this regard, concern for silence and looking
for places and times of "desert" are necessary for the priest's
permanent formation, whether in the intellectual, spiritual or
pastoral areas. In this regard too, it can be said that those unable
to have a positive experience of their own solitude are incapable of
genuine and fraternal fellowship.”
A good number of seminary
professors neither practice celibacy consistently nor presume that
it can be lived by their students in the long run. The series of
abstinence / failure / repentance /confession / forgiveness / and /
try again is a basic cycle of good intentions and guilt that is
commonly set up even in seminary days. No one illustrates this
pattern better than Fr. Andrew Greeley in the person of his
character Patrick Donahue in The Cardinal Sins.
A common attitude in spiritual
direction is: “Do the best you can. Just don’t leave.”
Some seminary professors give
their students explicit help: “If you are going to have sex don’t
do it in your own parish. That is the first rule. The second is:
don’t wear your roman collar (don’t let her—him—know that you
are a priest). And third, don’t let her talk you into marrying
her. (Whatever you do don’t leave the priesthood).
Dealing with sex and celibacy
is not an easy task. Educating for celibate life is not easy, but
certainly it will be better if honesty is the first rule. These
issues are tied up with conflict and controversy precisely because
they really are not settled and clear. That is why they need honest
discussion. Sexual activity is not the highest rung of sin or evil,
but violations of celibate promise and expectations can and do have
dire consequences as the sexual abuse crisis clearly demonstrates.
Better holistic education on the historical, biological,
psychological, sociological, spiritual and ascetical dimensions of
celibacy are necessary but sadly neglected in every Catholic
seminary. The consequences in the terms of human and spiritual
suffering are incalculable.
THIRD: Is it “angry” to publicly expose or discuss improper clerical
behavior? Or are acts of clergy malfeasance “dirty laundry”?
Saint Augustine in admitting
that chastity is the most difficult Christian conflict, that it is a
daily combat, and that victory is rare is not putting anyone down.
It is not an angry statement. (He did say, however, that anger is
the beginning of courage.) His Confession was not airing his
dirty laundry. He was talking about his sexual struggles and
failures. Everyone extols his honesty, but few imitate it. Margaret
Miles, former Harvard Divinity professor and Augustine scholar,
thought that Augustine suffered sexual addiction.
I argued with her that he did not meet the modern criteria for such
a diagnosis. I was wrong. She was correct. Augustine was exposing
his addictions—not angry or airing dirty laundry. She was being an
honest scholar with immense respect for Augustine.
The majority of those folks I
know who have been concerned or involved in dealing with the
multi-faceted reform issues of
the Catholic Church—Call To Action, Voice Of The Faithful,
Bishop Accountability and others—are not motivated by anger.
If that were the motivation they would simply walk away. No. There
are many people who care about the Catholic Church and her clergy
who want to contribute to a renewal of purpose and a re-formation of
its system to conform with the spirit of Christ. Bishop Geoffrey
Robinson is not a disgruntled man when he confronts the Church on
power and sex.
He is part of a cadre of Catholics who have striven to help the
Church face its shortcomings and defects. Fathers Greeley, McBrien,
Cozzens, Crosby, Kennedy and dozens of other American priests and
writers form a phalanx of wise voices calling the Church to reform
and pointing out the need for serious attention to areas of
corruption. They speak with the quality of concern C. Colt Anderson
records in his history of Roman Catholic reformers.
The public awareness of the
significant number of priests in the United States who sexually
assault young boys and girls caused a worldwide firestorm when the
Boston Globe in 2002 began a yearlong series of
articles on the problem.
Like popping a cork from a shaken up bottle of champagne the long
constrained stories of sexually active priests and their involvement
with minors splashed across the headlines of newspapers and journals
around the world. Television, movies, documentaries, Grand Jury
and court records paint an ever- clearer picture of the depth and
breadth of the corruption and collusion on the highest levels of the
hierarchy to keep the truth of clerical corruption secret.
In the United States the best
efforts are failing. Current research reveals “the large number of people who have left the Catholic Church.
Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who say they were
raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic. This
means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics.”
Although this shift of church affiliation cannot be entirely
ascribed to the sex abuse crisis it certainly is one factor in the
decision of many Catholics to leave the church of their childhood.
The Pew report continues: “Catholicism
has experienced the greatest
[compared with other US denominations] net losses as a result of
affiliation changes. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were
raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%)
describe themselves as Catholic.”
Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests [SNAP] was founded in 1988 as a support system for
victims of Catholic clergy assaults. They have established a strong
public voice in defending victims and exposing what is
unquestionably the greatest crisis facing the Roman Catholic Church
since the Protestant Reformation. They expose sexual abuse by clergy
whenever and wherever they discover it. They encourage victims to
come forward and speak up and when appropriate to sue the diocese or
religious order for their neglect in selecting and supervising, or
covering up the criminal activity of offending bishops and priests.
Are there many angry voices within this group and their supporters?
“You bets’ya!” There is a fund of justifiable anger, disappointment,
and disdain for the system that has fostered, tolerated, colluded
with, and hidden sexual malfeasance while it sacrifices children and
the vulnerable on the altar or its image.
The stance that all or
most of its clergy practice (perfect and perpetual) celibacy is an
intolerable pretense that diminishes or destroys confidence,
inspiration, and loyalty in clergy and laity. The sex abuse crisis
has moved many writers and scholars to expose not only the facts
about these travesties but about clerical celibacy in general.
Books that presaged the 2002 Boston explosion were written without
hostility and without awareness of the malignancy inside the system
and the investment and forces it housed and its armamentarium to
resist facts and wage war against people who spoke out about real
conditions within the secret world of clericalism.
It is not exposing “dirty
laundry” when one revealing corruption of an institution that is
being destructive to the lives of others and is operating in
essential contradiction to its stated commission. That is a service.
It is not angry to speak truth
to power: Fact: Celibacy has never been very well practiced by those
who profess it. If it is truth that makes us free, facts make truth
FOURTH: Is the clerical system sick?
Yes: It is fair to say that the
Roman Catholic clerical system today is sick or dysfunctional or
corrupt; there are various ways to describe the state of affairs by
different individuals who are good men and women dedicated to
serving the Church. Notwithstanding divergent opinions, all agree
that the system is in serious disarray and in need of
correction and reform. As one member of the hierarchy said to me
years ago, “The organization to which I belong is corrupt from
the top down.” Power and sex: there we have the two forces
crushing the current day Laocoön-like prophets who are trying to
save the church from its own self-destruction.
The sexual abuse crisis has
brought into focus the real operational underpinnings and function
of the Church. The need for change (reform) in the Church is not
new. And serious complaints were voiced to popes. Saint Peter Damian
in his 1049 letter to Pope Leo IX was neither gentle nor indirect.
Randy Engel, author of The Rite of Sodomy, says that his
letter, called The Book of Gomorrah, is “the most
extensive treatment and condemnation by any Church Father of
clerical pederasty and homosexual practices. His manly discourse on
the vice of sodomy in general and clerical homosexuality and
pederasty in particular, is written in a plain and forthright style
that makes it quite readable and easy to understand.” Damian
describes in graphic language what priests were doing: kissing,
masturbating, and having femoral fornication and anal sex especially
with young boys and other clerics. He reminded the pope of the harsh
discipline already dictated by earlier councils that should be meted
out to offending clerics.
But most importantly he stated that religious superiors had the
responsibility for the supervision and discipline of priests under
their jurisdiction. Peter’s frank description of conditions one
thousand years ago fit today’s clerical system precisely.
Three centuries later another
saint confronts and chides a pope, albeit in more poetic language,
about his responsibility to do something effectively to deal with
corruption in the clerical system. “You are in charge of the Holy
Church. So, uproot from the garden the stinking weeds full of
impurity and avarice and bloated with pride. I mean the evil pastors
and administrators who poison and corrupt the garden....” Power, sex, and, money
and their abuse have long been the concern of church synods and
councils. The earliest recorded document from a synod—that of Elvira
in Spain in 309 C.E.—has all the elements of concern about clerical
corruption that face us today.
Fifth: Should good clergy be held responsible for the sexual abuse
Yes. To a degree
this is true. Even in 2008 Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles was
telling his priests that the church is like a family and the
failings of fellow priests should be taken care of “like a family,”
in secret, by themselves.
This counsel, of course, is based on the postulate that to talk
about clergy failings is to “air dirty laundry.” A powerful example
of this clerical attitude is the instance of Cardinal Bernard Law of
Boston calling down the wrath of God on the Boston Globe in
1992 for reporting the facts about the notorious Fr. James Porter
case in which the priest admitted that he had abused at least 200
minors during his career.
And for many years the Catholic hierarchy held—and still
propounds—that the problem of clergy sex abuse is the result of the
press and media exaggeration—a public relations problem. Bishops
have declared the problem of sex by clergy is solved and “passed.”
Those pronouncements are no truer now than they would have been at
the time of Peter Damian in the eleventh century or in the sixteenth
century Protestant Reformation. Saint Augustine is a better
diagnostician than any of the bishops speaking up about power and
sex in the clerical culture today save for Geoffrey Robinson in
Augustine’s observation is as true today as it was in the fourth
century: Of all a
conflicts, the most difficult combats are those of chastity; wherein
the fight is a daily one, but victory rare. What is the sense in denying
the truth of this? What is the purpose of excluding clergy from the
reality of this most human struggle? Why should the myth (rather
than the ideal) of “perfect and perpetual chastity” of clergy be
perpetuated and pretended? Wouldn’t truth serve the church, clergy
and the faithful better? Here is the first and cardinal sin of
complicit responsibility of the clerical community: the denial of a
problem of sexual activity among the clerical community—bishops,
rectors, yes, even cardinals. It is pure deception to pretend that
clerics of whatever the rank are immune from the “daily” conflict
and forever and always in command of the “rare victory.” The mouths
of since Christians are soured with the putrid taste of denial and
“contempt for truth” that the bishops and clergy still propagate
about clerical sexual struggles. The salty diet of truth about
clergy that Peter Damian distributes is a more acceptable communion
to most Christians.
Peter Damian, who by the way
was declared by the Vatican as the Patron Saint of church reform,
did not equivocate. Bishops and, of course the pope, are ultimately
responsible in the most practical pastoral terms for the
consequences of clergy malfeasance.
Peter wrote extensively on his concern for the Church and its
corruption—financial (simony), and sexual (concubinage of bishops
and homosexuality among clerics).
He speaks with the authority a cardinal and ultimately a Doctor of
the Church—and as a direct observer and reporter on the behavior of
his fellow clerics when he writes, “In our region a certain
abominable and most shameful vice has developed.”
He proceeds to describe ‘acts of sodomy’ commonly practiced between
clerics: kissing on the lips, mutual masturbation, (with little
distinction solitary masturbation), intercourse between the legs,
and anal intercourse. [Oddly enough to the modern reader he does not
mention oral-genital contact.] The facts of clerical sexual activity
have been well established over the centuries. The public exposure
coupled with the official denials of church authorities have
fulminated a crisis of epic proportions—the greatest since the
Certainly a majority of clergy
do not get sexually involved with minors. But what proportion do
abuse? A core question is how has this happened at all? Over 5,200
priests and bishops are recorded as abusers of minors in the files
of American dioceses. That is still only the tip of the iceberg of
this activity over the lifetime of U.S. clerics. The John Jay Survey
concludes that over-all between three and six percent of priests
from 1950 to 2002 sexually abused minors. Their conclusion: of all
the U.S. clergy ordained between 1960 and 1984 six and one/half (6½)
percent are credibly reported to have abused minors.
Where more accurate data has piled up as in Boston and New Hampshire
the current estimate is that ten (10) percent of priests abused
minors. A survey conducted by Jean Guccione demonstrated that in
1983 eleven and one half (11 ½ )
percent of all the active priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese
subsequently proved to be sexual abusers.
Why was the obvious delinquency
of so many clerics in the U.S. church left uncorrected? It has been
proven over and over again in legal trials and settlements and Grand
Jury reports: Church officials covered up, lied, conspired to
protect abusers, and endangered children by shifting them from place
The general conclusion is that church authorities placed image and
the avoidance of scandal above the safety of children.
Church authority has been
culpable. No question. But another core question persists. Why have
so many priests who suspected or knew (know) about the sexual
activity of brother priests (their bishops or superiors) have not
reported it or intervened? Answers:
Sex is a very delicate area
to deal with at any significant depth. Celibacy is a secret
world to be hidden from any external scrutiny. Secrecy is the
code of conduct within the clerical structure. It forms an
impenetrable bond of brotherhood and discipline.
Bishops and clergy tend to
look on sex as a private matter and sin rather than a behavioral
sickness or criminal activity.
But most to our point:
fellow clergy who know or suspect even criminal sexual activity
by fellow clergy [and they are myriads who know] do not speak
up, not because they are abusers themselves, but because they
have some kind of sexual activity of their own, and thus are
reduced to silence and secrecy through guilt, fear or
Mandated celibacy as it is
structured today in the training and practice of clergy
preserves psychosexual immaturity and fosters sexual violations.
Are there any options toward the solution of the clergy
sexual/celibate crisis at hand?
Certainly there are solutions
to the sexual crisis in the Catholic Church—Semper reformanda.
Christ’s Church is always in need of reformation. We are in the
midst of a reformation that in the end will be as significant for
Roman Catholicism as the Protestant Reformation. When it will take a
more firm shape is indeterminate, but that it is happening is
unquestionable. It will take an overhaul of the clerical culture as
profound as any in its history. The time is right to attack the
fundamental structural problems and review the doctrinal
inadequacies about human sexuality to bring them into conformity
with sound science, (just as Aquinas did in his day) and revise
clerical discipline to bring it into line with realistic
There are wise and experienced
guides—men and women—who
have given their lives to the service of the Church. Authority will
eventually listen to them because they are the voices of reason and
spiritual reform. Father Richard Mc Brien, theologian, author, and
professor at Notre Dame University has long represented this cadre
of good sense and solid spirituality. In addressing the problem of
priest-shortage in the U.S. he offers his usual sound advice:
welcome “back into the priesthood those priests who left to marry
and might still be willing to serve as married priests; Drop “the
requirement of life-long, obligatory celibacy for its priests,
thereby matching the discipline of the non-Roman Catholic churches
of the East, which have had a married priesthood for centuries;” and
open “the ordained priesthood to women.”
Even prior and in addition to
these changes, the education for the priesthood — celibate or
no — the Church must admit the reality of sex and educate for it in
its seminaries. This means, of course, that the Church must
reexamine its stance on the whole Sexual Agenda mentioned
earlier. The recent evaluation of U.S. seminaries reveals the
fundamental deficiencies of the system even as it tries to conceal
Concern about sexuality, doctrine and discipline, was a primary
motivation for the study that (laughably) declared that teaching of
sexuality and celibacy in seminaries was “adequate” and the problems
of “homosexuality” among staff and students were solved.
The reason that Roman Catholic
celibacy in 2009 is dying is precisely because the Church persists
in its denial of the reality of sex for lay and clerics alike.
Celibacy is generally not practiced well by clergy of every rank
because the doctrinal grid cannot support it.
Barron, 1999 & Paul Philibert, 2004
Henry Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the
Christian Church. 2 Vols.
Anderson, Great Catholic Reformers, 2007.
St. John’s Gospel. 21:18
H. Erikson, Young
Damian, The Book of Gomorrah.
Benedict XVI did tell the Irish bishops to deal with the
problem of sex abuse in their country (October 2006) and he
spoke to the problem during his visit to the United States
and Australia in 2007. A visitation of US Seminaries was
instituted in 2006, but no report has been made public at
this time. Despite talk and gestures the core of the
problems of clerical celibacy have not been adequately
Michael Crosby. The Dysfunctional Church, 1990
Means of Control or Mandate of the Heart.
Celibacy, Reclaiming the Church.
Cozzens, The Changing Face of the Priesthood,
Paul VI. Encyclical. Sacerdotalis caelibatus
(Vatican City, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 59-1967, p. 657-97).
Personal written communication with Archbishop Daniel
Pilarczyk, 1986. In 1990 Pilarczyk wrote an excellent
article on Celibacy as a Vocation separate from the
priestly vocation. Origins, December 1990. Also Cf.
Robert M. Schwartz. Servant Leaders of the People of God:
An Ecclesial Spirituality for American Priests, 1989
Thomas Acklin, The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood. 2005;
Gerald Coleman, Catholic Priesthood: Formation and Human
Development. 2006; Michael Heher The Lost Art of
Walking on Water: Reimagining the Priesthood, 2003;
Stephen Louden & Leslie Francis, The Naked Parish Priest:
what Priests Really Think They are Doing, 2003; Johann
Mohler, The Spirt of Celibacy, 2007; Michael Rose,
Priest: Portraits of Ten Good Men Serving the Church Today,
2003; Stephen Rossetti, The Joy of Priesthood, 2005;
Paul Stanosz, The Struggle for Celibacy: The Culture of
Catholic Seminary Life. 2006.
Pastores Dabo Vobis,
chapter VII. 1992
Cf. the Summa of St Thomas First Part
of the Second Part (I-II) Question 73, Article 5. Whether
carnal sins are of less guilt than spiritual sins?...Now
carnal sins have
a stronger impulse, viz. our innate
of the flesh. Therefore
such, are of greater guilt….The sensual pleasure that
that which is in the inclination of the
But the sensual pleasure that is in the sensitive
is the less grievous according as it is committed under the
impulse of a greater passion. It is in this way that the
greatest sensual pleasure is in fornication. Hence
Augustine says that of all a
Christian's conflicts, the most difficult combats
are those of chastity; wherein the fight is a daily one, but
Margaret R. Miles. Practicing Christianity: Critical
Perspectives for an Embodied Spirituality
Geoffrey Robinson. Confronting Power and Sex in the
Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.
C.Colt Anderson. Roman Catholic Reformers: From Gregory
to Dorothy Day.
Boston Globe. Betrayal.
especially Rockville Center; Boston; New Hampshire; and
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2008.
publication of my 25-year ethnographic study of clerical
celibacy in 1990, A Secret World: Sexuality and the
Search for Celibacy, was offered in outline to
Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk in 1986. The estimates of clergy
sexual activity were more conservative than those of the
USCCB. 1n 1991 Burkett & Bruni focused specifically on
sexual abuse of minors: The Gospel of Shame. In 1993
Jason Berry published an extended treatment of his
experience with the Fr. Gilbert Gauthe case in Lead Us
Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Abuse of
Children. In 1995 I published Sex, Priests, and
Power: The Anatomy of a Crisis that took a closer focus
on the element of abuse in the spectrum of celibate
violations by clergy.
Greek mythology Laocoön warned the Trojans not to touch the
wooden horse made by the Greeks during the Trojan War. Two
serpents crushed him and his two sons. The Trojans
interpreted this event as a sign of the gods' disapproval of
Laocoön's prophecy. A Greek statue unearthed in Rome in 1508
and now in the Vatican, shows Laocoön and his sons in their
 Cf. The Council of Ancyra 314
C.E. Damian summarizes the penalties on the church books
from former Synods and Councils: “A cleric or monk who
seduces youths or young boys or is found kissing or in any
other impure situations is to be publicly flogged and lose
his tonsure. When his hair has been shorn, his face is to be
foully besmeared with spit and he is to be bound in iron
chains. For six months he will languish in prison-like
confinement and on three days of each week shall fast on
barley bread in the evening. After this he will spend
another six months under the custodial care of a spiritual
elder, remaining in a segregated cell, giving himself to
manual work and prayer, subject to vigils and prayers. He
may go for walks but always under the custodial care of two
spiritual brethren, and he shall never again associate with
youths in private conversation nor in counseling them.”
 Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) letter to Pope
Samuel Laeuchli, Power and Sexuality: The Emergence of
Canon Law at the Synod of Elvira
Verbal reports from priests of the Archdiocese.
Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church. The
Investigative Staff of The Boston Globe, page, 7.
Geoffrey Robinson, Confronting Power and Sex in the
Catholic Church. Cf. also this Web.
C.Colt Anderson, The Great Catholic Reformers, Pp.
The Fathers of the Church: Mediaeval Continuation.
Vol. 2 P. 6.
February 27, 2004, P.
Los Angeles Times.
Grand Jury Reports from Rockville Center; New Hampshire,
Boston, Philadelphia, et. al.
The Scarlet Bond. This site.
 At a
meeting in Rome, February 7, 2009 under the supervision of
Cardinal Francis Stafford in the Sacred
Penitentiary to discuss the question of the duty to
report sexual abusing priests to civil authorities the
consensus of the clergy and prelates there was that
offending priests should not be reported. The idea is as
described above—it is a family problem to be handled within
the church structure. Cf. You
i Penitenzieri e i preti pedofili: Ottimo
servizio delle Iene sulla Penitenzieria, la struttura
ecclesiastica che è responsabile dei procedimenti per i "cinque peccati imperdonabili"
Dr. Conrad Baars to the Vatican, 1971 on this site under
Documents. Also: Kennedy & Heckler 1972
Joan Chittister is eminent, but by no means the only woman
among American spokespersons leading the movement toward
reform, however, none are dealing with the concerns over
Richard P. McBrien. ESSAYS IN THEOLOGY,
January 26, 2009.
Vatican initiated a study of U.S. Seminaries in 2006. In
January 2009 they published the results.