Posts Tagged “celibate”

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, California / kkmd at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia CommonsHere’s a news story of a sort that I’m surprised is not more common than it is. The Los Angeles Times reports on the fall of a Roman Catholic hierarch in California (WebCite cached article):

From humble beginnings in southwest Mexico, Gabino Zavala entered the priesthood and embarked on a remarkable journey that landed him squarely in the corner offices of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese. …

Popular and approachable, Zavala was widely known by his first name. To many, that sensibility made the Vatican’s announcement on Wednesday unthinkable: For more than a decade, Zavala had harbored a dark secret. He is the father, church officials said, of two children, and had resigned his post.

Zavala’s fatherhood, a violation of canon laws of celibacy for priests, was the first controversy to rock the local church during the tenure of Archbishop Jose Gomez, who succeeded Roger Mahony last year.

As usually happens with such revelations, this triggers the LA Times to ramble into a discussion of Catholic clerical celibacy:

Zavala’s resignation is likely to spark renewed debate over the ecclesiastical laws of celibacy. The earliest popes — St. Peter himself, under some interpretations — were married men and fathers. Later, in the fourth century, church officials concluded that men who were not celibate “shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical life.”

The idea was to mimic the sacrificing, chaste life of Jesus — for priests to be married, in a sense, to the church. But in recent years, hundreds of theologians have argued that the rules are dated and needlessly restrictive.

Actually, in spite of efforts beginning in the 4th century to make all clergy celibate, the fact is that this was not universally observed. By the 11th century, clerical marriages were still taking place, among the “secular clergy,” and the matter had to be addressed as part of the Gregorian Reforms.

And while the Catholic Church’s stated reason for priestly celibacy is to emulate Christ’s chastity, the actual reasons are a bit less spiritual and more mercenary than that. Clerical celibacy meant that priests no longer were having children (legitimate ones, anyway), so that church offices no longer passed automatically down from father to son; this in turn meant that church office appointments were made explicitly by the bishops and the Pope, giving them greater control over the Church and permitting them more nepotism. Another reason is that celibate priests don’t have families to take care of or worry about, eliminating the possibility that a priest’s loyalty to the Church might be diminished.

This last is the chief reason the Church will never willingly do away with priestly celibacy; it would cease to be a closed club of bachelors with few external influences. It would fundamentally change as an organization, in a way that would — almost by definition — reduce the hierarchs’ control. There’s no way they’d forfeit that, at least not without a fight.

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Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford 3, 2009-09-02The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Hartford has a number of problems on its hands. It has several misbehaving priests to deal with, in addition to its campaign to control the state of Connecticut. One would think that Archbishop Mansell would be working to address these and other issues — such as the continuing lawsuits and controversy over a deceased pedophile doctor at St Francis Hospital in Hartford (cached). But if one thinks that, one would be wrong. It turns out that the archdiocese has a much larger agenda, which includes an effort to promote abstinence among gays in Connecticut, as the Hartford Courant reports (WebCite cached article):

The Hartford Archdiocese wants gays and lesbians to practice abstinence in the new year.

On Tuesday, the archdiocese announced it was launching a local chapter of a national ministry called Courage “to support men and women who struggle with homosexual tendencies and to motivate them to live chaste and fruitful lives in accordance with Catholic Church teachings.”

This effort is ironic; on the one hand the archdiocese is putting forth a specific effort to reach out to gays; on the other hand, it’s telling them they’re disordered and need to curb themselves:

Linda Estabrook, executive director of the Hartford Gay & Lesbian Health Collective, took offense.

Thousands in the state receive services each year from the health organization, whose motto is “Be well. Be yourself.” The ministry implies that many of them “are not moral and are not leading fulfilling lives, and that is not true,” Estabrook said.

Those of us with brains can see how insulting and backhanded this ministry is, but I’ll concede that the folks who came up with it don’t see any problem with what they’re doing. The Catholic Church is run by a bunch of celibate men; they probably don’t consider it unreasonable to order gays to be celibate, too. They’re celibate themselves, so — in their eyes — there’s nothing wrong with it.

This idiocy serves as further evidence of how out-of-touch with reality the leadership of the Catholic Church is … as though we needed any more such evidence. I think the archdiocese of Hartford should work on putting its own house in order before it runs around telling other people how to live. And this shouldn’t be too much to ask of a Christian organization. After all, Jesus Christ himself is reported to have said:

Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the great log in your own? And how dare you say to your brother, “Let me take that splinter out of your eye,” when, look, there is a great log in your own? Hypocrite! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. (Mt 7:3-5)

How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out that splinter in your eye,” when you cannot see the great log in your own? Hypocrite! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter in your brother’s eyes. (Lk 6:42)

Time for the archdiocese to put Jesus’ own teachings into effect, and straighten out their own act before ordering other people around.

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st vitus in hdrThe scandal of child abuse (including, but not limited to, sexual abuse) at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy has flashed around the globe since becoming an issue in the United States in the early 00s. Among the more recent countries where credible allegations are emerging, is Austria. At various points the complaint has been made that the Church’s celibacy requirement may be wholly or partially to blame for what has happened. To date the Church has generally denied that celibacy is an issue, although it has promised to do a better job of reviewing candidates for the priesthood to be sure they don’t have “problems” that might manifest after they are ordained. The New York Times Lede blog writes about some Austrian clergy suggesting that it might be more of a problem than the Church will admit (WebCite cached article):

Austrian Priests Suggest Celibacy May Be a Problem

On Thursday two senior Catholics in Austria, where reports of the sexual abuse of children by priests and nuns have been in the news, suggested that the role of priestly celibacy may need to be discussed as Catholics seek to understand and end scandals that have erupted across Europe and in the United States in recent years.

The Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, wrote in an article for a Catholic magazine that it was time for the Church to undertake an “unflinching examination” of what might be at the root of the problem of celibate clerics sexually abusing children.

As The Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, Riazat Butt, explained on Thursday, Archbishop Schönborn wrote that the discussion should “include the issue of priest training, as well as the question of what happened in the so-called sexual revolution,” as well as “the issue of priest celibacy and the issue of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the church and of society as a whole.”

Note the attempt at deflection here; the Archbishop is suggesting it’s not merely celibacy that’s the problem, but celibacy within the context of “the sexual revolution.” He’s indirectly saying that even if celibacy contributes to the problem, it’s not the Catholic Church nor even the celibacy requirement that are at fault, it’s society as a whole, and the “sexual revolution” that are to blame. He’s not going as far as saying celibacy of Catholic clergy should be ended:

In fact Archbishop Schönborn said on Friday that he was not saying that celibacy caused pedophilia. “If celibacy were the reason for sexual abuse,” he said, “there wouldn’t be any abuse in the rest of society.”

Needless to say, since at least some of the allegations — such as in Ireland — date back to before the “sexual revolution,” it can safely be ruled out as either a cause of the problem or a contributor to it. So Archbishop Schönborn is wrong on that count.

That said, at the risk of appearing to defend the R.C. Church (which I am not actually doing, as you will see), I also do not think celibacy has much, if anything, to do with this problem. Allow me to explain.

First, the Archbishop is correct that, if celibacy were the only cause of sexual abuse, one would never find it outside the celibate … and this is not the case at all. Sex crimes of all sorts are committed by the non-celibate as well as the celibate.

Second, many people in the occidental world think of celibacy as “unusual” or “strange,” especially since there are a lot of churches and religious traditions which don’t require celibacy from their own clergy, leaving Catholicism as one of the few remaining holdouts on that score. The truth is that celibacy as a spiritual ideal, is not at all “strange.” It existed in the pre-Christian Hellenic world e.g. among the Pythagoreans; it existed in the Roman institution of the Vestal virgins; it existed in the Judaic world of Jesus’ own time among the Essenes; it was an ideal that at least some Christians aspired to right from the start of Christianity, persisted through the Middle Ages, and continues today; and it also existed — and still does — in other, non-occidental religious traditions (e.g. among Buddhist monks and many others). If celibacy caused people to be sexual abusers, we’d find it rampant in all of those traditions as well … and we would find it much more often in celibate organizations than we would from non-celibate groups within the same tradition. I’m not sure this is the case either.

Third, not all of the allegations being made about Catholic clerical abuse are sexual in nature; some of the reports are of beatings and other kinds of abuse, where sexual motives appear not to come into play. It’s the sexual allegations that seem to get the most press attention, but they’re not all there is to this scandal.

Fourth, scandals of abuse of children at the hands of clergy and religious institutions who were to care for them, are not even unique to the R.C. Church and its celibate clergy … the Canadian residential-school scandal, which involved Catholic as well as non-Catholic institutions, demonstrate this conclusively.

No, the real cause of this long-running scandal — which again is borne out by comparison to the Canadian residential schools scandal — is not celibacy. It’s something else entirely: Impunity. The sad truth is that the perpetrators of the crimes did what they did, because they knew they would be able to get away with it.

Within the Catholic Church itself, the chief culprit here is the secrecy with which it operates, as well as the principle, long held by the R.C. Church, that it generally does not allow its priesthood to be prosecuted by secular authorities. Yes, there have been times where abuser-priests were prosecuted; in the US one of the most famous examples is that of the late defrocked Fr John Geoghan. But these prosecutions usually happen in spite of the Church and its hierarchy, not because of them. In fact, the various dioceses involved in individual cases usually spend a great deal of legal effort in attempting to block and/or derail such prosecutions. (The order of Christian Brothers in Ireland, for example, sued in court to shut down that government’s lengthy and extensive investigation, and almost succeeded.) Generally speaking, the Catholic Church does not believe its clergy should be subject to secular criminal prosecution, no matter the priest’s crime.

But the impunity also exists independently of the Church’s own secrecy policy and assumption of clerical privilege. In the examples of both Canada and Ireland, one of the discoveries has been that the abuses were actually known by secular officials — and in some cases by society at large — but were allowed to happen anyway. In other words, secular authorities generally looked the other way, without regard to the Church’s efforts to prevent prosecutions.

The cold truth of all this is that celibacy is the least of the worries here. Even if the Church were to repeal its celibacy policy, its secrecy and demand of immunity to prosecution still would get in the way of secular authorities holding priests accountable for anything they do. This means priests would still have incentive to commit crimes — of whatever type, whether sexual or not, or abuse of children or other things — because they know the Church will at least attempt to shield them from prosecution. That is what must change … celibacy is largely insignificant by comparison.

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