Francesca Lily Hall
A prediction: What would happen to the Roman Catholic Church if priests were allowed to engage in sexual intercourse?
Word Count: 1,371
"Celibacy is not doctrine in the Catholic Church, it's a law. It can change”
Brazil homes the largest number of Catholics today; encompassing 140 million, however the ratio of Catholics to priests has risen drastically within the past decade. There are currently 7,100 priests to 1 Catholic. Efforts to import priests around the world has failed due to language and cultural differences. Since the rise of Pentecostal, which allow leaders to marry and offer more engaging roles to woman, there has been a twenty seven percent decrease within those who identify as Catholic. Therefore, if celibacy is optional within other Christian churches, surely it is about time Pope Francis considered the ordination of married men and non-celibate, but willing Priests within his community. This essay will explore a range of arguments that perpetually circulate celibacy:
Between January 1980 and February 2015, there has been 4,444 alleged incidents of child sexual abuse, with nearly two thousand being perpetrated by people holding a position within the catholic church. No longer than three months ago scandals across Pennsylvania unravelled- grand juries concluded 300 priests were found guilty of preying on one thousand children, within the last seventy years. Including former archbishops of Washington DC, Theodore McCarrick who resigned from the church after being accused of sexually abusing minors. These statistics are only increasing and coverups are proving unsucessful in the face of the New Media Age. It has been thought that celibacy produces sexual frustration and those outlets then develop into paedophilia or other deviant sexual acts. Jason Berry, the author of ‘Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children’ states that celibacy acts as an invisible cloak around purity, allowing deviant priests to hide their sexual dysfunction. It is harder to detect sexual misconduct among those who portray to live celibate lifestyles- for this reason priesthood draws in paedophilia.
Other arguments include the unnatural aspect to abstinence: Martin Luther King, the father of the Protestant reformation warned us that celibacy leads to masturbation, “We are all driven to the secret of sin. To say it crudely but honestly, if it doesn’t go into a woman, it goes into the shirt” (Triple J Hack, 2017). In 1862 Darwin explored the sexual reproduction of man and woman. On earth today 99% of multicellular creature reproduce sexually, therefore if we are not asexual beings, why refrain from our organic and innate selves?
Eugene Kennedy, who was a former priest, left his clergy title twenty-five years ago to get married. To join the Catholic church, it is mandatory to understand one’s own sexual identity and many priests are recruited before they have sexually developed or emotionally matured. “Their psycho-sexual maturation has been put on hold, so to speak when they go in. So as a result, they tend to act out with young people who were more or less the age they were when their maturation process stopped” (Judith Muller, 2018). Coming-of-age within seminars is crucial to stop any kind of advancements on the vulnerable.
“In 2005, Dr Jane Power surveyed over 300 Australian priests for her doctoral thesis at the Australian Catholic University” (Triple J Hack, 2017), she discovered that 70% did not agree with clerical celibacy; four out of five had thought about leaving and listed it as their main reasoning. Others admitted to leaving priesthood behind out of fear of making the wrong commitment. The average age for marriage after ministry is over the age of 60 which is drastically late in life, as they are unable to sooner. It proves to be further difficult for millennials to act out sobriety due to the liberalised outlook on sex in Western cultures. With unlimited pornography and the openness of sexualisation around woman, dedicating oneself to chastity appears to be a bigger obstacle than ever before.
The heart of the religion aims to balance ‘ideals’ over ‘realities’: idolising transcendence over sin. The idea behind celibacy is to prove that one is free of earthly desires that others cannot restrain from, by gaining this conformation, you spiritually exist. Those that are able to resist eternal desires are holier than those who shamefully cave. Dr Michael Whelan, a Marist priest experienced relentless conflicts within himself when he was trying to live up to the idealised person that he was not. “I struggled discovering myself and who I was supposed to be” (Triple J Hack, 2017). Dr David Ranson, former priest said the Catholic tradition had an “unrealistic expectation that life is lived perfectly” (Triple J Hack).
On the other hand, there are plenty who counter-argue the idea of marriage within the Catholic church. Not all celibate men or women abuse children, thirty percent of abuse happens within families by married men, not by unmarried priests, yet few people point to marriage as a cause of sexual abuse. Therefore, blaming celibacy distracts others from the real cause of child abuse- disordered sexual orientation towards children. If four percent of American priests have been accused of abusing children, then ninety four percent lead healthy lives.
Dr Ranson and other ex-priests have listed a lack of intimacy overruling the need to have sexual intercourse. Intimacy involves being present with another and the willingness to be vulnerable towards others. “Sexual expression doesn’t exhaust the ways of being intimate. It’s linked to the way we imagine intimacy; sexual relationships are only one form of intimacy” (Triple J Hack, 2017). Every encounter holds the possibility of intimacy- “To work together closely on a project in an expression of intimacy, to enter into another’s pain with empathy” (Triple J Hack). The problem may not be celibacy, but the emphasis others put on it and the latent culture it creates.
If Pope Francis negates celibacy amongst clergies, it would be mandatory to enforce laws that have a zero tolerance towards acts of unequal power. Feminists and sexual harassment victims of the #MeToo movement have taught us the dangers that come into play when the power between two individuals is unequal. From priests seducing seminarian’s to bishops taking advantage of priests. As the relationships are greater regarding their religious status, these acts would be seen as more anti-social than employer and employees engaging in sexual relations. Forbidding these types of encounters has proven to be difficult globally, therefore those who have zero tolerance for unequal acts may support celibacy. Those that are anti-celibacy believe in the removal of status within the church if such abuse occurs. However, those that are pro-celibacy believe that changing the law could open a gateway of unexpectable acts, that may just consequently fall into the lap of the Catholic church.
If reverends within the west married, the economic and cultural foundations of the church would collapse. Parishioners would need to pay for the priest’s family, requiring housing and annual incomes- the priests would not only belong to his family but also his followers. Stephen Varney, a priest in training stated, “despite celibacy being difficult at times, it really gives me the capacity to be a minister to people with one hundred percent commitment” (Triple J Hack, 2017). Dedicating oneself to family and God may cause slacking in both areas. “I don’t know if I could give that full commitment to the church and my wife and children at the same time. I think I would be doing both jobs poorly” (Triple J Hack, 2017). Also, Clergy who have already dedicated themselves to a celibate lifestyle could act out in resentment towards those that have not had to sacrifice in the same way.
Closing in on the debate around celibacy, it seems that optional restrain from sex could realistically happen within the next few years as getting rid of the vow would be less disruptive as it would have been one hundred years ago. Society now views marriage as a positive aspect in life and guides us towards a path of holiness not profanity. Discharging celibacy would act as a religious reform that would move the church in a direction of inclusivity in our modern era. Providing the option would allow priests to gain control of their sexual preference, to abstain or not, it’s about time the Catholic church responded to the existential crisis. Pope Francis: “You’re not to act like princes, or that you’re are better than everybody else. You’re servants of the people of God. You’re here to serve, not to rule” (Alex Norcia, 2018).
· Catholic Straight Answers Catholicstraightanswers.com. 2013. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: http://catholicstraightanswers.com/why-does-the-church-mandate-that-priests-be-celibate/
· Thomas Reese. Religion News Service Religionnews.com. 2018. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: https://religionnews.com/2018/07/16/priests-celibacy-and-sex/
· Kim Haines-Eitzen. National Catholic Reporter Ncronline.org. 2018. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/signs-times/priesthood-celibacy-and-sex
· Helen L. Owen. Historynewsnetwork.org. 2018. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/696
· Abcnetau. 2017. Triple j. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/would-scrapping-catholic-priest-celibacy-reduce-child-sex-abuse/8251856
· James Martin. Huffington Post Huffingtonpost.com. 2010. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-james-martin-sj/its-not-about-celibacy-bl_b_533037.html
· Vivien Cumming. 2018. Bbc.co.uk. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160704-the-real-reasons-why-we-have-sex
· Alex Norcia. 2018. Vice.com. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/bjax35/what-would-happen-if-roman-catholic-priests-were-allowed-to-have-sex
· Andrew Brown. 2017. Theguardian.com. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/07/brazil-bishops-pope-francis-married-priests-celibacy-clergy
· Judy Muller. 2018. ABC News. Abcnews.go.com. [Online]. [19 November 2018]. Available from: https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=130473&page=1