Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Vatican's version of the 'spin a cause' wheel would probably be slightly different. Equipment failure would be replaced by Satan's interference. Unknown, would be on it more than once.

The short extract below is taken from an NCR article on the German abuse crisis which has now implicated Pope Benedict. I quote it as an introduction because I do not believe that changing the rules on celibacy actually addresses the root cause of clerical abuse.

ABC News and other media reported Friday that the Archbishop of Vienna called for a thorough examination of the link between celibacy and child sex abuse by priests and the Archbishop of Salzburg asked whether it was an appropriate way of life for priests today.

But overnight, Pope Benedict quashed any suggestions of a change in the vow of celibacy, calling it the ultimate commitment to God. (This is only true if you think denial of sex and intimate personal relationships is what God wants.)

Father Thomas Williams, a Catholic priest and professor of theology and ethics in Rome, says there needs to be more study into any links between clerical celibacy and child abuse.
"I think studies need to be done and we need to know whether there is a causal relationship," he said, according to the ABC News report.

"Is, for example, the incident of child abuse higher among celibate clergy than it is among, for example, non-celibate clergy of other faiths to start?

"Or is it higher among celibate clergy - Catholic priests for example - than it is among other people that work with children; so in public schools, the boy scouts; whatever.
"These are studies that need to be done."


I don't know that conducting such studies is going to explain anything. They might serve to describe something, but I don't think the root problem of the clerical abuse scandal is celibacy. I think it's power. I think it's the confusion in men between sex and power. Catholicism's example of this issue is unique to an all male clergy and power structure, but it's hardly unique in it's root causes. In other words, it's only unique in it's preferred historical expression.

Do other ministers and spiritual leaders practice sexual exploitation? Absolutely they do, especially those whose charisma attracts powerless people, or whose ego is so out of control they see all their preferred sexual objects as available prey. Marcial Maciel is an example of the latter, Ted Haggart is an example of the former. Optional celibacy might have an impact on the abuse of children as the preferred object of prey, but it won't change anything about the clerical power dynamic and the linkage of sex with power.

This confusion of sex with power is not limited to spiritual leadership. It pops up all the time in people who have lived unbalanced lives in which emotional maturity is stunted. It doesn't have to be abuse which stunts that maturity. Tiger Woods is a perfect example of sexuality gone amok due to another form of emotional immaturity. He could not make the distinction between being the consummate predator on the golf course and a consummate predator in the bedroom. That he had a host of willing victims does not change the underlying dynamic. He equated sex and power.

Jesus specifically asked for a reversal of roles in his spiritual leaders. They were not to have power over others, but serve others. They were to reject all forms of secular power in favor of service and love. It was in this self giving that they would demonstrate power. This power dynamic thing is why I have so much difficulty with the priesthood. JPII wrote some truly wonderful things in his Theology of the Body, but what he couldn't do is transfer that 'self giving' thinking to any other facet of his theology. Self giving was compartmentalized as applicable to sex in a traditional marriage. He got that part right, but mutual self giving is the healthy aspect of any relationship. Healthy relationships are the micro examples of the cosmic truth about love.

The entire culture surrounding the Catholic priesthood is unhealthy in this context. The culture describes superior, elevated beings who exercise spiritual power over others, not service to others. Of course there are many priests who truly see their calling as one of pastoral service to others. Catholicism is very fortunate there are many who see the true calling in service to God through service to mankind. But that is not really a product of seminary training, it is a product of personal choice and maturity. It is a consequence of the Spirit working through a very flawed system.

What I would like to see done is a qualitative study with the religious who truly get what Jesus was teaching. What is their underlying motivation? How do they see their vocation? How do they live their lives? How do they sustain their ministry? How do they understand love? What has impacted their decisions about their own priesthood, and finally what do they see as impediments in the Church to the authentic expression of their priesthood and the Church's mission? An LCWR investigation which truly sought answers to the above questions would be meaningul.

I've been close friends with a number of priests. Some of whom would not be close theological compatriots, but the one thing they all mentioned as really debilitating to themselves and their priesthood was their loneliness. Very few people saw past the collar to the man whose needs were just like anyone else's. Ordination may change the 'ontological' spiritual status of the priest--whatever that means--but it doesn't change the human longing for companionship and the wholeness God intended for us in meaningful relationships. Being married to an intellectual construct is no substitute for real relationship. The brain does not work that way. It will seek out solutions for loneliness and in our current framing of the priesthood, many of those solutions are not healthy. Many of them confuse power and sex.

Adding married priests or women to the current framework does not guarantee the Church will ordain the kind of servant leader Jesus spoke about. We need to change our root core understanding of authentic spiritual authority. We need to listen to our healthy priests and not be afraid of where that might take our construct of the priesthood.

This isn't going to come from Benedict. It isn't going to come from the top down. It will undoubtedly come from the laity who finally empower themselves to find the kind of spiritual leadership that fills their real needs. The abuse crisis is certainly showing us what we don't need and what we have refused to admit. Let's not waste this opportunity if only because meaningful change in the clerical construct represents real restitution for the many many victims of clerical abuse.
In my own personal opinion, I think one of the more important steps the Church could take is to separate parish and diocesan management roles from spiritual direction and sacramental leadership. We might actually wind up with pastoral bishops rather than corporate CEO's.


  1. Colleen, wonderful analysis. This needs to receive a wide hearing. An Italian journalist has written an article for Osservatore Romano making a similar point: if women's voices had counted for more in the church, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in right now with the abuse crisis.

    And there's a good posting by Eduardo Penalver today at Commonweal noting that the abuse crisis in the Catholic church is deeper and more intractable than in many other institutions because of the absolute powerlessness of the laity, in the RC church.

    Your commentary falls right in line with what these folks are saying, and offers a very thoughtful rationale for lay involvement (and especially more women's voices) to begin addressing the roots of the abuse crisis.

  2. Colleen, I think the root of the problem is multifactorial. I think it is a source of power for clerics to claim that they are somehow better than the other People of God because they are celibate, and this works into the power issue. On the other hand, depravation is not at all good for character development. Certainly celibacy leads to schizoid personality traits. People with true schizoid personalities stay clear of other people; it is a disorder of fear of relationship. It causes neurosis that in most cases worsen over a life time. I also think that many with shizoid traits are attracted to a this life of no attachment to another so this rule attracts some who are relatively more disordered. In the case of nuns, many of them were abused by their own fathers. Danger to society by and large is not caused by the schizophrenic but by those that have severe borderline personalities.

    This depravation also tends to produce catholic guilt (which is often really shame) as masturbation is defined as a mortal sin. Richard Sipe has shown us that only about 50% of priests are celibate at one time. Once a person confused by the feelings of omnipotence, or at least of being of a higher status than others, as is seen in many of the clergy, uses the healthy out let of masturbation and develops this horrible false guilt (This type of false guilt is really shame.) of serious sin, what is to keep him or her from doing horrible things because that persons conscience may tell them that they are already going to hell and it often gives them feelings of being in a hell on earth.

    While true guilt is a positive emotion because it tells a person that they have done something wrong, shame when confused with guilt as it is 99% of the time is a negative emotion and does damage to character because it confuses a person about which standards they should be living by - their own or those of others. Shame is never a beneficial emotion!!!

    Long term Celibacy is a deprivation that young clergy can no more live up to than fasting for a lifetime. It does serious damage to the vitalization (vitemizaion) of a persons character and should not be even considered by most people. Those that have led successful holy lives in celibacy do it in spite of celibacy not because of it. yes Colleen celibacy is a major factor and I predict that any proposed valid study will show it is a worse problem than we have imagined. Celibacy was of course good for the real estate ownership of the church!

    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  3. Sorry for the wordiness and breaks with grammar in my last post. I don't have time today to delete and correct them. I hope the ideas come through. dennis

  4. Celibacy works in monastic settings. In such a setting one has a community, one is part of a family. One chooses the community and is chosen by them.

    Celibacy, as many are saying here, does not work for diocesan priests who are posted alone in a rectory. Asking a priest of a parish to remain celibate, when all they see around them are couples and families, is like asking them to be a hermit.

    I agree with rdp46 that the abuse problem is multifactorial. You'd need a lovely regression equation to map it. And I totally agree that the way celibacy is "exalted" by the pope, it conveys "power" on anyone who supposedly is able to rise above normal needs for intimacy. This is a dangerous cocktail to give to young seminarians. Or anyone!

    We need priests humbled through the give and take of a longlasting intimate relationship. We need priests humbled by childrearing. If they have a child of their own, they will understand the fearsome weight of responsibility and care for a young human being.

    Thank you, Colleen, for your laser focus on this cancer in the Body of Christ!

  5. Certainly its about power, but that does not mean it snot about celibacy. Celibacy is itself about power, attempting to create a two caste system within the Church, between a celibate, supposedly more saintly class of "religious" and the rest of us, who presumably are not. Pope Gregory VII said “The Church cannot escape from the laity unless priests first escape the clutches of their wives.”

    So, celibacy is implicated, as part of the problem of power. But it is also implicated more directly. There is no need for studies to investigate this - the figures are known and clear. The John Jay study found that 3-5% of American priests were guilty, and this is a figure based only on those victims whose complaints were investigated. The true figure will be somewhat higher. I do not believe that the incidence among the male poulation as a whole is anything like 5%.

    Celibacy is also implicated in the way it distorts the selection and training of candidates: turning away or excluding those men with a normally functioning, healthy sexual identity, and attracting some who have never come to terms with their sexuality.

    The issues are all linked, but the remedy is clear: a clergy open to all, and subject to oversight by the laity.

    "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is a well-known aphorism originally said about the Catholic Church. It is truer today than ever.

  6. Great points everyone. Dennis, your observation about schizophrenics being adverse to relationship is well taken. I also think it is much more rare than personality disorder as you point out further in your post.

    TheraP, I can agree that the monastic system works better for heterosexuals, but not necessarily for gays. I agree with Terrence and Dennis that the real issue for our religious is the denial of any kind of intimate personal relationship---the oft cited prohibition about 'special friends'. Too bad it's not possible to stop the formation of 'special friends' just because someone says so.

    The prohibition on relationships just makes no sense given that Jesus's teachings centered on love and love's expression in relationship. Even the Gospels strongly imply Jesus had very strong and unique relationships with the 'beloved' Apostle and Mary Magdalene. These two relationships may have transcended sexuality, but I seriously doubt they excluded physicality. I don't believe it's possible to learn anything about expressing healthy touch through denial, and I utterly fail to see how one can be an authentic spiritual healer without learning healthy touch. It's just not how our brains work. (Another great point Dennis.)

    This could be a very healing time for the Church, but it won't be if the real problems aren't touched.