Tuesday, March 9, 2010


From Ruth Gledhill in the Times Online:

A leading Roman Catholic theologian has linked clerical sex abuse with priestly celibacy, blaming the Church’s “uptight” views on sex for child abuse scandals in Germany, Ireland and the US.

Father Hans Kung, President of the Global Ethic Foundation and professor emeritus at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said that the Church’s attitude was also revealed in its opposition to birth control.

The German church rejected any suggestion that abuse was linked to celibacy, homosexuality or church teaching.

Robert Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg and head of the German bishops’ conference, branded clerical abuse “outrageous” and begged forgiveness from the victims but denied any link between abuse and celibacy.

Writing in The Tablet, Father Kung, who in 1979 was stripped of his licence to teach Catholic theology after he rejected the doctrine of Papal infallibility, welcomed the apology but described the denials of any link between abuse, celibacy and other teaching as “erroneous”.

He said that it was the case that abuse was found also in families, schools and other churches. But he asked: “Why is it so prevalent in the Catholic Church under celibate leadership?” He said that celibacy was not the only cause of the misconduct but described it as “the most important and structurally the most decisive” expression of the Church’s uptight attitude to sex.
(My emphasis)

Fr Kung's article in The Tablet appears to be available by subscription only, but the article on the German church's resistance to the state's intervention on the abuse is free.

In the comments to my recent post titled Gay Roman Catholic Bishops, I caught flack for saying that mandatory celibacy, in my opinion, contributes to the abusive behavior by priests in the Roman Catholic Church. I don't know what priestly formation is like now in RC seminaries, but for many years, young boys began seminary training at age 13. In some cases, abuse occurred in seminaries. My contemporaries, and those several years younger, were taught in RC seminaries that women were occasions of sin. Imagine! Half the human race was an occasion of sin! Well, perhaps not old ladies.

Rather than having one determining cause, I suspect that, in most cases, more than one cause led priests into abusive behavior. Men who had been abused as children and men predisposed to child abuse very likely made their way into seminaries and through the ordination process, but I believe that mandatory celibacy and the warped attitudes toward sexuality and toward women within the culture of Roman Catholic clergy, especially the hierarchy, had an effect.

Whether celibacy is imposed as a condition of service upon a Roman Catholic man who believes he is called to serve God as a priest, or whether celibacy is imposed upon an LGTB person in another denomination who feels a call to serve God as clergy as a condition for being permitted to serve, mandatory celibacy is just plain wrong.

Understand that I do not in mean to suggest that genuine calls to live celibate lives do not exist. From the early church on, we see examples of saints who lived holy, celibate lives. But the call to celibacy is between God and an individual and is not to be ordered from outside.

I did not come to my opinion lightly. I come with 60 years experience of life in the Roman Catholic Church. I'm not saying that I am right and that those who disagree with me are wrong, however, that the distinguished theologian, Fr Hans Kung, is of a similar opinion, heartens me and makes me think that my reasoning is not entirely off the wall.

H/T to MadPriest at OCICBW for the link to Ruth's article.


  1. Except for the Legionaires of Christ I don't think anyone conscripts teenagers into seminaries. But the Legionaires have "special needs," I gather. (Their founder molested children and had TWO families, while living as a priest. That gave him access to his own children too!)

    I am in total agreement with Father Kung and you here! Celibacy is the cause of the fall-off in vocations (along with not ordaining women) and the absolute absence of pastoral care! You certainly can't call abuse "care" - and the priests that are left are aging and overburdened.

    People who want to be monks or nuns choose celibacy.

    A number of years ago, but not so many, I did therapy with a seminarian, who was very troubled about the amount of homosexuality in his seminary, the teachers "hitting" on the students, the seminarians renting "pornos" for leisure activities, and the way that the seminarians were advised NOT to have sex with parishioners, but instead with fellow priests.

    I have no problem with homosexuality, mind you. But if "celibacy" simply means not marrying (but anything goes!) then they might as well advertise it that way. With the new rules it's obvious that homosexuals will still come, but they will either be very repressed or secretly active.

    I did a long blog on this topic last November. Very long. Trying to analyze the whole issue of celibacy from a psychodynamic perspective. Still pertains, I think. (And I'm thrilled to know that Hans Kung and I are on similar pages!)


  2. TheraP, yours is a good post, and the commentary is not at all bad, either. You went into much more detail. As I've said before, I resolved not to be a bitter ex-catholic, and sometimes I wonder why I write about the RCC at all, since I am no longer an insider. There's much that I loved about the church, and I suppose that I still want the church in which I spent so many years to be better than it is. Ending mandatory celibacy would not solve all the problems of the church, but it would be a great first step to mitigate the widespread hypocrisy present in the institution.

  3. If only the Catholic Church would take an honest and practical approach to the problem, it might be able to arrive at an understanding of why the child abuse has happened. As long as it keeps on hushing it up and treating it as something so shameful it has to be hidden as much as possible, and refusing to ask the right questions, it seems to me it will be very difficult to analyse whether there's a link with enforced celibacy or not.

  4. If only sex acts were not presented as intrinsically evil, men who wished to be holy would not be obliged to deny being sexual -- gay, straight or whatever. Back in the gloriously liberal '60's I would be willing to bet that at least of our chaplains/asst rectors were gay. (well, I know that they were. A couple more were likely.) How incredibly sad that they felt that being Episcopal clergy would render them safe from being damned. What an unloveable God would sign on to this charade!

  5. Unfortuneately celibacy is mis understood by many.

    The Catholic catechism makes it clear that any type of sex---thought, action,any sexual feeling at all is demeaning.

    Such an attitude is abnormal. Only an abnormal person would suscribe to such teaching.

    So we begin with all priest have abnormal attitudes toward sex in any form. Those who try to make a distinction between voluntary and church imposed celibacy are just fooling themselves.

    I am Catholic. Ed

  6. Cathy, the enormity of what would be disclosed with an honest approach by the hierarchy of the RCC makes me believe that it is very unlikely that will happen. Perhaps one day, but not soon.

    Susankay, gay priests in the RCC are nothing new. They've been around for a long time, a very long time.

    Ed, in all fairness, sex between a married man and woman is actually permitted by the RCC, so long as the couple do not use birth control. Granted the powers in the church take quite a narrow view of what sexual activity is allowed.

    I happen to believe that a vocation to the celibate life is a reality and a possibility, so you and I part company on that matter.

  7. Hi Mimi, I know that you and I had a rather intense conversation about this topic and I am grateful that we did. I sincerely hope that we will always have conversation, that is how transformation happens.

    You say you took some flack in your other post comments - perhaps you meant me? I hope that my dissent from this opinion is not what you refer to; I can't recall all the comments and I am too tired to go look.

    For all my disagreeing with you, I am not standing forth to say that celibacy is good. I simply contend - and trust me, I am generally more likely to be in agreement with Kung than not, that celibacy is the main problem.

    I guess this time I am not in agreement with him or you or most others. I can only speak of what I know as both a child who was abused and as an adult who works for the Catholic church.

    The reality is that I am in the minority here and I stand back as such.

  8. Fran, I'm not sure what disagreement we are discussing. Did you mean to say that you contend that "celibacy is the main problem", or did you leave out the word "not"?

    I used flack to mean opposition or disagreement. I welcome dissenting views, and there's nothing wrong with being in the minority. In the previous post, others agreed with you.

  9. hiya Mimi - yes, I agree, & I was never assuming honesty from the RCC was likely anytime soon. It's what would be needed to get anywhere with the issue tho, I think.

  10. Mimi
    I don't remember that we had a disagreement as such, but possibly a misunderstanding based on a different emphasis.
    I first read your previous post to say that enforced celibacy is a linear cause of sexual abuse, as though otherwise perfectly well adjusted people were made into abusers because they couldn't marry.

    That, I believe is what Fran and I thought to be too facile.

    People with unformed or unhealthy ideas about sexuality are drawn to the priesthood, maybe because they believe they are "safe" there, and when they discover that they are merely left to struggle on their own in loneliness, and that they also have an astonishing amount of freedom and power, some lose the battle against their own souls.
    To that extent, enforced celibacy exacerbates problems with sexuality.

    But I also think that we're all making a huge category mistake here.

    We need to be very very clear about one thing.
    A normal adult, when discovering that sexual pressure is more than he can bear, has affairs with other adults.

    To turn to abusing children is the response of someone who is suffering from much much more than enforced sexual abstinence.

    To say that enforced celibates are more likely to be pedophiles than people who can marry is a little like saying that homosexuals are more likely to be pedophiles than straight people.

    On the other hand, it may just be possible that pedophiles who cannot cope with mature adult relationships and who would therefore not marry anyway, are more likely to be drawn into the celibate lifestyle of the catholic priesthood.

    I’d be interested in what TheraP has to say about this.

  11. Catherine in JapanMarch 10, 2010 at 6:42 AM

    Thanks to Fr. Kung- again!

  12. I struggled to leave a comment earlier, but Erika has expressed a good deal of what I would have liked to have said much better than I could have.

  13. Erika, Fran, I never said that celibacy was the sole cause of abusive priests. Never said that. I said there were very likely multiple causes for adults who are child abusers.

    What I did say, and what I still believe, is that for SOME men who enter the seminary more or less normal, the atmosphere of suppression and denial of sexuality is an element which draws SOME of them (I don't know how many) to abuse children. I did not say that celibacy is the sole cause. Sexuality will out, if not in healthy ways, then in unhealthy ways.

    To say that those who were abused as children will grow up to be abusers is just as much of an oversimplification, because not all children who were abused grow up to be child abusers.

    This is my opinion. If you don't agree with me, that's fine, but please don't say I said what I didn't say.

  14. Mimi
    I was explaining why the first misunderstanding arose. It arose because I had misunderstood you to have said what you clearly hadn't said.
    And then you explained it again and as far as I was concerned, the misunderstanding was sorted.
    So I was surprised when you wrote here that you got some flack for your views, because to my mind, it hadn't been a matter of disagreeing but of misunderstanding.

    But I bow out before we misunderstand even more.

  15. I also posted the Hans Küng article on Facebook because it seemed to speak plainly about some of the problems I see with the RC Church, problems I think about a lot because I am still drawn to it. I haven't read any prior discussions among you on this, but I do share some of the reservations about drawing a causal connection between the celibacy rule and the abuse involving children, which Küng seemed to be drawing and Mimi, at least in part. I don't want to debate that aspect of it, myself, as I don't feel I have sufficient knowledge to have an informed opinion. I would like to note, in passing, however, that clergy sexual abuse is not at all limited to Roman Catholic priests, and that just about any position that gives someone power and authority over children (priest, pastor, teacher, coach, etc.) is going to draw unhealthy persons and give them the opportunity to act out. The only major difference I see in the RC Church is the extent of the secrecy, power, and cover-ups.

    Except...... While there may be no causal relationship between celibacy and pedophilia, what I got out of what Küng said (and maybe I did not read carefully enough), was that an exclusive male culture of enforced celibacy causes a huge problem of ignorance about human nature in general and sexuality in particular at the core of the church. That ignorance - a willful ignorance now shored up by questionable theology - has the potential for diseasing the entire institution. That is not to say that every priest or official is absolutely clueless about people, family life, or even marital relationships, but the institution seems to value and/or reward disordered thinking and attempts to build it into the mortar that holds the institution together -- especially in recent years with the increasing censorship in Catholic colleges and universities, the latest "inquiry" into the women religious in the U.S., the way liberal or moderate priests seem to be shunted around and sometimes removed from parish work entirely, not to mention the increasingly aggressive and hostile position taken towards even celibate gay priests and postulants.

    This may not be fair or accurate. I am very much an outsider at this point. But I just recall the many hours I used to watch Web of Faith on EWTN (as well as some glimpses at Journey Home - often cheering and wincing at the same time). I liked much of what Frs. Levis and Trigilio had to say (though was sometimes amused at their legalisms) and rather liked their personalities. But at some point in the past 10 years, Jim and I just couldn't stand to watch the show anymore. For me it was the way they talked about women and their role in the family and the church. It was not just that they were conservative - that went with the territory - it just seemed that they spoke with a degree of cluelessness that went beyond the ideological/theological views they espoused. If these men are at all representative, it made me wonder if, notwithstanding their other good qualities, people like that could ever effectively pastor and, perhaps more importantly, whether those who rise in the hierarchy are inevitably tainting so much of the thinking and attitudes towards people (of which women, girls, and children are quite a few) that the church is ultimately doomed -- unless some major change occurs soon.

    These are just ponderings...... I don't know. Perhaps I need to visit some RC parishes to get a better grasp of what is going on, but it does worry me - celibacy, especially, because it seems to bring so much more with it than self-sacrifice and focus on the work of the church. It seems to guarantee a myopic and perhaps socially and emotionally warped point of view, at times.

  16. To no one in particular, just to note these words from Richard Sipe's essay:

    The basic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church about sex are well known and widely propagated: All sexual activity outside marriage is gravely sinful (Any voluntary movement in thought, word, desire or action). Those dicta include masturbation, all sexual experimentation prior to marriage, any sexual contact outside marriage, all means of birth control except the rhythm method, and all homosexual behavior [masturbation and homosexual acts along with acts of birth control are considered “Intrinsically Evil”]. Vatican documents declare their positions irrefutable and immutable based on three supporting arguments from scripture, tradition, and nature. Authentic and Orthodox are the code words in their pronouncements and arguments.
    Does that portray the complete an accurate picture of human sexual behavior? Are discussions and dialogue unnecessary?

    Try living by those rules.

    And it does help to read the essay. I know. It's 16 pages long. But Hans Kung's words and Richard Sipe's words indicate that I'm not alone and that I may not necessarily be pulling my opinion wholly out of my ass.

  17. Mimi
    I'm still not understanding your reaction.
    No-body is disagreeing with you.
    Some of us have slightly different emphasis to our thoughts than Hans Küng, but that might be allowed.
    I have read all your references.

    What they don't answer, at least not obviously as far as I can see, is why people who cannot cope with celibacy don't then turn to have sexual relationships with adults, maybe prostitutes etc.

    That the RC view on sexuality and sex is deeply flawed, repressive and likely to encourage a huge amount of sexual dysfunction is clear, you won't find me arguing with that.

    What I'd like to know is why the church attracts so many people who have pedophile tendencies, because I find it very hard to believe that these people are normal healthy adults when they enter the church and then become pedophiles later.

  18. Good for Fr Kung.

    Makes perfect sense to me.

  19. What they don't answer, at least not obviously as far as I can see, is why people who cannot cope with celibacy don't then turn to have sexual relationships with adults, maybe prostitutes etc.

    And then they would be hypocrites, wouldn't they, Erika?

    But then, that's exactly what I said in my previous post, "For God's sake, find a consenting adult!"

    As to the rest of your points, I believe that I have already covered them. Let's let the matter rest on a disagreement on emphasis.

  20. "Perhaps I need to visit some RC parishes to get a better grasp of what is going on."

    Always a good plan.

    If one went by the press and the blogs, Episcopalians spend all their time fussing over gay clergy and Catholics fighting off predatory priests. I think many people would be shocked to attend services and find that those things are hardly on most peoples' radar. Without in any way denigrating the importance of their respective hierarchies, the life of any church is in the parish, or it's noplace.

    "Try living by those rules."

    Almost impossible, admittedly. But no more difficult than living by these:

    Love your enemies.

    Sell all that you have and give it to the poor.

    Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

    From my perspective, Jesus, as relected by his teaching in the gospels, and the Church, have this in common, that they both propose what appear to be almost unattainable standards of conduct, combined with an unlimited capacity to forgive our consistent failure to reach them. For the scrupulous, that can be a great problem. But for most of us, it alows us to press toward the goal with a palpable sense of how far we have yet to go.

  21. Mimi, don't throw me overboard, bu a carefulreading of the catechism shows Clearly that any form of sex is demeaning. ANY, I repeat ANY for of sexual thought OR deed is an impediment to 'closeness' to God.

    Why must priest be totally without sexual thoughts or deeds?

    If ANY form of sex--thought or deed--detracts from 'godliness' then it is demeaning.

    In other words,it's the best a non-priest can do. Sex in any form detracts from closeness to God.

  22. Rick, you are certainly right that if you want to see the life of the church, look at the parish or the local church.

    However, I am amazed that you compare the words of Jesus in the Gospel that we are to hold up as ideals, even if we mostly fail to live up to the ideals, to the absurd list of sexual "Thou shalt nots" promulgated by the Vatican. Not the same thing at all.

  23. Anonymous, I ask you to sign a name. Are you Ed?

    I won't throw you overboard. I'll just say that I think you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

    And I don't read the catechism, nor do I live my life by the catechism.

  24. I *do* think the church has regarded sexuality as inherently "second-best," if not actually evil. Pretty easy to do when you can turn to the words of Paul, who says "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." He also wishes everyone would be celibate, like himself--but that it is "better to marry than to burn." (1 Corinthians 7:1, 7-9)

    And then there was Augustine... (Don't get me started!)

    Jesus the Jew was co-opted by the Greeks, with their dualism and disdain for the body. I wonder if Christianity will ever recover from that....


  25. Klady, good ponderings. It's not just celibacy in the RCC, but the entire all-male culture of warped ideas about sexuality that causes so much difficulty. And the fear of women, as we see now in the "inquiry" of RC nuns.

    As for the priests who pride themselves on their position of power, give them a wife to bring them down to earth.

    Jesus the Jew was co-opted by the Greeks, with their dualism and disdain for the body. I wonder if Christianity will ever recover from that....

    Doxy, I wonder, too. God created humans with bodies and said that we humans are good. That's enough for me.

  26. Mimi -- I'm sorry, I should have been more clear -- the chaplains, assistants etc to whom I was referring were Episcopalians -- in the heart of liberal Cambridge, Mass.

  27. Susankay, thank you for the clarification. I was somewhat confused by your original comment.

  28. I would say that if women had equal roles, things would be very different.

    I was interested to read this earlier today and it is not unrelated to the thread here.

  29. Fran, it would be wonderful if women had equal roles, but what would those equal roles be?

  30. Mimi, I did not really have a vision in mind... Just the thought that a more balanced hierarchy might not be so hierarchal and that many things might be very different.

    So I can't really answer your question. I just offered it up as something to ponder...and for me, something that I hope and pray will change.

    Honestly this is all very hard from my own limited perspective because I live and work in a church that is very different at large from what is being discussed here.

    I am in a diocese where women have great freedom and responsibility, women hold many roles, although clearly not *the* role of priest.

    I myself am treated as a ministerial partner, not something lesser than nor someone to be feared, disdained, loathed or ignored. I am not just speaking of the two priests that I interact with daily, but also about the majority of priests here at other parishes and in the diocesan offices, including our bishop.

    Clearly this does give me a different perspective, but we are just one tiny place to be Church. I suspect that we will be in for a big surprise when our bishop retires.

    You know I do not wish to belabor this point and I honestly wanted to just share the perspective that the idea that a different church is possible... and might bear very different fruit.

    That was really it - and I figured I would add my own experience. Goodness knows I do not want to fan any further flames. Peace to all.

  31. Fran, it great to hear how your parishes and diocese operate. I pray that those practices spread to other dioceses and parishes.


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