If you weren’t raised Catholic, you missed a lot of strangeness, and the innumerable questions which arose. We were discouraged from asking questions about many things; we were told that much of the Church’s beliefs were matters of faith. As we became teenagers, the number of questions, which were mostly kept to ourselves, increased. We were aware that in most religions ministers and rabbis had wives and children. Why were priests and nuns not allowed to marry? Why was what most people viewed as a normal life forbidden to our Church’s leaders? Now a study in Australia has admitted that mandatory celibacy might be a serious problem for Catholic priests.
Being a devout Catholic is not easy. Most certainly there are millions such as myself who are ‘fallen Catholics.’ When rules instituted centuries ago began to lack logic in our modern world, and there were no answers readily available for our questions, we simply ceased to be members of the Church.
We were told that our parish priest had all of the answers. He was our spiritual advisor; he was our guide when we were distraught and felt that we were losing both faith and hope; when married couples were experiencing difficulties regarding their relationship, he was their marriage counselor.
It was the last I always questioned the most. How can anyone who has not shared a common experience have the knowledge to offer advice about issues with which they are unfamiliar?
A recently released report by a group of archbishops in Australia revealed new information regarding the serious problem of sexual abuse by priests. A two year study which included eight hearings, 50 witnesses, and the examination of 160,000 church documents, produced substantiated proof. Their conclusion was that mandatory celibacy contributed to sexual abuse crimes. The Australian report contradicts a study completed in the United States in 2011 which found no connection between the rule of celibacy and child abuse.
The Australian clerics suggested that the Church must take a hard look at all possible reasons for the sexual abuse of children, and cease turning a ‘blind eye’ to a continuing problem.
For decades the Church’s hierarchy ignored and even covered-up actions of child abuse in their diocese. They were more concerned with protecting the image and reputation of the Church, than addressing the crimes.
After the report was released, past victims expressed doubt that it would inspire the Church to consider changes in century’s old policies and edicts. Although sexual abuse of children by priests is reported as a two percent problem, many who suffered abuse believe the problem is far more widespread. They simply ask that a consideration of celibacy as part of the problem be considered.
There is no doubt that the Church’s problems mirror the domestic violence and sexual abuse situation throughout society. For every complaint that is reported, two more remain hidden. Victims often feel an unreal sense of guilt and personal responsibility for the crime which was committed on their person.
Sexual relations are a normal part of the human experience. It is as important to mental and physical health as feelings of security, the love of family and friends, food, and shelter.
I always joked about a personal situation which was partly based on fact. I was a member of a group of young teenage boys who spent a weekend at a seminary. The purpose was to inspire us to consider becoming priests. I thought about it, but a short time later I was ‘in lust’ over a young girl who was developing female attributes. Knowing that priests could not be married or participate in any form of sexual relations, I completely discounted the priesthood for my future. Celibacy would not be in my future.
To ask men and women to live an unnatural life of celibacy is foolhardy. I’m not suggesting that this is the entire cause of sexual abuse within the Church; there are numerous psychological issues involved. But there is no doubt that for many it contributes to a tragic situation.
By James Turnage