Sunday 31 January 2010

Why did it all happen? Reason #1a: Celibacy

See previous blog

Mandatory celibacy is often pointed to as a reason for the sexual abuse of children. There is the idea that removing the mandatory celibacy legislation from the Roman Catholic system is somehow going to solve problems of, not only the sexual abuse of children, but also all sorts of other "sexual issues" within the Roman Catholic priesthood (read: homosexuality). However, how can this be a solution?

The first issue is, "if celibacy is the problem, then why is it that there are lots of cases of non-Roman Catholic religious authorities (ministers, organists, counsellors)who sexually abuse children who are married?" Obviously, a married clergy does not solve the problem, and it then follows that a celibate clergy cannot be at the root of the problem. Celibacy can be chosen; sometimes celibacy is thrust upon people; some people just aren't all that interested in sex. However, human beings are made for relationships and most human beings crave the intimacy that a positive sexual relationship can bring.

Christianity has been obsessed with sexuality almost from the beginning. Jesus didn't have much to say about it; frankly neither did Paul. It was up to the Church Fathers to make it the central issue for Christian spirituality. Historically, there are reasons for this, not many that have been truly put in the context of the socio-cultural background out of which the Fathers came. The attitude towards sexuality only changed slightly with the Reformation, which attacked the issue of celibacy but little else about the rationale of sexual relationships within the Christian context. A good little book (now out of print) that discusses this is John Phillips' Eve: The History of and Idea. It is not celibacy that is the problem, but the idea that all sex is essentially a dangerous facet of human relationships. Celibacy puts the idea of the non-sexualized life on a pedestal. Everything else follows from that. Once not having sex is the be-all and end-all of holiness, then all sex is sinful - even if there are degrees of sinfulness. Sex with children just gets lost in the shuffle. Changing mandatory celibacy will not change much if the theology of celibacy remains as one of the lynch pins of holiness. I haven't seen anyone suggest that celibacy won't still be the ideal to strive for.

What would be the theology of the Roman Catholic priesthood be without mandatory celibacy? Is it possible? What would it look like?

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