Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Celibacy Advances Culture of Compromised Truths

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Celibacy Advances Culture of Compromised Truths

Article excerpt

Celibacy contributes to a culture of mendacity in the priesthood.

In the 2015 movie "Spotlight," the voice of Richard Sipe (played by Richard Jenkins) says over the speaker phone, "If you really want to understand the crisis, you need to start with the celibacy requirement." He continues, "That was my first major finding. Only 50% of the [Catholic] clergy are celibate. Now, most of them are having sex with other adults. But the fact remains that this creates a culture of secrecy that tolerates and even protects pedophiles."

Sipe, the former priest and psychologist, who died in August 2018, devoted much of his life to the psychological treatment of priests. He wrote extensively on priestly celibacy In 1990, he published A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy. He estimated then that at any given time only 50% of priests, monks and bishops are actually celibate. This contributes to a culture of mendacity (lying).

In a 2016 letter to San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, Sipe wrote:

Sooner or later it will become
broadly obvious that there is a
systemic connection between the
sexual activity by, among and between
clerics in positions of authority
and control, and the abuse
of children.... When men in authority--cardinals,
bishops, rectors,
abbots, confessors, professors--are
having or have had an
unacknowledged-secret-active-sex
life under the guise of celibacy,
an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors
within the system is made
operative.

In other words, priests and bishops are not going to expose others because they may be guilty themselves. The cases of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia prove this point. How could they rise so high and allegedly endure so long in their double lives? Perhaps because people who knew were also compromised by sexual activity.

In 1994,1 wrote an article about celibacy for The Washington Post following several priest sexual scandals in Washington. I said then:

In light of recent sexual scandals
involving priests, I find some
skepticism about priestly celibacy.
Among skeptics, I get one of
two reactions. Some people think
priest are liars. Others think we
are fools. Some of the time, of
course, they are right.

Don't think that this is just an American problem. It is a universal problem as scandals in Poland, Ireland, France, India, Philippines, Kenya, etc. have shown. In Africa, where some of the fiercest defenders of celibacy are to be found, it is widely reported that priests routinely live double lives, keeping "secret" families in homes far from their parishes.

On June 1, The Washington Post reported that Fr. Peter Njogu is publicly leading a breakaway Renewed Universal Catholic Church in Kenya over the issue of celibacy He is married and has established himself as a bishop of a schismatic church. Twenty priests have followed him along with more than 2,000 Catholics in several congregations. He said in The Post that other priests tell him, "The problem with you is that you went public. And I say, 'I am not the problem: I am the solution. Join me.' "

In Latin America I have encountered the same phenomenon. People openly express skepticism about celibacy because they know or suspect that Padre has a secret family.

Celibacy is not essential to holiness. Many saints were married and had children. The Second Vatican Council said there is a universal call to holiness. If celibacy were essential to holiness, then most of the church could not be holy Sex is an essential part of holiness in the sacrament of matrimony We say that marriages are "consummated" by a sexual relationship. …

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