“Church links celibacy with abuse”

“Church links celibacy with abuse”

Time to start blogging again! The latest issue of The Priest has gone to press, we’ve closed registrations to the international clergy conference I’m helping to organise, and I’ve finally struck a routine in my new parish. Time to blog!

Unfortunately, my first post in a long time is a critical one. I’m loathe to criticise, when there’s such a need to edify. But sometimes criticism is necessary, in defence of the truth.

Today’s Australian quotes the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council‘s Activity Report from December. I’m a great advocate of the TJH Council, and in particular its CEO, Francis Sullivan. I have heard him speak on several occasions, and each time he has spoken uncomfortable truths about the Church with prophetic courage.

But this time, the TJH Council has got it wrong. Its December report claims that “obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances.” In a way this isn’t exactly new. At the Victorian State Parliamentary Enquiry into institutional child abuse, Cardinal Pell acknowledged that celibacy could be a cause for sexual abuse.

But this claim flies in the face of qualifiable psychological research that finds no link between professed and self-adhered celibacy and sexual abuse. I’ll try and find some links … tomorrow. Not today.

The TJH Council goes onto to say that “you can’t have an honest and open discussion about the future without having an honest and open discussion about celibacy. We are placing celibacy on the table.”

I wish they’d take it off again. Celibacy is a distraction. The two major issues, I think, are much broader, and demand focused attention. One is an unhealthy closed-shop clericalism which afflicts the Church. The other is the depraved sexual license which afflicts our society.

In other words, the real problems are cultural and highly complex. It’s tempting to raise an easy-fix issue like priestly celibacy, but it isn’t very helpful.

  • Clara

    Yes, clericalism is a problem, but there is also a culture of bullying within the Church – related to clericalism – which is very subtle, pervasive and hugely damaging. I would not be alone in noting the resignation of five high-profile women in one diocese alone in recent months. Bullying protocols are in place, but the bullies implement the protocols.

  • GregK

    I’m glad you put this post on your blog Father. The headline is as misleading as it is inaccurate. Francis Sullivan is the bishop’s conference CEO of the TJH Council. He has as much canonical and theological authority as the ACBC has in the universal Church, which is zilch. It behoves not only the Church’ hierarchy, but lay appointees as well to think very carefully about the consequences their public declarations and statements can have on the faithful. This statement is an insult to the faithful hierarchy and religious men and women have totally committed their lives to following Christ by serving his Church.

    • Stephen K

      “He has as much canonical and theological authority as the ACBC has in the universal Church, which is zilch.” (quote)

      Happily for the good of the Catholic Church, Francis Sullivan has all the practical and delegated – as opposed to theological – authority he needs to be able to be the spokesman for a body which was established for a very pastoral purpose – to contribute to the healing caused by the crime of clerical child sex abuse and the scandal of Church leaders covering up or effectively trivialising said crime.

      As is abundantly clear from the evidence before the Royal Commission, and the anecdotal experience of many outside it, a host of bishops and administrators who were either canon lawyers or theologians have spectacularly failed to serve the interests of those entrusted spiritually to them.

      So, your point is?

  • MuMu

    Thank you for your response to the report by the TJHC, Fr John.

    Celibacy, I propose, is not the problem, the problem is the failure to uphold celibacy and evaluate candidates for the priesthood using a sound and positive theology of chastity.

    I can’t help thinking the scandal of clerical sexual abuse of boys (mostly) and a much wider desertion by priests to marry over the past 50 years is due to one thing: the Western bishops’ derision towards and failure to preach and support Humanae Vitae.

    As the late great Cardinal Heenan wrote in his trilogy “Crown of Thorns”, the spirit of Eros has taken possession of the world and has entered the Church.

    Entered the Church through the gaping holes where the gospel of life should have made the Barque of Peter secure against the tsunami of the culture of death.

    • GregK

      I agree MuMu, according to the report celibacy is only a possible cause and certainly doesn’t explain the abuse that is far more prevalent in the family and other secular institutions. Fancy holding holy Mother Church’s teaching on celibacy responsible for the failures of the dysfunctional episcopal fathers towards their priestly sons who committed these heinous crimes. What a self-serving conclusion to draw. The blame for the cover-ups should have been laid squarely at the feet of the ACBC, Mr Sullivan’s employer and the culture of dysfunction and failure that pervades it. Besides, the above conclusion plays right into the hands of all those disaffected Catholic hierarchy who no longer subscribe to the traditional priesthood of Christ as it was handed down by the Apostles. These Gadium et Spes bishops and priests prefer the ‘Australian’ Protestant left-wing vision of the priesthood.

  • Marcus

    The real issue is not celibacy – it is the psychosexual formation provided to seminarians and priests (see the TJHC report, pg. 23). Theologically, celibacy is not a natural vocation – it is supernatural – and therefore requires concerted and consistent efforts to orient the person to the supernatural motivations for celibacy, and to help the person integrate these into their daily living. This requires the intentional development of a congruent culture within seminaries and groups of clergy.
    Psychosexual formation cannot possibly be adequately achieved by irregular seminars presented in group settings, for example. Rather, it requires that each seminarian and priest have a personalised relationship with both a spiritual director and a qualified clinical psychologist. That only one seminary in Australia (to my knowledge – Good Shepherd, Sydney) has a clinical psychologist permanently on staff indicates that the majority of bishops still do not understand what is required for the adequate formation of seminarians and priests. Only when seminarians and priests are not provided with adequate psychosexual formation is celibacy a problem. This is the link the Council’s report does not make clearly enough.
    Our seminarians and priests have made generous gifts of their lives to the Church. If this gift is truly respected by seminary staff and bishops, then they will do everything in their power to provide their students and priests with the sort of formation and culture outlined above.

  • GregK

    Here, here Marcus, I know only too well about this manner of psychosexual formation and the accompaniment that is necessary to live the evangelical counsels, especially the vow of celibacy/chastity in relation to the Trinitarian mystery. And I probably know the vocational therapist on the staff at the Good Shepherd seminary. By the way, and with all due respect, I don’t think Francis Sullivan would understand any of the above comment including this response.

    • Stephen K

      It is a happy accident, GregK, that I happen to agree with the proposition that celibacy per se does not cause paedophilia, and that child abuse by clerics and religious is more a function or manifestation of significant sociopathy and immature sexual psychology than simply unhappy celibacy or unhappy sexual abstinence – a slightly different thing. That the quarantining of the priest from physical intimacy can lead to unhappiness and neuroticism is well evidenced by examples of grumpy, alcoholic or eccentrically sociophobic clerics. However, their ranks are swelled by the many grumpy, alcoholic and socially dysfunctional marrieds who do have access to sexual intimacy but are still – and no less – unhappy. And, to be fair, their ranks are limited by those priests who appear to have fully embraced their circumstance and discipline and show no signs of such misery.

      So, in a way, you, Father John and I are in agreement. What has prompted me to comment though is your gratuitous and unworthy slight of Francis Sullivan whom you presume to assert would not be able to comprehend you. I’m afraid it works both ways: there is nothing you’ve said that gives me confidence you are entitled to make such an assertion. As for your attributing blame to the ACBC, I simply ask, whom exactly do you include in your condemnation? And would you agree that the ultimate responsibility for the bishops’ protection of abusers lies with the Popes of the 20th century? (Have you read Kieran Tapsell’s “Potiphar’s Wife” for example?)

      Sorry, GregK. I personally think that you’ve missed an important point. No, it’s not celibacy that is a problem; it’s thinking churchmen with whom you might happen to agree can do no wrong.

      • GregK

        Dear Stephen K
        So what is the point of your verbose frantic responses? No, I have not read “Potiphar’s Wife” and have no need to. I do not subscribe to the heretical book market of Catholica. Have you and Mr Sullivan or the Australian bishops who appointed him as CEO spent an hour a week for 7 years of your life being accompanied by the best vocational therapist in the country. As far as I know, currently there is only one bishop in the country who has for a year or so.

  • GregK

    I’m sorry about the spelling and grammatical errors in my comments Fr John. It is quite embarrassing to say the least. Here, here should be hear, hear and Gadium should be Guadium. It was a bit late when I posted the comment to Marcus last night, and I was just a little bit annoyed with the hierarchy about its public declaration. Also, I’m still learning about posting comments on the Internet. God bless you.

    • Stephen K

      No, GregK, it’s not “Guadium”. Try again.

      • Gregk

        Thanks Stephen K I will later.

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