21 March, 2010

Over on the NP Holy Post blog, "robertbj" understood and accepted the Pope's letter and apology, but he still questioned whether celibacy can be successfully lived. I post our exchange here.

If you take a bunch of men and women at the peak of their sexual powers, tell them they must remain celibate, and then tell them they talk to God or are married to God you're going to end up with some bent individuals. What else would you expect? It's in defiance of nature, and to paraphrase Francis Bacon, 'nature is more forceful in the return...', however it may find expression. Immaturity finds many ways of expression, and believing a child is a playmate, and forgetting you're an adult is just one of them.

robertbj: I think you are selling we celibates short (grin). Have you considered that a man does not take vows of celibacy until he hits 25 yrs of age (the normative age for ordination to the priesthood according to Church law)? 

If he has been through any of the normal experiences of life (with all its stages of psycho/sexual development), by the time he comes to makes this commitment he should be solid in his capacity not to deny or renounce his sexuality, but to direct its passions and creative powers into appropriate and beneficial ways. Participation in conversations such as we have here is, but one small example.

I remember my dear departed father sharing with me his concern over my putting on quite a few pounds in the first ten years of my priesthood. In my defense, I sent him an article taken from the pages of a Jesuit journal, which claimed that since celibates do not express themselves sexually, they often over-indulged in the next highest category in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - Eating. The 'evidence' seemed to point to my succeeding in my priesthood, I wrote across the top margin. A couple of weeks, later I received a letter from him in which he returned the article with the following inscription written across the bottom:

"Well, I guess it's a damned good thing that you're a priest then. Looking at the 'evidence' of your argument, you would have made me a grandfather 10 times over by now!  Love, Dad"

He too understood what it was to live a celibate life when his wife (and my mother) died early in life. Deprived then of his greatest love in life, he embraced the celibate life of a widower.

So, I ask you:  If we can choose to marry at a much earlier age (an equally substantial life decision, eh?), surely to God one is mature enough to successfully choose to embrace celibacy as he enters the slide towards his 30th birthday.

Fr. Tim


  1. There is a disturbing subtext to the abuse scandal that involves not only celibacy but any attempt to curb natural urges.

    Some people deeply resent anyone telling them there are things they ought not do. For such people the controls on their behavior are external and authoritarian in nature.

    In contrast to this, a more mature person's controls on their behavior are internal and personal.

    The linkage between celibacy and sexual abuse of teenage boys is a bit convoluted. The nature of sexual attraction being what it is the likelihood of someone developing an attraction to teenage boys as a result of merely being celibate is remote. Such an attraction would have to be already in place.

    In other words the ingredients necessary would have to be as follows:
    - existing attraction to teenage boys
    - emotional immaturity
    - lack of an internalized moral compass
    - a closed environment like a seminary
    You can see where this is going... homosexuals in a restricted all male environment with no opportunity to gain emotional maturity. This is a recipe for disaster.

    There is an effort on the part of media and critics to use the abuse scandal to further their own agenda. There is little compassion for the victims... indeed there is little concern except for their usefulness in providing an opportunity to vent.

    Celibacy is merely one of the key words stuffed into search engines to enable people to cut and paste their boilerplate articles into blogs.

    Oh yeah... did I mention that I am celibate.

  2. Freyr-

    I agree with everything you state here. I'm not trying to be obtuse but how does this relate to the subject of priestly abuse? Except to point out what everyone already knows, that those engaging in it suffer from a lack of development of mature sexual response, resulting in aberrant urges and an inability to manage their own behavior.

    I would not regard a priest who developed a caring sexual relationship with an adult man or woman of the community or one of his fellow priests, in the same light as a pedophile, would you?

    The only fault I find with a responsible sexually active priest, is when they then criticize others from their position of authority who do no more than engage in exactly the same behavior. That is when they stray into the realm of evil.

  3. reddog: What you object to is the hypocrisy of people from the Church teaching one this and practicing another. In this, I am in total agreement. Such a fatally flawed witness will never produce fruit for the faith and a great deal of harm, while not always publicly known, is still done to the Church by such duplicity and mendacity.

    Fr. Tim

  4. reddog,
    My point is that celibacy is not a direct cause of priestly abuse, the four causes I mentioned above are more immediate causes.

    As for the sexually active priest, I am going to ask you to place our individual moral biases on the back burner for a moment.

    A person who espouses one thing in public and another thing in private is living a lie. A person whose internal moral compass is out of whack with what they say and do is in serious trouble. And the realm of evil... that begins with a lie.

    I do not expect people to act in accord with my beliefs except where it involves harm other people. I do expect that people will act in accord with their own beliefs. I imagine you are much the same.

    If you criticize me for not acting like a good atheist or secularist you are likely wasting your breath. On the other hand, if you tell me I'm not acting like a Catholic... well you've got my attention.

    Same goes for you too by the way...

  5. I think there is some confusion as to the meaning of "celibacy." It means unmarried, not sexually inactive.

    I think there is also a lot of misunderstanding about the motivations of pedophiles. They are not moved by sexual desires, but by a hunger for power and domination over those who are weak and unable to resist. Sex is merely their weapon; and they use it because "our" society has labeled sexuality outside certain man-made boundaries as shameful, so they are "safe" in using it to torture their victims because they know their victims will not report them for fear of the humiliation that will be heaped upon them by society.

    If you want to rid the world of pedophiles, you must first rid the world of all your sexual taboos.

  6. Lady Janus:

    "If you want to rid the world of pedophiles, you must first rid the world of all your sexual taboos."

    Is this not the same thing as claiming that there would be no criminals if we abolished all law?

    Fr. Tim


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