Sunday, December 19, 2010

Celibacy is not the problem

I read an online article several days ago, written by one of our archbishops whose name escapes me now, that argued that the Scandal in the Church was not caused and is not propagated by the rules of celibacy in the western Church.  I thought I'd already read it some time before, as many of you probably have actually done so, but it only seemed familiar in the broadest strokes, in the terms of things I would have known anyway.

The usual points were made:  celibacy's a choice willingly made in pursuit of a vocation, it's been practiced for far longer than the problems associated with the Scandal have been going on (not denying that "protect the reputation of the Church at all costs" hasn't happened at other times and for other reasons), and the rate of sexual abuse is about half what it is in the general population (according to his numbers--I'd heard they were about the same, but the point holds), so it doesn't make sense to cast sole or primary blame on something that doesn't make a net difference in the outcome.

Two responses, conveniently located on the first page of comments (actually, probably on every page), caught my attention this time.

One was the bizarre accusation that pedophiles gravitate towards the priesthood in particular (along with other child-centered professions like teaching) because of the "absolute power" priests have over children.  I won't argue the "access to children" point, but power?  No priest alive knows the power that was held, or at least imagined today to be held, by priests of the late Middle Ages, whenever clericalism was at its peak. Were they sometimes protected, given the benefit of the doubt, by laity as well as by their respective ordinaries?  Perhaps so; but that's a far cry from the pastor of every parish in Europe or the New World being a little ceasaro-pope.

The more tired comment was something like this:  "Humans are sexual animals.  Repression of the sexual instinct is only going to lead to these kinds of problems."  First, humans are sexual creatures, but we are not animals; healthy human adults have it within their power to restrain their appetites and to turn a rational eye to bodily urges and emotional states instead of unwillfully submitting to them.  Second, even animals do not exhibit psychotic behavior just for being denied the opportunity to mate frequently.  Competition for mates happens all the time and all over the place, and by and large, the Darwinian losers don't take it personally.  Third, choosing of one's own accord or willingly submitting to a lifestyle of abstinence is not "repression"--at least, not any more than my fear of getting charged with assault and battery if I didn't indulge my so called instinct of rage on the face of a hostile supervisor is "repression" of my anger.

This sophistry, to put it generously, has been overused and abused to justify a lifestyle that conveniently claims to distill meaning from it's-your-fault-if-I-feel-oppressed-by-imagining-you-mentally-judge-me pleasure seeking, that I no longer think that intellectually serious hedonists would even bother making such arguments--at least, not honestly; perhaps only to provide more chaff for casual leave-me-alone-with-my-endorphins hedonists to throw in the air and slow everybody else down.
Please, people:  find a new argument.

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