Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Fallacy of Priesthood Celibacy

Cardinal Donald William Wuerl fomer Archbishop of Pittsburgh
Breathtaking! I do not use that world lightly. I have used it before (probably more than once) and I do not want to overuse it since that would water down its impact. But the damning report yesterday by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro simply took my breath away.  From the Washington Post:
More than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up, according to a sweeping grand jury report released Tuesday.
The investigation, one of the broadest inquiries into church sex abuse in U.S. history, identified 1,000 children who were victims, but reported that there probably are thousands more.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” the grand jury wrote in its report. 
Listening to some of the more egregious examples of the abuse described on this morning’s CBS newscast were shocking even for someone like me who is fully aware of the extent of this problem (or so I thought).  I recoiled several times listening to those descriptions.

In one case a priest sexually abused six sisters from one family. It included an 18  month old baby still in diapers! In another case a 7 year old girl was raped in the hospital after her tonsils were taken out. In still another case a 9 year old boy's mouth was rinsed out with ‘holy water’ after oral sex. There was even a pedophile ring of predator priests operating inside the Catholic Church.

The response of the church over the years was not only to cover it up, but to document fully what each preist did in detail and to document the cover up. Priests accused of sex abuse were often just shifted to another diocese without informing parishioners of his abuse. So that he could start doing it all over again. Cardinals and archbishops were all involved in the cover-ups all the way up to the Vatican.

I realize that what I am about to say is ‘off topic’ and perhaps none of my business as a Jew. It is not my place – or the purpose of this blog - to discuss issues affecting another faith. I am an Orthodox Jew and this blog focuses on issues that affect Jews and Judaism. However I can’t help but comment on this earth-shattering revelation. And share my thoughts on one reason I believe Catholic priests are particularly vulnerable to becoming sex abusers.

I must admit that I have always viewed the stories of dedication and sacrifice made by various Catholic priests with admiration.  One of those sacrifices is a serious one. Priests are forbidden by Church doctrine to marry. They want to follow the example of their god who never got married. And so that they can focus all of their time ministering to their people without the burden of marriage and family. The Church wants its priests to be fully dedicated to their ministry and nothing else. Becoming a priest requires that kind of dedication and sacrifice.Catholics that have that calling realize that and are willing to make that sacrifice.

How is it possible for so many priests who choose a life of dedication and sacrifice to do such things? I am only speculating here, but I believe that at least in part it is that very  sacrifice that is responsible for their downfall. I admit that my thoughts are not based on any scientific evidence. But I see this as a logical result of their compulsory celibacy.

The sex drive will not be denied. Although I’m sure most priests are celibate – they are being asked to deny a basic urge. One that is comparable to eating and sleeping. All 3 of which need to be satisfied.The only difference being that sex can be delayed. Eating and sleeping cannot.  When the sex drive is consistently denied those urges increase. So that a priest – even with the best of intentions might seek a way to gratify that urge.

Contrast that with how Judaism deals with marriage. Willful resistance to getting married and having children is considered sinful. Judaism requires every man to fulfill the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu - to be fruitful and multiply. He must seek to get married and have children. Even (and perhaps especially)  if he is a priest.

Yes, we have priests too. They are called Kohanim. They were the ones directed by God to serve in the Beis Hamkdash. No one else was allowed to do that under pain of serious consequences (Kares - a type of death at the hands of heaven) if they did. The high priest (Kohen Gadol) was required to be married too. Marriage was considered so essential that on Yom Kippur when the Kohen Gadol entered the holy of holies he was required to have a woman in waiting that would automatically become his wife if his original wife died while he was in there! (The mechanics of which are outside the scope of this post).

That is how vital being married is to the Jewish priesthood. Which is the exact opposite of the Catholic church.   

This of course does not mean that Judaism doesn’t have its share of sex abusers. It clearly does. In spades. Many of them rabbis. And some of those are guilty of some of the most egregious sex abuse imaginable. 

Judaism also has its share of cover-ups and/or  shifting of rabbis suspected of sex abuse to different locations where they can begin their abuse all over again.

But I do not believe that rabbinate has anywhere near comparable number of abusive rabbis as a percentage of our whole as the Catholic priesthood seems to have as a percentage of their whole.(Over 300 priests in one state - and who know how many more whose victims have not come forward?!)

The motivation of the Catholic Church is to provide dedicated priests that minister to their people –  unburdened with the stresses of marriage and family that would take away time and energy from their ministry of kindness and compassion. But it has proven to be quite the opposite to untold numbers of Catholics whose lives have been shattered because of it.

Something the Catholic Church ought to think about.