Rick McHenry

Exploring Love and Truth

Celibacy and the Child Abuse Scandal


Several people have asked me recently why the Roman Catholic Church (Latin Rite) doesn’t allow priests to be married and contend that if they did, there wouldn’t be such a big problem with priestly sexual abuse.  What role does celibacy play in the recent child sexual abuse scandal?

In order to answer, let’s take a look at what celibacy is and why Roman Catholic priests are required to be celibate.

What is celibacy?

Celibacy, by definition, is the abstaining from marriage and sexual relations for religious reasons.

Why does the Roman Catholic Church require priests to be celibate?

For this answer, I quote the Catholic Education Resource Center (CERC), “Christ revealed the true value and meaning of celibacy. Catholic priests from St. Paul to the present have imitated Him in their total gift of self to God and others as celibates. Although Christ raised marriage to the level of a sacrament that reveals the love and life of the Trinity, He was also a living witness to the life of the world to come. The celibate priesthood is for us a living witness to this life in which the unity and joy of marriage between a man and a woman is surpassed in the perfect, loving communion with God. Celibacy properly understood and lived frees a person to love and serve others as Christ did.”[1]

How does celibacy relate to the child sex-abuse cases in the U.S. and around the world?

In short, it doesn’t.

From a scientific perspective, studies have shown that profiles of child molesters never include normal adults who become erotically attracted to children as a result of abstinence.  In other words, healthy heterosexual men have never been known to develop erotic attractions to children as a result of abstinence.[2]

From a simply logical perspective, if celibacy were any part of the problem, then we would expect the incidence rate among other religions (who allow clergy to marry) to be lower.  And yet, it is not.  Less than 2 percent of all Catholic priests were involved in the sex-abuse cases.  This is comparable to the rate among men in other religions and non-religious institutions that allow their clergy to marry.  The statistics just don’t support the hypothesis that allowing priests to marry would solve the sex-abuse problem.

Then where does the blame belong?

I’m not trying to answer the question of where the blame belongs in this article.  I am only pointing out where it does not.  Celibacy is not the problem.

Is sexual child abuse just a priestly thing?

By the way the media focuses on the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal, you would think so, but unfortunately, child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.  It may help to put the priestly sex scandal and sexual child-abuse in general into perspective.  Roughly 68% of children who are sexually abused are done so by their own family.[3] Shocking isn’t it?  …and very, very sad.  Compare that to 2% of the world’s priest population being involved in the sex abuse cases.  What’s left is 98% of the Catholic priest population doing their best to be holy men of God; trying heroically to imitate Christ to the best of their abilities.

Are you just making excuses for the scandal?

Let’s get this clear… there are NO excuses for child abuse …EVER!  Not in the priesthood or anywhere else.  It’s such a despicable, evil act that I can barely think about it without feeling sick to my stomach.  But let’s not put blame on celibacy.  It’s way off target.

Concluding remarks…

From a logical and scientific viewpoint, celibacy played absolutely no cause in the priestly child abuse scandal.  On the contrary, celibacy has helped thousands of priests over the last 2,000 years to be more like Christ in their single-mindedness and fidelity to His Church.  The teachings of the Church, including the discipline of celibacy for its priests, are here to help us all come closer to God.

For more a more in-depth look about the myths of priestly pedophilia, consider the following: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0011.html

Other statistics in my article were taken from here: http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics#gen-stats

[1] http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0011.html

[2] http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0011.html

[3] http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics#gen-stats


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