The recent news about pedophile priests has shocked Catholics and non-Catholics alike. We want to believe that people who dedicate themselves to a spiritual way of life are better than us, but it turns out that a large number of them have committed crimes against children that most of us regular sinful folk find unimaginable.
Some people blame the large number of homosexuals in the Church. And there are a large number of gay men in the priesthood. Men I’ve known who have been monks or studied for the priesthood have personally told me this. It may be because these men are ashamed of their sexual orientation and want to live a celibate life where they can suppress their feelings or it may be because as priests, they can seem to be celibate while actually having a secret sexual life.
A high rate of homosexuality in the priesthood does not necessarily mean there should be a high number of pedophiles there. Psychologists tell us that most pedophiles are married, heterosexual men, even the ones who target young boys. Does celibacy attract perverts? This idea is an insult to the many people who live celibate lives in our steamy, sexualized society. Many people are alone, or are too old or infirm to have sex. Some may simply have no interest in sex.
But if celibacy does not by itself indicate sexual perversion, outward celibacy protected by a veneer of holiness may do just that. Men who have sexual urges they find sinful or unacceptable may see the priesthood as an escape from their own desires. Then, when they reach that exalted place, they may find they can’t repress those urges after all and find themselves having sex with children. Other pedophiles may have baser motives and may join the priesthood specifically in order to prey on children.
What does homosexuality have to do with any of this? Many homosexuals live exemplary lives, forming long-lasting partnerships and even adopting children. Some play the field and experiment sexually, but then so do some heterosexuals. Despite the Church’s opposition to homosexuality, it’s reasonable that there should be some homosexual priests, since there is a number of gay parishioners. The problem is that the percentage of gay priests is much higher than the percentage of gays in the population.
This may be the reason that women’s issues, like birth control and women in the priesthood, have been ignored by the Church for so long. But the bigger problem is this: Every one of those priests is “in the closet” in the most awful way. They are told that the sexual feelings they were born with and have felt all their lives are sinful and against God’s wishes. This has produced a huge number of priests who have a big sexual secret, which makes them much less likely to “out” other priests for their sexual secrets, even when they involve having sex with kids. They are much more likely to move them to another parish (with new a youth group to prey upon) than call the police. It’s a case of “you hide my secret and I’ll hide yours.” It takes moral self-confidence to confront a pedophile priest, which is something a homosexual priest who has been closeted for years probably does not have.
Should we kick gay priests out of the Church? If we did, we wouldn’t have many priests left, and we have a shortage already. Also, it’s like the problem of homosexuals in the military. Many of them are doing a good job and it seems unfair to throw them out because of something they can’t help: their sexual orientation.
If the Church was a business or secular organization, the people at the top would look at the symptoms and say, “How can we solve this problem?” But the Vatican is steeped in old, old rules, and although most of them were made by men, they’ve become sheathed in tradition and are hard to set aside. Celibacy was instigated in order to prevent priests from passing on Church property to their children. It is now spoken of in glowing terms, as part of a priestly vocation, so it doesn’t look like there’s much room for change.
In 1139, St. Malachy received a vision about the lineage of future popes that has proven to be uncannily accurate. According to Malachy, the next pope, who will be elected when the ailing John Paul II dies, will be the last pope. He describes this as the end of the world, and for him, it would have seemed that way. But for modern Catholics, the end of the priesthood as we know it may be the only way for the Catholic Church to survive.
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