Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sex Abuse & The Wages of Celibacy

As I tried to note yesterday, there are two ways of interpreting the resignation of Scotland's Roman Catholic cardinal: either a confirmation that clerical celibacy is directly related to instances of sex abuse or that clergy abuse - and all forms of sexual abuse - are more expressive of an exploitation of power than they are of sex.

To my mind, it's patently obvious that it is the latter issue. When one surveys the great swath of instances of abuse and exploitation, these acts are overwhelmingly expressions of power over one another. Our tendency has been, culturally, to define "sex abuse" so narrowly that we think of Catholic clergy or pervy old men. While I'm not saying Catholic clergy is bereft of pervy old men, I would argue that if we think of the various expressions that sexually exploitative actions can take - excesses of fraternity pledging, team membership rites, teachers seducing students, etc. - these are acts that demonstrate a corruption of power. One need look no further than Penn State to the depth and difficulty to this issue.


Nevertheless, Frank Bruni's piece in the New York Times, "The Wages of Celibacy," attempts to portray the requirement of clerical celibacy as leading to, or symptomatic of, psychological instability. Again, I've met more than my share of psychologically unstable clergy. That said, I think Bruni errs in his analysis.

Step back from the issue of clergy abuse and consider abuse in general: there is no lack of evidence that some married men have, and do, men abuse their own children, step-children, family members, and others. Some of these men are clergy from other denominations. Women molest children, too, and some of these women are married as well. If Bruni were correct in his analysis, we should see a direct correlation or some type of statistical evidence. Yet none exists: the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in its report, found no single cause or predictor of clergy abuse. What the report did find (3.2) is that personality problems were common to clergy abuses; that, I reckon, should shock no one.

The issue of sexual abuse and exploitation is an issue every bit as vital to our nation and to our world as economic reform. Yet since it's hard to define and difficult to understand the nuance and pathology, journalists shirk their responsibility and follow red herrings. Hundreds of years ago, we thought bloodletting a fine practice to release the humors and restore health. We know today that this was not a good idea. In the face of growing evidence tying sex abuse - of all types - to corrupt uses of power, Bruni's piece makes me wonder if we're stepping back in history or if we have the courage to confront these challenges in a head-on and responsible manner. 

8 comments:

Br. Paul Ciaran Castelli, AF said...

It amazes me that people think that this only occurs in the Catholic Church. While I sometimes question the response that the Catholic Church has taken to some cases of clergy sexual abuse, this is surely not the only denomination in which this problem exists.

Decades ago, an Episcopal priest in California admitted upon his arrest that the reason he entered the priesthood was access to children. More recently, an ELCA pastor in Michigan was arrested for attempting to meet up with a mother to engage in sexual activity with her 11 year old daughter. The "mother" was an FBI agent. And remember, neither of these denominations require celibacy.

While I will still maintain my argument against mandatory celibacy for Catholic clergy (I truly weep for your brother clergy who feel called to marriage and cannot do follow that call, or who make the painful decision to leave their ministry because of their call to marriage), I certainly find it appalling to link that vow as a cause of sexual abuse.

Br. Paul Ciaran Castelli, AF said...

I cannot stand when I tweak a sentence and miss a word. (I truly weep for your brother clergy who feel called to marriage and cannot follow that call...) Let's just forget that "do" was in there. :-)

Karl said...

Ryan, I agree with you..thanks for saying this. The problem is that these issues are complex and the media often does not care to delve into them. It's easier to call italla sex scandal and move on.

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good comment

d said...

I really think parish priests need to talk about this and how the church is being attacked in the media. There is so much misinformation out there and remaining silent ( like my parish has) is like sticking their heads in the sand. We need to fix our problems and become stronger not ignore them and have people fade away because they don't know what's true anymore.

Anonymous said...

I WARNED THEM ALL NOT TO SET ME UP BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T LISTEN THE FIRST TIME THEY WILL ALL BE DEAD IN THE FUTURE. NO APOLOGIES.

Ryan G. Duns, SJ said...

I'm just getting around to reading some of these comments. Thanks to those who posted: I do think, with D, that the amount of misinformation out there is staggering. I'm working on a paper right now that traces the history of clergy abuse over the last decade and my hope is to get a sense of where we've been, what we've learned, and how we might proceed.

As for comment #6 - Huh?

kurt black said...

It is hard to believe what happens at church's and I have trouble even reading about it. I hope that this stops and these priests are punished.attorney medford oregon