It’s Not About Celibacy

Deal W. Hudson

The recent pedophile problems in various U.S. Catholic dioceses, especially Boston, have led – predictably – to a new wave of questions about priestly celibacy. Let us be clear: There is no relation between the vow of priestly celibacy and the incidence of pedophilia among Catholic priests.

How do I know this? There is less likelihood that a Catholic priest will be a pedophile (0.3 %) than a married man.

This statistic comes from the best and most current study of this issue, Pedophiles, and Priests by Philip Jenkins (Oxford University Press, 1996). Jenkins shows that true pedophilia, that is, sexual contact between an adult and pre-pubescent child is very rare in the Catholic priesthood.

Jenkins also explains how the media artificially exaggerates these numbers in their reporting. One U.S. Cardinal told me recently that many of the reported incidents of “child abuse” are actually complaints going back many years about the forms of corporal punishments administered by clergy in days-gone-by. Data about actual sexual contact and routine spanking or paddling are being thrown together.

The whole argument against a celibate, male clergy based on the pedophilia problem is, at best, impressionistic and, at worse, totally disingenuous.

Catholic dissidents who advocate married clergy and women priests are trying to take full advantage of this present situation. Never once do they mention that if a priest is faithful to his vows sexual relations of any kind will simply never occur. Just how allowing clergy to marry, presumably members of the opposite sex, will reduce pedophilia, is never explained.

The media is scrutinizing the Catholic Church on this issue in a way they have never looked at other institutional leaders, such as public elementary schools teachers, for example. The mere fact that the statistical incidence of pedophilia is the less than married men with children should give the media pause, but it does not and will not.

I can’t think of a single mainstream media outlet, with the possible exception of Fox News, that does not demonstrate a consistent bias against the Catholic Church. This is not to point a finger at every reporter and editor, but to underline the constant tone and drift of their reporting.

Why, for example, would MSNBC spend an evening inviting people to call in and vote on whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry? Would MSNBC do a poll on whether Jews should be allowed to eat pork on their holy days?

As Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has shown for years, the media has no fear of offending Catholics because Catholics evidently don’t care if their faith is put up for a vote.

A statistical defense of the Catholic clergy, however, is not enough to address the present crisis. There must be serious rethinking of how to identify potential pedophiles before they enter the priesthood, and how to deal with them once an incident occurs. It is clear such a priest can never again to be assigned to duties that put children at risk.

The Church will get its house in order without the help of those who want to knock it down and start again.

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