Psychiatrist: There Is a Link
Exploring Whether There Is a Connection between Priestly Celibacy and Numerous Sexual Abuse Cases of Minors in the Church

By Miranda Teel
The Hilltop
November 1, 2006

While an alter boy at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Lake Wood, Fl., 13-year-old Congressman Mark Foley engaged in a two-year inappropriate sexual relationship with Anthony Mercieca, a Catholic priest. Foley faults this prior molestation for his misconduct with the page boys.

Foley's case, along with Pope Bendict XVI's recent comments about sexual abuse in the church have resurfaced the issue beleaguering the Catholic church.

A Link?

California psychiatrist Dr. Mohan Nair, specializing in sexual disorders and adolescent adult psychiatry, believes there is a link between celibacy in priesthood and the numerous cases of sexual abuses of alter boys.

"The bottom line is, individuals that can't handle their sexual urges are drawn into priesthood as an attempt to mask these feelings, and then in turn act out inappropriate sexual feelings on these boys," Nair said.

In recent times, the subject of celibacy for Catholic priests has again stepped into the forefront of the media.

Father Ashley Madison of Saint Elizabeth's Catholic Church in Raeford, N.C., maintains that "sexual crimes are not caused by celibacy, but poor or incorrect practices in seminary, undercut by inappropriate seminary activity, and a complete loss of faith in Christ and the Church."

While Nair concludes priests choose to have sex with boys because [sex] is more threatening with adults.

"Sex with boys is seen as a better alternative and often the act of fondling or masturbating with these boys is not viewed as sexual, this "cognitive distortion" results due to a mistaken mind set," Nair said.

The John Jay study, a study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, concluded that at least 10,667 people had reported claims of childhood sexual abuse by 4,392 priests or deacons between 1950 and 2002.

This represents 4 percent of the approximately 110,000 diocesan and clergymen who served in the U.S. in those years. Only 2 percent of reported sex abuse resulted in incarceration (3 percent were prosecuted and convicted but, of those, a third will not serve time, or have yet to serve time.)

Initial reporting of sexual abuse by the clergy occurred predominantly from the 1960's to 1980's.

One of the most well-known instances of a clergyman abusing his authority to initiate sex abuse took place in Ireland, where Father Brendan Smyth raped and sexually abused hundreds of boys between 1945 and 1990.

Should the Rules Be Changed?

Noel Tudor, a devotee of Catholicism and freshman biology major at Catholic University agrees that priests should be permitted to engage in sexual relations.

"I think that [priests] should be able to have sex and engage in healthy sexual relationships with women. [Priests] would be better off that way."

Freshman allied health major Carlos Alvarez believes priests should keep the historical vows.

"No, [priests] took a vow of celibacy and since they took that vow, they should follow through with it," Alvarez said.

Father Martin Yina, the Roman Catholic Chaplain of Howard University agrees.

"No one forces individuals into priesthood. The vow of celibacy goes with the territory. If you commit yourself to lead a chaste, unmarried life, this means you should give up sexuality for the sake of the kingdom."

Celibacy vs. Chastity

Clerical celibacy is defined as the assumption of a life of abstinence, this includes refraining from marriage and sexual relations, including masturbation and "impure thoughts," such as sexual visualizations and fantasies, according to the American Society for the Defense of Tradition of Family Property.

This vow of chastity is different from clerical celibacy in that the vow is made to God, while the promise of clerical celibacy is made to the Church. The Church wishes to imitate the life of Jesus in that the Lord surpassed marriage and lived a life of celibacy for the "sake of the people."

Clerical celibacy is also followed by the monastic orders of Hindu and Buddhist traditions in the East.

Celibacy: A Discipline Not A Doctrine Madison defines celibacy as "a freely elected dynamic state, habitually vowed, that entails a sincere and unrelenting effort to subsist without direct sexual gratification in order to serve others productively for a spiritual motive."

Celibacy for priests is a discipline in the Roman Catholic faith, not a doctrine, according to the Apocalyptic Origin of Priestly Celibacy. Because the rule of celibacy is a law and not a doctrine, it can be changed at leisure of the Pope. Doctrines cannot be changed.

Followers of Catholicism view the act of celibacy as a manifestation of life in heaven, and a means of separation from the material world, which is thought to enhance one's relationship with God.

When entering priesthood in the Roman Catholic faith, men take a vow of celibacy, this stipulates that after ordination one may not marry or engage in sexual relations.

This obligation of celibacy comes from the biblical reference of Matthew 19:12, where Jesus is quoted as stating "...they have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept this." An "eunuch" in this reference is an individual who has renounced marriage and plans to remain celibate.

Married Priests

Although priest are still obligated to remain abstinent, married Roman Catholic priests do in fact exist. Priests that are part of the Eastern Catholic Churches, also known as the Eastern Rite, in places such as Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and the Ukraine.

These churches under jurisdiction of the Vatican allow priests to marry.

Married ministers in other Christian denominations exist, typically in the Anglican or Lutheran churches, according to Yina.

The exception to the celibacy rule was created on July 22, 1980 and stipulates if such a priest elects to change to Roman Catholicism, he can apply to a local bishop, who submits a special application to the Pope.

These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. If approved, [the priest] is not expected to divorce or otherwise separate from his spouse.

Trinity University senior marketing major and Catholic James Smith disagrees with priests that marry.

"To openly allow priest to carry out normal lives would ruin the sanity of the Catholic Church and would not be in the likeness of God. I do not condone these priest having sex with boys however, as priests they should remain celibate."


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