Click & Learn
Living or Dying?
AW Richard Sipe
March 7, 2009

Of all a Christian's conflicts, the most difficult combats are those of chastity; wherein the fight is a daily one,  

But victory rare.  St. Augustine De Agone Christiano

Is clerical celibacy a living, life giving, viable way of life and service? Or is a life of celibacy the greatest sexual perversion-a defiance of a scriptural directive? Is it the source of sanctity or is it hypocrisy in the service of power and control?

The answer to all those questions is clearly, yes.

There are other questions that need to be addressed to help foster celibate understanding and practice. Don’t forget that this dialogue is about only one aspect of ministry—the Christian conflict about chastity, and even more specifically about clerical chastity i.e. celibacy in the Roman Catholic clergy. All the concerns, problems, violations, scandals and horrendous effects of clerical malfeasance do not invalidate good that clergy do and have done. But we are talking about a systemic infection, or a systemic dysfunction, cancer—call it what you will. Part of the fiber of ministry is harmful and destructive. Our goal is to help toward healing a sick system.

Paradoxes and ambiguity have always surrounded religious celibacy- today more so than at any time. It has been extolled in grandiloquent terms such as a state of perfection and “mystagogical—a mystical reality unreasonable, unnatural and excessive angelic and unexplainable.”[1] That stance is problematic and destructive.

The ideal to be "like Christ" who was thought to be celibate (based on tradition not biblical evidence) is an unquestionably noble goal. Celibacy can be lived in the service of humanity—in being persons for others.  Some men and women from the time of the Fathers of the Desert to the present have pursued the practice of celibacy with remarkable productive results.

Celibate men and women (in a number of religious traditions) have inspired many, including me, to live as fully as possible because they live fully. They serve unstintingly in parishes, missions, and schools as teachers, scholars, artists, scientists, and spiritual leaders pointing the way to spiritual realities and a righteous, reasonable life.

Celibacy has also served as an empty moniker bespeaking a status and power that covers a deceptive sexual life—from understandable missteps to wanton relationships and criminal assaults. The history of celibate violation and pretense is as old as the ideal and practice itself.[2]

I would much prefer to spend my energy in tracing the histories of successful and dedicated celibates like those that C. Colt Anderson[3] describes—those who have contributed to building spiritual, physical, personal, and cultural monuments of eternal value—than to explore the failures, betrayals, and hypocrisies perpetrated by some clergy who only posed as celibates. Even the histories of this latter group create a challenge since their service can have survived in spite of corruption, contamination, duplicity, and hypocrisy, as we shall see.

I have a vocation. In many ways it is a biblical commission. I went where I wanted as a young man, but as ‘I grew up another bound me and led me where I was reluctant to go’.[4] So be it. I have looked around for models. St. Benedict was a natural candidate; so many of his good nuns taught me as a child. I spent 24 years and more living in his tradition in a notable monastery. The Rule of Benedict is a magnificent heritage and a great and lasting guide and ideal. I have been forced to experience another side of religious ideal—its corrupt aspects—destructive aspects of Catholic institutional structures. Venerable structures in need of reform. But the Gospel Spirit remains a beacon of hope; it has led the Church to many reforms before. Religious celibacy is but one way to implement that spirit.

Luther’s experience of a church in trouble occurred to me as a focus for reflection. What was his journey like in the middle of what we now call a Reformation?[5] We are now, without any doubt in my mind, in the middle of a major Catholic Re-formation not unlike the sexual and financial crisis that faced t young monk Luther in 1510 and after. My novitiate confessor once said I was like Luther in temperament—over conscientious. I was even more anxious, troubled, and humiliated by my confessor’s comparison at that time.  [He was a good man subsequently revealed as one of many monks of my monastery who were involved sexually with minor boys. Another long-term confessor who became Abbot later admitted that he, too, was sexually active, albeit with young seminarians and monks. I suspected nothing of these men’s inclinations or transgressions when they were my spiritual guides, but since, I have had the sad and sorrowful education of interviewing their victims along with many other victims of monks from the monastery I called home.] Now I recall his judgment as a commission—part of my vocation—and mark it as a challenge to have courage to help the church and priesthood I love. I am a man troubled by what I see in the clerical practice and structure. Peter Damian is now my chosen spiritual mentor.[6] Our times and his are very similar concerning sexual problems of the clergy. And the crisis that he spoke to resonated in the halls of power—and it still does. He held men in authority responsible for the behavior (and education) of sexually offending clergy. Even Pope Benedict XVI has of yet been unwilling to effectively intervene in the celibacy crisis.[7]

The heart is critical to a human life; it can have many defects and some impaired function and still avoid death for a time. But a malfunctioning heart will affect the whole body. I have had to console my self with the thought that I have to be like a clinical cardiologist. As much as he would like to extol the wonders of the heart—even its symbolism and its prominence in poetry or to spend all of his time to promote healthy heart education—he can do so only if he masters the dysfunctions of the organ in all its variations.  This is my situation in the Catholic Church today. Celibacy (mandatory) is at the heart of religious life and the priesthood (as it is established today). And that heart is in distress.

Will a married priesthood cure all that ails the heart of Catholic ministry? Will marriage eliminate illicit or irresponsible sexual behavior among the clergy? Will a married priesthood automatically produce more honest priests? Will the tendency to psychopathological adjustment so endemic to religious power be cured by marriage? Will spiritual power be invariably used for service rather than domination simply because of marriage rather that singleness?  I will not enter that discussion; but the dysfunctional Body of Christ is more compromised than any one administrative declaration can cure. Father Michael Crosby, one of the wisest priest commentators on the health and dysfunction of the church, has delivered his diagnosis two decades ago.[8] The church in the United States—bishops and their supporters—have not listened.

Like it or not, the celibacy question (that is, how the bishops and priests deal with their sexuality) is the measure of the health or illness of the clerical body of Jesus Christ. The reason for concern about this foundational element of the clerical structure is because it is a measure of the honesty or hypocrisy (health or illness) within this functioning organism.

FIRST: Is Celibacy a vocation in and of itself, or only an adjunct to the Roman Catholic priesthood?

Fundamental distinctions about celibacy demand recognition and discourse. The vow of celibacy is not an essential aspect of priesthood, regardless of church tradition and the statements of recent popes who claim that they lack the authority to change the requirement for ordination. Simply Not True.

Celibacy is a prior and separate vocation that the Vatican has decreed must be pledged and embraced if a man presents himself for ordination to the priesthood.

Celibacy has been so wedded to Catholic priesthood especially in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation that some think that it is identical with the clerical state. Even some sophisticated Catholics identify priest with celibate. True, each priest is publicly presented as bound to strict sexual abstinence with the hope and presumption that he will be received and respected as sexually abstinent.  Not so in practice. There are experienced and competent voices within the clergy like Fr. Michael Crosby[9],[10] and Fr. Donald Cozzens[11],[12] which argue powerfully against mandatory celibacy for Catholic priests. It is interesting to observe the development in their thinking. As their writings have evolved; they still hold celibate dedication in high (?) regard, but it is clear that they question the quality of its observance to the point that any mandatory statute should be eliminated. Their arguments are rational and strong—and in polite contradiction to popes who have said that even they are not capable of reversing that requirement they regard as Gospel. None of us—the people of God or popes—have not heard the last of this critical debate. 

Pope Paul VI referred to celibacy as a "brilliant jewel whose value remains undiminished."[13] There is truth in this statement. Celibacy is one of those "pearls of great price" of which Jesus speaks. But few priests—and the church itself—have not been willing to ante up to fully invest in it.

I have sympathy for the cause of a married priesthood and great empathy for those clergy and lay people who advocate, agitate, and demonstrate for the abrogation of mandated celibacy. I admire the dedicated Christians who crusade for the ordination of women and married men. These are praiseworthy undertakings. But I have never felt it was my primary calling to be a campaigner for these timely causes. My training predisposed me to try and understand the reality that currently prevails—priests who are bound by a system that requires celibacy. My efforts of my vocation have been directed to aid Catholic clergy in their pursuits, relieve their suffering where possible, and help them remove impediments to their celibate striving and counteract the adverse consequences of failed attempts. All my labors have been invested in understanding every aspect of religious celibacy. I am struck, appalled, and frustrated by the absence of sexual/celibate education and inadequate and faulty training for celibacy that men undergo in seminaries and religious houses.

I have tried to move the system to do better in educating seminarians about sexuality and for celibacy. I have failed.

The church is reprehensible in demanding this prior vocation as a requirement for ordination to the priesthood without giving adequate consideration and training to sex/celibacy. Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary that run the gambit from "the system of seminary structure with prayer, confessors, and spiritual direction teaches celibacy"[14] to the more current justification, "seminarians do go through an intense instruction on celibacy in classroom and retreats...months before they are ordained, these men put themselves through some intense scrutiny" said a theology professor in 2008 from a good seminary where some of the faculty are not practicing celibacy. [One seminary in Washington D.C. takes its deacon class on “observation excursions,” in supposedly unobtrusive groups, to tour gay bars and areas of the District as part of their sexual/celibate education.] All of the above may be good intentioned efforts for preparation of a sexually abstinent life while being confessors, guides, and counselors to folks who have to work out their salvation as sexually active Christians. No seminary or religious house in the US has yet introduced a realistically adequate sequence of training to meet the real needs that the practice of celibacy deserves.

If the Catholic Church took clerical celibacy seriously and had an honest interest in maintaining its practice as a life-style commitment it would spend as much time training for it as it requires for learning scripture, that is: a three-year, six-semester sequence that thoroughly investigated the history, sexuality (married and celibate), asceticism, spirituality, and the pastoral-sociology of the reality. Who should be the expert on celibacy if not the cleric or priest who claims it as his way of life?

SECOND: Is Loneliness an essential element of celibate life and spirituality?

There is a veritable library of recent books on aspects—mostly positive, idealistic, and mystical - of priesthood and celibacy. Even a partial list of books published since 2003 indicate the vital interest in celibacy and priestly life.[15] It is not that they lack substance, but rather most fail at integration with practicality. Celibacy, if it is to endure as a condition of priesthood and serve the goals of ministry its real nature as a daily practice must be faced squarely.

Pope John Paul II did not hesitate to speak directly to the reality of celibate practice:[16] “
Finally, it is in the context of the Church as communion and in the context of the presbyterate that we can best discuss the problem of priestly loneliness treated by the synod fathers. There is a loneliness which all priests experience and which is completely normal. …Loneliness does not however create only difficulties; it can also offer positive opportunities for the priestly life: "When it is accepted in a spirit of oblation and is seen as an opportunity for greater intimacy with Jesus Christ the Lord, solitude can be an opportunity for prayer and study, as also a help for sanctification and also for human growth."

The factor of loneliness is the single most powerful force that militates against living a life of chastity and challenges the daily combat that St. Augustine talked about “where the victory is rare.”

John Paul adds: “a certain type of solitude is a necessary element in ongoing formation. Jesus often went off alone to pray (cf. Mt. 14:23). The ability to handle a healthy solitude is indispensable for caring for one's interior life. Here we are speaking of a solitude filled with the presence of the Lord who puts us in contact with the Father, in the light of the Spirit. In this regard, concern for silence and looking for places and times of "desert" are necessary for the priest's permanent formation, whether in the intellectual, spiritual or pastoral areas. In this regard too, it can be said that those unable to have a positive experience of their own solitude are incapable of genuine and fraternal fellowship.”

A good number of seminary professors neither practice celibacy consistently nor presume that it can be lived by their students in the long run. The series of abstinence / failure / repentance /confession / forgiveness / and / try again is a basic cycle of good intentions and guilt that is commonly set up even in seminary days. No one illustrates this pattern better than Fr. Andrew Greeley in the person of his character Patrick Donahue in The Cardinal Sins.

A common attitude in spiritual direction is: “Do the best you can. Just don’t leave.”

Some seminary professors give their students explicit help: “If you are going to have sex don’t do it in your own parish. That is the first rule. The second is: don’t wear your roman collar (don’t let her—him—know that you are a priest). And third, don’t let her talk you into marrying her. (Whatever you do don’t leave the priesthood).

Dealing with sex and celibacy is not an easy task. Educating for celibate life is not easy, but certainly it will be better if honesty is the first rule. These issues are tied up with conflict and controversy precisely because they really are not settled and clear. That is why they need honest discussion. Sexual activity is not the highest rung of sin or evil,[17] but violations of celibate promise and expectations can and do have dire consequences as the sexual abuse crisis clearly demonstrates. Better holistic education on the historical, biological, psychological, sociological, spiritual and ascetical dimensions of celibacy are necessary but sadly neglected in every Catholic seminary. The consequences in the terms of human and spiritual suffering are incalculable.

THIRD: Is it “angry” to publicly expose or discuss improper clerical behavior? Or are acts of clergy malfeasance “dirty laundry”?

Saint Augustine in admitting that chastity is the most difficult Christian conflict, that it is a daily combat, and that victory is rare is not putting anyone down. It is not an angry statement. (He did say, however, that anger is the beginning of courage.) His Confession was not airing his dirty laundry. He was talking about his sexual struggles and failures. Everyone extols his honesty, but few imitate it. Margaret Miles, former Harvard Divinity professor and Augustine scholar, thought that Augustine suffered sexual addiction.[18]  I argued with her that he did not meet the modern criteria for such a diagnosis. I was wrong. She was correct. Augustine was exposing his addictions—not angry or airing dirty laundry. She was being an honest scholar with immense respect for Augustine.

The majority of those folks I know who have been concerned or involved in dealing with the multi-faceted reform issues of the Catholic Church—Call To Action, Voice Of The Faithful, Bishop Accountability and others—are not motivated by anger. If that were the motivation they would simply walk away. No. There are many people who care about the Catholic Church and her clergy who want to contribute to a renewal of purpose and a re-formation of its system to conform with the spirit of Christ. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is not a disgruntled man when he confronts the Church on power and sex.[19] He is part of a cadre of Catholics who have striven to help the Church face its shortcomings and defects. Fathers Greeley, McBrien, Cozzens, Crosby, Kennedy and dozens of other American priests and writers form a phalanx of wise voices calling the Church to reform and pointing out the need for serious attention to areas of corruption. They speak with the quality of concern C. Colt Anderson records in his history of Roman Catholic reformers.[20]

The public awareness of the significant number of priests in the United States who sexually assault young boys and girls caused a worldwide firestorm when the Boston Globe in 2002 began a yearlong series of articles on the problem.[21] Like popping a cork from a shaken up bottle of champagne the long constrained stories of sexually active priests and their involvement with minors splashed across the headlines of newspapers and journals around the world. Television, movies, documentaries, Grand Jury Reports[22] and court records paint an ever- clearer picture of the depth and breadth of the corruption and collusion on the highest levels of the hierarchy to keep the truth of clerical corruption secret.

In the United States the best efforts are failing. Current research reveals “the large number of people who have left the Catholic Church. Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic. This means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics.”[23] Although this shift of church affiliation cannot be entirely ascribed to the sex abuse crisis it certainly is one factor in the decision of many Catholics to leave the church of their childhood. The Pew report continues: “Catholicism has experienced the greatest [compared with other US denominations] net losses as a result of affiliation changes. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic.”

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests [SNAP] was founded in 1988 as a support system for victims of Catholic clergy assaults. They have established a strong public voice in defending victims and exposing what is unquestionably the greatest crisis facing the Roman Catholic Church since the Protestant Reformation. They expose sexual abuse by clergy whenever and wherever they discover it. They encourage victims to come forward and speak up and when appropriate to sue the diocese or religious order for their neglect in selecting and supervising, or covering up the criminal activity of offending bishops and priests. Are there many angry voices within this group and their supporters? “You bets’ya!” There is a fund of justifiable anger, disappointment, and disdain for the system that has fostered, tolerated, colluded with, and hidden sexual malfeasance while it sacrifices children and the vulnerable on the altar or its image.

The stance that all or most of its clergy practice (perfect and perpetual) celibacy is an intolerable pretense that diminishes or destroys confidence, inspiration, and loyalty in clergy and laity. The sex abuse crisis has moved many writers and scholars to expose not only the facts about these travesties but about clerical celibacy in general. Books that presaged the 2002 Boston explosion were written without hostility and without awareness of the malignancy inside the system and the investment and forces it housed and its armamentarium to resist facts and wage war against people who spoke out about real conditions within the secret world of clericalism. [24]

It is not exposing “dirty laundry” when one revealing corruption of an institution that is being destructive to the lives of others and is operating in essential contradiction to its stated commission. That is a service.

It is not angry to speak truth to power: Fact: Celibacy has never been very well practiced by those who profess it. If it is truth that makes us free, facts make truth possible.

FOURTH: Is the clerical system sick?

Yes: It is fair to say that the Roman Catholic clerical system today is sick or dysfunctional or corrupt; there are various ways to describe the state of affairs by different individuals who are good men and women dedicated to serving the Church. Notwithstanding divergent opinions, all agree that the system is in serious disarray and in need of correction and reform.  As one member of the hierarchy said to me years ago, “The organization to which I belong is corrupt from the top down.” Power and sex: there we have the two forces crushing the current day Laocoön-like prophets who are trying to save the church from its own self-destruction.[25]

The sexual abuse crisis has brought into focus the real operational underpinnings and function of the Church. The need for change (reform) in the Church is not new. And serious complaints were voiced to popes. Saint Peter Damian in his 1049 letter to Pope Leo IX was neither gentle nor indirect. Randy Engel, author of The Rite of Sodomy, says that his letter, called The Book of Gomorrah, is “the most extensive treatment and condemnation by any Church Father of clerical pederasty and homosexual practices. His manly discourse on the vice of sodomy in general and clerical homosexuality and pederasty in particular, is written in a plain and forthright style that makes it quite readable and easy to understand.” Damian describes in graphic language what priests were doing: kissing, masturbating, and having femoral fornication and anal sex especially with young boys and other clerics. He reminded the pope of the harsh discipline already dictated by earlier councils that should be meted out to offending clerics.[26] But most importantly he stated that religious superiors had the responsibility for the supervision and discipline of priests under their jurisdiction. Peter’s frank description of conditions one thousand years ago fit today’s clerical system precisely.

Three centuries later another saint confronts and chides a pope, albeit in more poetic language, about his responsibility to do something effectively to deal with corruption in the clerical system. “You are in charge of the Holy Church. So, uproot from the garden the stinking weeds full of impurity and avarice and bloated with pride. I mean the evil pastors and administrators who poison and corrupt the garden....”[27] Power, sex, and, money and their abuse have long been the concern of church synods and councils. The earliest recorded document from a synod—that of Elvira in Spain in 309 C.E.—has all the elements of concern about clerical corruption that face us today.[28]

Fifth: Should good clergy be held responsible for the sexual abuse crisis?

Yes. To a degree this is true. Even in 2008 Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles was telling his priests that the church is like a family and the failings of fellow priests should be taken care of “like a family,” in secret, by themselves.[29] This counsel, of course, is based on the postulate that to talk about clergy failings is to “air dirty laundry.” A powerful example of this clerical attitude is the instance of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston calling down the wrath of God on the Boston Globe in 1992 for reporting the facts about the notorious Fr. James Porter case in which the priest admitted that he had abused at least 200 minors during his career.[30] And for many years the Catholic hierarchy held—and still propounds—that the problem of clergy sex abuse is the result of the press and media exaggeration—a public relations problem. Bishops have declared the problem of sex by clergy is solved and “passed.” Those pronouncements are no truer now than they would have been at the time of Peter Damian in the eleventh century or in the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. Saint Augustine is a better diagnostician than any of the bishops speaking up about power and sex in the clerical culture today save for Geoffrey Robinson in Australia.[31] Augustine’s observation is as true today as it was in the fourth century: Of all a Christian's conflicts, the most difficult combats are those of chastity; wherein the fight is a daily one, but victory rare. What is the sense in denying the truth of this? What is the purpose of excluding clergy from the reality of this most human struggle? Why should the myth (rather than the ideal) of “perfect and perpetual chastity” of clergy be perpetuated and pretended? Wouldn’t truth serve the church, clergy and the faithful better? Here is the first and cardinal sin of complicit responsibility of the clerical community: the denial of a problem of sexual activity among the clerical community—bishops, rectors, yes, even cardinals. It is pure deception to pretend that clerics of whatever the rank are immune from the “daily” conflict and forever and always in command of the “rare victory.” The mouths of since Christians are soured with the putrid taste of denial and “contempt for truth” that the bishops and clergy still propagate about clerical sexual struggles. The salty diet of truth about clergy that Peter Damian distributes is a more acceptable communion to most Christians.

Peter Damian, who by the way was declared by the Vatican as the Patron Saint of church reform, did not equivocate. Bishops and, of course the pope, are ultimately responsible in the most practical pastoral terms for the consequences of clergy malfeasance.[32] Peter wrote extensively on his concern for the Church and its corruption—financial (simony), and sexual (concubinage of bishops[33] and homosexuality among clerics[34]). He speaks with the authority a cardinal and ultimately a Doctor of the Church—and as a direct observer and reporter on the behavior of his fellow clerics when he writes, “In our region a certain abominable and most shameful vice has developed.”[35] He proceeds to describe ‘acts of sodomy’ commonly practiced between clerics: kissing on the lips, mutual masturbation, (with little distinction solitary masturbation), intercourse between the legs, and anal intercourse. [Oddly enough to the modern reader he does not mention oral-genital contact.] The facts of clerical sexual activity have been well established over the centuries. The public exposure coupled with the official denials of church authorities have fulminated a crisis of epic proportions—the greatest since the Protestant Reformation.

Certainly a majority of clergy do not get sexually involved with minors. But what proportion do abuse? A core question is how has this happened at all? Over 5,200 priests and bishops are recorded as abusers of minors in the files of American dioceses. That is still only the tip of the iceberg of this activity over the lifetime of U.S. clerics. The John Jay Survey concludes that over-all between three and six percent of priests from 1950 to 2002 sexually abused minors. Their conclusion: of all the U.S. clergy ordained between 1960 and 1984 six and one/half (6½) percent are credibly reported to have abused minors.[36] Where more accurate data has piled up as in Boston and New Hampshire the current estimate is that ten (10) percent of priests abused minors. A survey conducted by Jean Guccione demonstrated that in 1983 eleven and one half (11 ½ ) percent of all the active priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese subsequently proved to be sexual abusers.[37]

Why was the obvious delinquency of so many clerics in the U.S. church left uncorrected? It has been proven over and over again in legal trials and settlements and Grand Jury reports: Church officials covered up, lied, conspired to protect abusers, and endangered children by shifting them from place to place.[38] The general conclusion is that church authorities placed image and the avoidance of scandal above the safety of children.[39]

Church authority has been culpable. No question. But another core question persists. Why have so many priests who suspected or knew (know) about the sexual activity of brother priests (their bishops or superiors) have not reported it or intervened? Answers:

  1. Sex is a very delicate area to deal with at any significant depth. Celibacy is a secret world to be hidden from any external scrutiny. Secrecy is the code of conduct within the clerical structure. It forms an impenetrable bond of brotherhood and discipline.[40]
  2. Bishops and clergy tend to look on sex as a private matter and sin rather than a behavioral sickness or criminal activity.[41]
  3. But most to our point: fellow clergy who know or suspect even criminal sexual activity by fellow clergy [and they are myriads who know] do not speak up, not because they are abusers themselves, but because they have some kind of sexual activity of their own, and thus are reduced to silence and secrecy through guilt, fear or embarrassment.
  4. Mandated celibacy as it is structured today in the training and practice of clergy preserves psychosexual immaturity and fosters sexual violations.[42]

Sixth: Are there any options toward the solution of the clergy sexual/celibate crisis at hand?

Certainly there are solutions to the sexual crisis in the Catholic Church—Semper reformanda. Christ’s Church is always in need of reformation. We are in the midst of a reformation that in the end will be as significant for Roman Catholicism as the Protestant Reformation. When it will take a more firm shape is indeterminate, but that it is happening is unquestionable. It will take an overhaul of the clerical culture as profound as any in its history. The time is right to attack the fundamental structural problems and review the doctrinal inadequacies about human sexuality to bring them into conformity with sound science, (just as Aquinas did in his day) and revise clerical discipline to bring it into line with realistic expectations.

There are wise and experienced guides—men and women[43]—who have given their lives to the service of the Church. Authority will eventually listen to them because they are the voices of reason and spiritual reform. Father Richard Mc  Brien, theologian, author, and professor at Notre Dame University has long represented this cadre of good sense and solid spirituality. In addressing the problem of priest-shortage in the U.S. he offers his usual sound advice: welcome “back into the priesthood those priests who left to marry and might still be willing to serve as married priests; Drop “the requirement of life-long, obligatory celibacy for its priests, thereby matching the discipline of the non-Roman Catholic churches of the East, which have had a married priesthood for centuries;” and open “the ordained priesthood to women.”[44]

Even prior and in addition to these changes, the education for the priesthood — celibate or no —  the Church must admit the reality of sex and educate for it in its seminaries. This means, of course, that the Church must reexamine its stance on the whole Sexual Agenda mentioned earlier. The recent evaluation of U.S. seminaries reveals the fundamental deficiencies of the system even as it tries to conceal them.[45] Concern about sexuality, doctrine and discipline, was a primary motivation for the study that (laughably) declared that teaching of sexuality and celibacy in seminaries was “adequate” and the problems of “homosexuality” among staff and students were solved.

The reason that Roman Catholic celibacy in 2009 is dying is precisely because the Church persists in its denial of the reality of sex for lay and clerics alike. Celibacy is generally not practiced well by clergy of every rank because the doctrinal grid cannot support it.

[1] Robert Barron, 1999 & Paul Philibert, 2004

[2] Cf. Henry Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church. 2 Vols.

[3] C.Colt Anderson, Great Catholic Reformers, 2007.

[4] Cf. St. John’s Gospel. 21:18

[5] Erik H. Erikson, Young Man Luther.

[6] Peter Damian, The Book of Gomorrah.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI did tell the Irish bishops to deal with the problem of sex abuse in their country (October 2006) and he spoke to the problem during his visit to the United States and Australia in 2007. A visitation of US Seminaries was instituted in 2006, but no report has been made public at this time. Despite talk and gestures the core of the problems of clerical celibacy have not been adequately addressed. 

[8] Michael Crosby. The Dysfunctional Church, 1990

[9] -----Celibacy: Means of Control or Mandate of the Heart. 1993

[10] ----Rethinking Celibacy, Reclaiming the Church. 2003

[11]Donald Cozzens, The Changing Face of the Priesthood,

[12] -----Freeing Celibacy. 2006

[13] Pope Paul VI. Encyclical. Sacerdotalis caelibatus  (Vatican City, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 59-1967, p. 657-97).

[14] Personal written communication with Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, 1986. In 1990 Pilarczyk wrote an excellent article on Celibacy as a Vocation separate from the priestly vocation. Origins, December 1990. Also Cf. Robert M. Schwartz. Servant Leaders of the People of God: An Ecclesial Spirituality for American Priests, 1989

[15] Thomas Acklin, The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood. 2005; Gerald Coleman, Catholic Priesthood: Formation and Human Development. 2006; Michael Heher The Lost Art of Walking on Water: Reimagining the Priesthood, 2003; Stephen Louden & Leslie Francis, The Naked Parish Priest: what Priests Really Think They are Doing, 2003; Johann Mohler, The Spirt of Celibacy, 2007; Michael Rose, Priest: Portraits of Ten Good Men Serving the Church Today, 2003; Stephen Rossetti, The Joy of Priesthood, 2005; Paul Stanosz, The Struggle for Celibacy: The Culture of Catholic Seminary Life. 2006.

[16] Pastores Dabo Vobis, chapter VII. 1992

[17] Cf. the Summa of St Thomas First Part of the Second Part (I-II) Question 73, Article 5. Whether carnal sins are of less guilt than spiritual sins?...Now carnal sins have a stronger impulse, viz. our innate concupiscence of the flesh. Therefore spiritual sins, as such, are of greater guilt….The sensual pleasure that aggravates a sin is that which is in the inclination of the will. But the sensual pleasure that is in the sensitive appetite, lessens sin, because a sin is the less grievous according as it is committed under the impulse of a greater passion. It is in this way that the greatest sensual pleasure is in fornication. Hence Augustine says that of all a Christian's conflicts, the most difficult combats are those of chastity; wherein the fight is a daily one, but victory rare:”

[18] Margaret R. Miles. Practicing Christianity: Critical Perspectives for an Embodied Spirituality 

[19] Geoffrey Robinson. Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.

[20] C.Colt Anderson. Roman Catholic Reformers: From Gregory to Dorothy Day.

[21] The Boston Globe. Betrayal.

[22] Cf. especially Rockville Center; Boston; New Hampshire; and Philadelphia, etc.

[23] Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2008.

[24] The publication of my 25-year ethnographic study of clerical celibacy in 1990, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, was offered in outline to Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk in 1986. The estimates of clergy sexual activity were more conservative than those of the USCCB. 1n 1991 Burkett & Bruni focused specifically on sexual abuse of minors: The Gospel of Shame. In 1993 Jason Berry published an extended treatment of his experience with the Fr. Gilbert Gauthe case in Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Abuse of Children. In 1995 I published Sex, Priests, and Power: The Anatomy of a Crisis that took a closer focus on the element of abuse in the spectrum of celibate violations by clergy.

[25] In Greek mythology Laocoön warned the Trojans not to touch the wooden horse made by the Greeks during the Trojan War. Two serpents crushed him and his two sons. The Trojans interpreted this event as a sign of the gods' disapproval of Laocoön's prophecy. A Greek statue unearthed in Rome in 1508 and now in the Vatican, shows Laocoön and his sons in their death struggle.

[26] Cf. The Council of Ancyra 314 C.E. Damian summarizes the penalties on the church books from former Synods and Councils: “A cleric or monk who seduces youths or young boys or is found kissing or in any other impure situations is to be publicly flogged and lose his tonsure. When his hair has been shorn, his face is to be foully besmeared with spit and he is to be bound in iron chains. For six months he will languish in prison-like confinement and on three days of each week shall fast on barley bread in the evening. After this he will spend another six months under the custodial care of a spiritual elder, remaining in a segregated cell, giving himself to manual work and prayer, subject to vigils and prayers. He may go for walks but always under the custodial care of two spiritual brethren, and he shall never again associate with youths in private conversation nor in counseling them.”

[27] Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) letter to Pope Gregory X 

[28] Samuel Laeuchli, Power and Sexuality: The Emergence of Canon Law at the Synod of Elvira

[29] Verbal reports from priests of the Archdiocese.

[30] Cf. Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church. The Investigative Staff of The Boston Globe, page, 7.

[31] Geoffrey Robinson, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. Cf. also this Web.

[32] Cf. C.Colt Anderson, The Great Catholic Reformers, Pp. 30-55.

[33] Letter 61.

[34] Letter 31.

[35] The Fathers of the Church: Mediaeval Continuation. Vol. 2 P. 6.

[36]  February 27, 2004, P. 30.

[37] The Los Angeles Times.

[38] Cf. Grand Jury Reports from Rockville Center; New Hampshire, Boston, Philadelphia, et. al.

[39] Bishops seriously under-reported clergy abusers when the US bishops released counts in 2004. Cardinal Egan reported a mere 49 NY priests accused from 1950 to 2002, or 1.3% of total NY priests. The difference between NY and other dioceses is stark: 1.3% - New York NY; 4.9% - Los Angeles; 5.7% - Cleveland (grand jury counted 145 accused priests out of 2515 total); 5.9% - Cincinnati; 6.3% - Manchester NH; 7.0% - Boston; 7.6% - Philadelphia (grand jury counted 169 accused priests out of 2204 total); 9.6% - Covington KY. According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' cumulative accused priest total clerics through 2007 4.9% of all US priests have been accused of molesting children. The Diocese of Memphis admitted in 2009 that there are 15 accused priests when the national database lists only 7 alleged child molesters.

[40] Cf. The Scarlet Bond. This site.

[41] At a meeting in Rome, February 7, 2009 under the supervision of Cardinal Francis Stafford in the Sacred Penitentiary to discuss the question of the duty to report sexual abusing priests to civil authorities the consensus of the clergy and prelates there was that offending priests should not be reported. The idea is as described above—it is a family problem to be handled within the church structure. Cf. You Tube; Lucci, i Penitenzieri e i preti pedofili: Ottimo servizio delle Iene sulla Penitenzieria, la struttura ecclesiastica che è responsabile dei procedimenti per i "cinque peccati imperdonabili"   

[42] Cf. Dr. Conrad Baars to the Vatican, 1971 on this site under Documents. Also: Kennedy & Heckler 1972

[43] Sr. Joan Chittister is eminent, but by no means the only woman among American spokespersons leading the movement toward reform, however, none are dealing with the concerns over celibacy.

[44] Richard P. McBrien. ESSAYS IN THEOLOGY, January 26, 2009.

[45] The Vatican initiated a study of U.S. Seminaries in 2006. In January 2009 they published the results.