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Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Fr. Martin and Fr. Ruff

Sex and the Single Priest by Bill Keller

[...] Enter the new pope, Francis .... There is one issue, however, where the internal politics, while difficult, are less difficult, where the case for reform is pressing, and where there are hints that Francis may be inclined to change. That is priestly celibacy.

The arguments for lifting the requirement that priests forswear sex and marriage are not new, but they have become more urgent. Mandatory celibacy has driven away many good priests and prospects at a time when parishes in Europe and the United States are closing for lack of clergy. It deprives priests of experience that would make them more competent to counsel the families they minister. Celibacy — by breeding a culture of sexual exceptionalism and denial — surely played some role in the church’s shameful record of pedophilia and cover-up .......


James Martin SJ writes a very negative review of the above article, especially the part that suggests that enforced celibacy has something to do with clergy sex abuse, and I was interested to see Fr. Anthony Ruff of Pray Tell make this comment on what Fr. Martin had written ...

William Ruff | 12/3/2013 - 5:48am

Lots of good points in here, Jim, and good response to overstated claims. But I must push back on your pushback to celibacy linked to child abuse.

Sure abuse happens in families and schools and football programs. But we need to compare apples to apples, and we must be ready to face up to the facts, wherever that leads us.

There is lots of abuse in public schools – but we have to look at how many hours children spend in public schools, how many school employees they are in contact with, and compare that (on a level playing field) with children’s hours in Catholic church activities and with celibate clergy. If (to pick hypothetical numbers) children have 40 times as many contact hours with public school employees but the rate of abuse is only 10 times higher than with celibate clergy, this would tell us that there is way more abuse in public schools, but proportionately the abuse if four times more likely to happen in the Catholic setting.

Same with families – let’s compare family members’ total contact with children with that of Catholic priests. Of course there is way more abuse in families – but how much more, and is it proportionate?

What we really need – but I’m not aware of such data – is a comparison of the rates of child abuse by married Protestant and Orthodox clergy with the rates among celibate Catholic clergy. I know of no proof that the Catholic rate is equal or lower, and I suspect it is higher. I can’t imagine that all these Protestant ministers have been abusing children and somehow the media missed it. The obvious difference between Catholic and Protestant clergy is celibacy.

Am I the only one to notice that in so many horrid child-porn stings that hit the news, there are Catholic priests represented more than Protestant and Orthodox clergy, even though there are way more of the latter in the world than Catholic clergy?

I have no doubt that celibacy is a healthy, happy way to live, nor that most celibate clergy by far do not abuse children. But whether the child abuse rate has been higher among Catholic clergy because of celibacy – I think probably so. Let’s get the data and find out, and until then let’s be cautious about claiming otherwise, and stop making tendentious comparisons.

Anthony Ruff, OSB


Patrick Parkinson agrees with Fr. Ruff in a past article at ABC Religion & Ethics in which he states ... in my opinion, and based on the available data, there has been around six times as much child sexual abuse by clergy and religious in the Catholic Church as there is by ministers of religion in all the other churches in Australia combined - and I would regard that as a conservative figure.

2 Comments:

Blogger Stephen Farrell said...

As I recall from the American John Jay report statistics, the rate of abuse among Diocesan priests is several times that of Religious Order priests. It suggests that the bonding of a community may have a distinct benefit on the mental health of the individual members.

Eliminating mandatory celibacy is not about affording sexual release, it is about affording healthy environments.

4:56 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, I agree. Thanks for the comment.

11:56 AM  

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