What role does priestly celibacy play in the crisis of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church?
An Australian bishop exposed one way pedophile-priests interpret their promise to live celibacy. The Inquirer reports:
Some pedophile priests believe molesting children does not breach their vow of celibacy, a retired Australian Catholic bishop said in a magazine interview. Geoffrey Robinson, former auxiliary bishop of Sydney, told The Australian Women's Weekly he had made the observation during years of work with victims of child abuse within the church. "We've met it often enough to see it as a factor. That's what the vow of celibacy refers to, being married. If it's not an adult woman, then somehow they're not breaking their vow," the 72-year-old said.
This is the same kind of compartmentalized thinking that I heard when I was a seminarian and a priest. Many priests tell themselves that if it isn't vaginal sex, then it's still celibacy. This is a perfect example of the "what's the least amount I have to do to meet the prescriptions of church law?" morality, which is widespread among Catholics.
Here's example of how this "morality" works. Let's say that the bishops release a pastoral letter encouraging Catholics to practice the sacrament of reconciliation (confession/penance) regularly for their spiritual betterment. They may be hoping folks will spill their sins once or twice a month, but if the letter strongly encourages Catholics to go to confession during Lent and Advent, most Catholics will go twice a year, once during each of these liturgical seasons. What's the least amount I'm required to do and still be a good Catholic? What's the bottom line?
When it comes to sex, rather than treating the entire continuum of sexual acts as holy, natural, and good, the church has developed an entire hierarchy of sinful sexual acts. The church trains its children to compartmentalize sex, into distinct acts, from the very beginning, with only one act, unitive and procreative vaginal sex between a man and a woman, who are married to each other, considered holy.
Catholics have all sorts of ways of dealing with this. I had a Catholic friend in college, who vowed she would be a virgin until she got married, but she blew most of the guys in the theatre department. It was okay, because she wasn't having sex, and neither was President Bill Clinton. It's not adultery if you don't swallow.
In seminary, I believed I was still a virgin, because I had never had sex with woman. Men didn't count, so the fooling around I did in college with my roommate and my sexual exploitation by Fr. Mustache didn't count. After all, sodomy isn't real sex, according to Catholic teaching, so blow jobs between two men are even lesser versions of sex, mutual masturbation even lesser, and naked back rubs were nothing. (Fr. O'Baldy taught me that one.)
For all you Catholics out there, don't worry. Besides Fr. Mustache and Fr. O'Baldy, I didn't "act out" (which is such a loaded negative term, adapted from addiction vocabulary), after I learned that celibacy also involved chastity, which meant no masturbation. Of course, I did masturbate, but prayerfully, thinking about communion with god. And ,I didn't "act out" with someone else in the room until after I graduated from seminary, but that's a story for another post and it was love, not "acting."
All Catholics are called to chastity, and I would venture to guess that 99% of them don't live chastely. They masturbate alone or with their opposite sex spouses. They have oral sex, anal sex, boob-sex, dry humping sex; anything and everything that isn't penis-in-vagina-with-no-artificial-birth-control-and-a-successful-deposit-of-semen sex, because if they did that, it would be a sin.
There are such guilty, fearful, and grandiose expectations placed upon the sexual act in Catholic moral teachings. Few Catholics can live up to these prescriptions; therefore, people develop ways of rationalizing their behavior, so that they can meet the church's unachievable sexual sainthood.
It is no shock that pedophile-priests would not consider raping children, and the lesser sin of groping a child, a violation of celibacy. The system of Catholic sexual ethics sowed the seeds of their distortion and their crimes long ago.