Monday, June 28, 2004

It Pains Me That There Is A Blog Devoted Just To This...


A digest of links to media coverage of clergy abuse.

I generally stay away from this issue, but the blog includes a number of reviews of a new documentary that looks at the question of clerical celibacy, and I think it is something about which Catholics need to think long and hard. If you want to defend it as a matter of tradition, remember that for roughly half the life of the Catholic Church, there was no requirement for clerical celibacy. Priests were allowed to marry--and many did. As one of my textbooks from High Middle Ages class (Christopher Brooke, Europe in the Central Middle Ages, 962-1154 2nd ed., pp. 123-4) pointed out:
It is very likely that a high proportion of the clergy in the tenth and eleventh centuries were hereditary clergymen. Once again, our ignorance is very great; but wherever we go in Europe, we find traces of what seems to have been a widespread and quite accepted practice before the papal reform and the insistence on celibacy. Iceland, with its hereditary bishopric, was exceptional. But in no part of Europe was it wholly exceptional for an eleventh-century bishop to have children. Most of these were born, no doubt, before the fathers obtained high office. But there are plenty of instances of priests living openly with their wives.... List survive from a group of churches on the Welsh border in the mid and late eleventh century; most passed by hereditary succession. List survive of the canons of St Paul's from the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries onwards. At least a quarter of the first generation were married, and several passed on their canonries to their children. The founder of Tiron, preaching celibacy in Normandy about 1100, was nearly lynched by the clergy's wives, as had been the archbishop of Rouen, no less, when promulgating a decree against them in 1072. Sir Richard Southern has made famous the extraordinary story of how the twelve great-great-grandchildren of a tenth-century priest divided a substantial part of the income of Arezzo cathedral among themselves in the late eleventh century.
Now, there was some arguments for celibacy at the time. As I understand it, the substantial power that clergymen at all levels exerted on economic affairs might cause him to unfairly benefit his children. This is pretty clearly no longer the case.

There are some men (and women) for whom celibacy really is a gift. Throughout the first millenium of Christianity, there were large numbers of clergymen who were celibate, even without a rule requiring it. I know a Southern Baptist missionary, currently in Russia, but previously in South Africa and Thailand, who has no need or desire for a husband. However: this is unusual. Sex and romantic love are pretty much the norm for human beings, and you can get some pretty weird results if you refuse to deal with those desires.

I don't think the clergy sex abuse scandal is just about celibacy, however. There have been a lot of homosexuals who have pretended that these priests are abusing boys because that's what is most available to them. I don't believe it. There are cases like this coming out:
MANKATO, Minn. (AP) -- A woman who was abused by a Catholic nun 50 years ago at a boarding school will receive about $120,000 in a settlement, as well as an apology from the nun.

Sister Ramona Schweich, now 81, admitted she had sexual relations with Betty Davis when Davis was a 16-year-old student at a boarding school in the early 1950s. The Colton, Wash., school was operated by Schweich's order, Mankato-based School Sisters of Notre Dame.


Schweich admitted in sworn depositions that she had sexual contact with Davis on a couple of occasions but asserted that it wasn't abuse because Davis didn't resist her advances.


Last year, School Sisters of Notre Dame reached a settlement with another former student who had accused Schweich of sexual misconduct.

Katherine Beebe received $30,000 after reporting that she and Schweich had a sexual relationship during her senior year, one year before Davis was involved with Schweich. Schweich denied any improper conduct with Beebe.
I've argued for some time that there is some pretty good reason to at least suspect a connection between child sexual abuse and adult homosexuality. (This does not preclude the possibility of other causes of adult homosexuality.)

UPDATE: A reader writes that if he were a celibate Catholic priest, he wouldn't be chasing after altar boys, but wearing a disguise and looking for commercial sex elsewhere. Doubtless true. I am pretty sure that the celibacy alone isn't the issue. From what I have read, fixated pedophiles were usually victims themselves. I suspect that some went into the clergy because it provided a method for getting at more kids; others may have gone in because they knew that they were homosexual, and hoped that this might be a way of directing their energies into something productive.

There's a funny thing that happens when you crush down desires and pretend that they aren't there--they pop up in really odd ways. Look at what happens to the person who tries to stop smoking--and starts eating instead. Pretending the desires aren't there isn't healthy. Giving into them may not be healthy either. Confronting the problems is healthy.

I know someone who is a family counselor out in California. He tells me that growing up, his mother broke just about every bone in his body. He has confronted what happened, and tried to work past it. Now he tries to help others confront their pain.

I know someone else out in Califonia. He was molested by a Scoutmaster. His father was an alcoholic. His mother would bring complete strangers home for sex on the couch while the father was home, in the bedroom--I guess trying to get some sort of confrontation going. This guy has not confronted what happened to him, and the damage that he spread around because of it is unbelievable.