Clerical celibacy could end, but should it?
I was given the above article by a friend, and it is really quite good. It is about the potential of Popes to end clerical celibacy. At root this is an issue of discipline rather than dogma, so unlike issues like women priests or same sex marriage, this could actually happen.
There is, however, one misstep and one point of ignorance that I thought would be wise to clear up for readers of this blog.
This misstep is that clerical celibacy has anything to do with the horrific sexual abuse scandal. The article states “Celibacy — by breeding a culture of sexual exceptionalism and denial — surely played some role in the church’s shameful record of pedophilia”. While intellectually plausible it is a claim that is empirically deniable. In fact, there is some evidence that if we wanted to reduce pedophilia, we should all be celibate, as priests abuse at a lower rate than the general population.
Moving on, the point of ignorance is about the spiritual impact of the practice of celibacy. The article states: “John told me that if celibacy had been optional back in the ’60’s, ‘most of us would have remained in active ministry’ (although ‘most of us would also have gotten in hot water’ over other disagreements with Vatican policy).” The subtle message this gives is that priestly celibacy is still a good idea. If permitted sexual license, heretical priests would have stayed in the church. This subtly suggests that by demanding celibacy, only those truly committed to the ideals of Catholic Christendom stay within the fold.
In part, this is the Benjamin Franklin effect. By giving up sexual intercourse priests become more attached to the Church. The more strict the demands are, the greater the attachment. In demanding a lot from priests, the Church ends up with priests more committed to the goals of Christianity and more willing to self sacrifice to attain those goals. These are good things, and the article seems to ignore the point that priestly celibacy has been good for the Church in this major way.
All together then, the article seems to ignore what science has to say about celibacy in favor of populist arguments. Science says celibacy seems to reduce sexual abuse of minors and suggests that celibacy might increase devotion of priests to the the cause of our Faith — both good things. The article, while correct that maybe it is time to end celibacy, sadly uses some arguments that contradict this research.