Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The “Third Rail” of Church Policy Making
(A Letter to Three Friends)

John K, John F, and Peter F,

Caveat: I express strong views in this letter, and I express them in language that may be found abrasive. The views themselves, even if stated in mild terms, would deeply offend some whose feelings and friendship I value. I’ve clenched my teeth for a few days, but I feel compelled to test those friendships again.

The article you sent me was balanced and, I think, fair. Pope Benedict in his papal role evokes much less fondness than John Paul II did. Benedict has been as weak in dealing with the pedophilia scandal as his predecessor, and as unwilling to seriously castigate its perpetrators. John Paul II rewarded Cardinal Law with a position of dignity in Rome after he was run out of Boston, and Benedict rewards the Irish primate by leaving him in office despite a clamor for his removal.

The article didn’t even mention the issue of mandatory celibacy, on which Benedict won’t yield an inch. Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna had the courage to write in his archdiocese magazine that the Vatican should carry out an “unflinching examination” of the causes of the sex scandal, including “the issue of priests training,… question of priest celibacy, and the question of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the Church and of society as a whole.”

Silence Imposed

What was Benedict’s response? That kind of honesty is off limits. “The Vatican said the remarks [by Schonborn] had been misinterpreted.” Cardinal Hummes said, “Priestly celibacy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.” (What does that mean?!? How is the mandatory lifelong frustration of nature’s strongest urge, to mate and reproduce, with the loneliness and maladjustment it inflicts on many, be called “a gift.” It’s more like a punishment. Call it a sacrifice to the Holy Spirit, if you wish, but don’t call it a gift from Him. If it were really a gift, there would be no need to require that every priest accept it, like it or not.)

Cardinal Schonborn caved in. Through his spokesman he issued “a clarification” (read “retraction”) later, claiming that the cardinal was not “in any way seeking to question the Catholic Church’s celibacy rule.” (This does not speak highly of clerical regard for the truth: he meant to do exactly that.) The Times reported that “Sources in Rome said he had been obliged to issue his ‘clarification’ under pressure from the Holy See.”

Hot Issue Must Be Aired

I am greatly disturbed by that silencing of Cardinal Schonborn. Mandatory celibacy for male clergy and nuns is not a doctrine, not a matter of faith and morals, on which the Pope is deemed infallible. It is a matter of Church policy on which he has no right (though he has the power) to muzzle and censor opposing views. I see this as papal tyranny. The issue of celibacy is crucial to the revival – perhaps even the long-term survival -- of the church. Strong arguments can be made that it’s a major flaw in the screening process that has led to a clergy in which homosexuality and pedophilia are more common than they should be, and a major factor in the drastic decline of vocations in the last half century.

Counter-arguments can be made, of course. The point is that the issue needs to be aired and argued. The ecclesiastical power structure, with Benedict XVI at its head, continues its refusal to let it be freely and openly discussed by the laity and hierarchy of the Church, at a Church-sponsored forum.

I make this bold suggestion: Widespread aberrant sexual behavior by priests, conspiracy by the hierarchy to cover it up and protect perpetrators, the ruinous financial losses this causes to the Church and its lay contributors, a drastic decline of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the belief by many priests and laymen that mandatory celibacy is at least an aggravating factor in all these problems – these should be at the core of an agenda for a Third Vatican Council. And they couldn’t convene it too soon.



  1. I strongly agree that priests etc should be allowed to marry. Restraining these urges is not natural. I believe that the Church is basing this on Paul stating that you should abstain from sex. However, Paul also stated that if you cannot you should get married. The Church states that priests should be married to the Church, whatever that means. That still doesn’t eliminate these natural urges and desires to have a family. I really do not see evidence in the Bible requiring that priests should not married. I truly believe that the real reason the Church requires this is so that it doesn’t have to cover the expense of spouses and children. For that reason, I feel that it is unlikely that the Pope is going to change years of tradition by allowing priests to marry. Thing about it. The Church is hurting financially. As a result, it cannot afford to pay for spouses and children.

    A spokesman for the Church stated that the people should not listen to gossip. To me, that is shear arogance.

    Ok, if the Church cannot allow marriage, then at least It needs to get rid of those priests committing sexual crimes ASAP. In the past, the problem is that the Church was sweeping it under the rug for fear that the public would cause grief. It worked for a while, but now the chickens have come back to roost and the sweeping it under the rug has caused the Church even more grief. We need to see the Church responding to sexual problems with priests on a timely matter. When other priests see that the Church is not going to stand for such nonsense, then, hopefully, others will be reluctant to try it. Also, the sooner these bad priests are kicked out, the sooner they will be stopped. Also, the Church needs to screen potential priests better, and that appears to be the case. OK, that said, what if the Church stonewalls? I believe the solution is that the congregations get together in a united stand and state that they will no longer contribute to the Church until it cleans its house. I bet when funds dry up, the Church will knuckle under very quickly.

    It was suggested that the congregation have a say in the election and removal of Church officials. Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the Church believe that those selected for Bishop, Cardinal and Pope were done so by inspiration from God? If so, the Church will not likely give up this power to select these Church officials. And as far as removing someone, isn’t there a saying that what God chooses, no man can undo. Unfortunately, with no controls which allow for the removal of unsatisfactory Church officials, those committing the crimes may end up staying put. Again, the congregation needs to unite and withhold contributions until the Church gives in. Right now, the Church is claiming that the congregation is strongly backing them. If the Church believes that, either the majority of the congregation feel that the Church cannot do any wrong or the Church has blinders on and refuses to face facts. Which is it? I think we will soon find out.

  2. Here is more fuel added to the fire. I got this from http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ :

    Another antique celibate summarizes the problem

    Category: Religion

    What do you think? Is the Catholic hierarchy cheering or cringing at the words of this Brazilian archbishop* and his excuses for the child abuse scandals in the church?

    Archbishop Grings, a 73-year-old priest with conservative views, said the gradual acceptance of homosexuality by the public was a precursor to a possible broad acceptance of paedophilia.

    "When sexuality is banalised it is clear that that can have an effect on all cases. Homosexuality is one case. Before, no one spoke of the homosexual. He was discriminated against," he said.

    "When we start to say that they [homosexuals] have rights, rights to publicly demonstrate, in a short time paedophilia will also have rights."

    Oh, yes, let us return to the good old days, when homosexuals could be discriminated against. That's all we need to fix up the church scandals!

    His central premise is that "society today is paedophile", and that's why Catholics are having such problems — it's not their fault. Unfortunately for his thesis, the only place where there seems to be a broad acceptance of pedophilia is the Catholic church.