Clerical Celibacy and Pedophile Priests

Reports of priests sexually molesting children have come to light in virtually every major U.S. city. The Catholic Church has paid over $2 billion in damages to victims, who are often emotionally scarred for decades.

The Church has acknowledged, moreover, that 13,000 credible accusations of sexual abuse have been made against Catholic clerics since 1950.

There is strong evidence that this widespread problem is caused, at least in part, by the Catholic Church’s clerical celibacy requirement and its other sexually repressive doctrines. Persons concerned about the problem should therefore urge Catholic leaders to reexamine and modify their teachings about sex.

Desmond Morris’s classic book on human behavior, The Naked Ape, reports that homosexual behavior is often “seen in situations where the ideal sexual object (a member of the opposite sex) is unavailable. This applies in many groups of animals.”

Morris goes on: “Similar situations occur with high frequency in our own species and the response is much the same. If either males or females cannot for some reason obtain sexual access to their opposite members, they will find sexual outlets in other ways.” (Emphasis added.)

Psychiatrist and ex-priest A. W. Richard Sipe likewise relates: “Doctor Lewis Hill, former medical director of Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, Maryland, used to tell his resident psychiatrists, ‘Man is a loving animal, and he is going to love whatever he is near.’ The sexual histories of farm boys frequently recorded passing involvements with animals.”

These facts about human sexuality indicate that Catholic priests, who are required by their Church to remain celibate and taught to abhor sexual relationships with women, might in some cases seek outlets for their sexuality in other ways. The behavior could include homosexuality or pedophilia.

In fact, statements by Dr. Jay Feierman support a link between sexual repression and pedophilia. As a psychiatrist who has met with hundreds of pedophilic priests at a Catholic treatment center in New Mexico, Feierman is in a position to recognize the connection.

Feierman says celibacy is not “a natural state for humans to be in.” Pointing to the celibacy requirement as a cause of clergy abuse of children, he explains: “If you tell a man that he’s not allowed to have particular friends, he’s not allowed to be affectionate, he’s not allowed to be in love, he’s not allowed to be a sexual being, you shouldn’t be surprised at anything that happens.”

Research by the University of New Hampshire’s David Finkelhor, Ph.D., supports the same position. Finkelhor, a recognized expert on the study of sexual abuse of children, has shown that repressive sexual attitudes linked to many religions may predispose some persons toward sexual activities with children.

Further support for that causal connection is provided by Dr. John Money, a leading expert on sexual violence. Money has pioneered treatments for deviate sexuality at Johns Hopkins Medical School. He says people raised in conditions where sex is viewed as evil, and where sexual curiosity is a punishable offense, are likely to end up with warped sexual identities. Those surroundings are often produced by conservative religions.

Money describes the harmful effects of such environments: “In girls, often you extinguish the lust completely, so that they can never have an orgasm, and marriage becomes a dreary business where you put up with sex to serve the maternal instinct. In boys, sex gets redirected into abnormal channels.” (Emphasis added.)

Money’s observations as to the different effects of repressive sexual environments on males and females may explain why pedophilia is a much greater problem among priests than among nuns, who also must take a celibacy vow.

Concerning males who are isolated for long periods, with restricted social outlets and limited positive sexual development, Sipe adds that “Kinsey and colleagues noted the frequency of homosexual contact ‘among ranchmen, cattlemen, prospectors, lumbermen and farming groups in general.'” Many have found similar phenomena in prisons.

And specifically in regard to such “situational homosexuality” among Catholic priests, Sipe notes: “At times the situation rather than the core sexual orientation of the priest dictates his sexual choice. Many reports in this category are similar. A long-time friendship and isolation in a learning or living circumstance lead to a sexual exchange between friends. Subsequent history and development can reveal an essentially heterosexual orientation and choice.”

In view of the above evidence, it is logical to conclude that if priests were permitted a normal outlet for their “essentially heterosexual orientation and choice,” they would be less likely to seek an outlet through another means, such as pedophilia. This conclusion is consistent with the fact that, in the treatment of pedophiles who are not priests, mental health professionals encourage the patients to develop healthy sexual relationships with adults.

Contrary to claims being made by some, the problem of sexual abuse by priests is not unique to modern society but has existed for centuries. In his book Divinity of Doubt, Vincent Bugliosi says “a 375-page 2004 report, based on the Roman Catholic Church’s own documents and written by a Catholic priest and two former monks, ‘Canonical History of Clerical Sexual Abuse,’ reveals that the sexual abuse of children by priests goes back at least seventeen hundred years, and the church, fully aware of it, has never taken adequate steps to end it.”

Bugliosi continues: “The report also says that for centuries many priests have actually solicited sex in the confessional. . . . The church’s Council of Treves in 1227 found the problem sufficiently common to decree that confessional solicitation of sex should result in excommunication from the church.”

In the sixteenth century, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, opposed the Catholic Church’s clerical celibacy requirement because of the harms he believed it caused.

Luther wrote of the Catholic Church’s leaders: “They were completely unjustified in forbidding marriage and in burdening the priesthood with the demand of continual celibacy. In doing so they have acted like . . . tyrannical, unholy scoundrels, occasioning all sorts of terrible, ghastly, countless sins against chastity, in which they are caught to this day.”

In 1966, psychiatrists Franz Alexander and Sheldon Selesnick described similar problems involving monasteries: “Centuries of imposed celibacy had not inhibited the erotic drives of monks or nuns, and underground passageways were known to connect some monasteries and nunneries. Townspeople often had to send prostitutes to the monasteries in order to protect the maidens of the village.”

Incidentally, the same type of problem occurred in society at large. For instance, in 1254 Louis IX banned prostitution in France and prescribed harsh penalties for it. But he soon was impelled to lift the ban, after receiving reports of increasing numbers of “lecherous attacks” on wives and daughters. So he went from banning prostitution to regulating it.

Although Catholic priests are still caught committing sexual offenses, which are publicized more than ever, most Church leaders disregard possible causes of the problem and continue promoting extremely repressive and unhealthy attitudes toward sex.

Unless the Church stops ignoring the overwhelming evidence of the evils produced by its teachings on sexuality – and modifies those teachings to be consistent with modern scientific knowledge – there will be many more victims severely damaged by sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy.

Henry David Thoreau said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Advocates for victims of sexual assault can strike at the root of this problem by speaking out against the Catholic Church’s clerical celibacy requirement and its other harmful sexual doctrines.

The root has been fully exposed. As sex therapist Joan A. Nelson states in her 2006 book Sex Education Beyond the Fig Leaves: “Since the tragic priestly sex scandals, we can no longer pretend we don’t know about the long-lasting trauma and betrayals of trust that can happen when repressed, or overly disciplined sexuality breaks forth.”