Ecumenical theologian Hans Küng, who lost his Catholic franchise from a decision of the now-Pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, writes about the current crisis over the Catholic Church's handling of priestly sexual abuse cases in Why Celibacy Should Be AbolishedNYRblog 04/01/10. Küng is one of the leading living Christian theologians, probably the leading one. So his opinion carries considerable weight in the Christian world.
He begins with a formulation that may not reflect his actual argument so well: "The rule that Catholic priests must be celibate is responsible for the crisis in the church."
I think it would be a mistake to see ending the celibacy rule as a magic fix for the problem of sexual abuse by priests - and Küng isn't making that argument. As I understand it, the most typical profile of a child molester is a married man with children of his own.
But Küng makes some important arguments about the effects of the rule celibacy for priests in the Catholic church today. He writes:
Although there is no question that abuse also occurs in families, schools, and youth organizations, as well as in churches that do not have the rule of celibacy, why are there such an extraordinary number of cases specifically in the Catholic church, whose leaders are celibate?
Of course, celibacy is not solely responsible for these crimes. But it is the most important structural expression of the Catholic hierarchy’s inhibitions with regard to sexuality, evident also in its attitude toward birth control and other questions. In fact, a glance at the New Testament shows that although Jesus and Paul led celibate lives, they left others complete freedom to do so or not. Based on the gospel, clerical celibacy can be advocated only as a freely-chosen calling (charisma), not as a compulsory rule for everyone. Paul decisively contradicted those contemporaries who were of the opinion that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” As he wrote, “to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7: 1-2). According to 1 Timothy 3:2, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (not “of no wife”!).
During their ministry, Peter and the other apostles were married. For many centuries, married life was normal for bishops and presbyters and - outside the Roman Catholic Church - remains so today, at least for priests, in all the churches of Eastern rites united with the Holy See as well as in Orthodox Christianity. Rome’s rule of celibacy contradicts the gospel and ancient Catholic tradition. It should be abolished.
And he makes the important point that the celibacy rule contributes in a major way to the shortcomings of the Church hierarchy that creates tremendous pressures to handle scandals like the current ones defensively and in a self-defeating manner:
Yet the rule of celibacy, together with papal absolutism and exaggerated clericalism, became one of the pillars of the “Roman system.” Unlike priests in the Eastern churches, the celibate clergy of the West remain completely separated from the laity, primarily by abstaining from marriage. They constitute a dominant social class of their own, fundamentally superior to ordinary Christians, but completely subordinate to the pope in Rome. The rule of celibacy is the main reason for the catastrophic shortage of priests, the serious neglect of the Eucharist, and the widespread breakdown of pastoral care—a problem that has been papered over by merging parishes into “pastoral units” ministered to by badly overworked priests. [my emphasis]
Also in Church-scandal news, Maureen Dowd is starting to seriously creep me out. She's now done three columns on the Church scandal, all of them using it for cutesy word plays, the latest being Devil of a ScandalNew York Times 04/03/10. As I said before, it trivializes both the real harm done to the victims and the serious issues of responsibility that the Church is confronting to treat it this way. Exceptionally bad taste on her part. (I would also avoid using the term "tragic death of six million Jews" to describe the Holocaust; "tragic death" implies that Fate or a traffic accident or something was responsible.)
Melinda Henneberger in About That Vast Anti-Catholic Conspiracy ...Politics Daily 04/05/10, doesn't display the exceptionally bad taste as MoDo, but her judgment is about as tacky. The Church scandal makes her think of, uh, Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby is very right about our sad press corps and and Lewinsky: they can't stop loving her.