The Roman Catholic Church is in the spotlight once again because of the controversy surrounding the plethora of child molestation scandals. This time, the pope himself is accused of essentially looking the other way when learning of specific abuse cases. Many within the church have protected the Church’s leader; others have not held back criticism. It’s almost a running joke nowadays (albeit not funny) that the Catholic Church is full of sexually abusive clergy. Seriously, what gives? Why the Catholic Church? Some point to positions of power and lack of accountability, but the real elephant in the room…the one thing that no one is addressing…is celibacy.
Priests in the Roman Catholic Church are not permitted to marry, and since it is also a sin to have sexual contact outside of marriage, it is assumed that those entering the priesthood know full well the personal sacrifice they are about to endure. Celibacy for clergy is recorded as early as the fourth century; however it is understood to be a practice dating much earlier. The idea comes from the example of Christ himself, who never married in his short time on earth. The apostle Paul, also unmarried, expounded on the practice, claiming it more or less as a distraction from the ministry (1st Corinthians 7). So let it be written…so let it be done. Yet today the restriction of sexual contact is being breached not in the form of rogue priests deciding to marry, but rather in the monstrous abomination of sexual abuse.
There are multiple angles hidden within this subject. First, priests are not the only people or clergy that are dealing with this issue. Christianity Today recently wrote:
“Protestant denominations have been tempted to call sexual abuse a “Catholic problem”; this is simply not true. Within the past eight years, verdicts, judgments, or settlements exceeding hundreds of millions of dollars have been levied against Protestant churches for sexual abuse allegations arising from children participating in ministry programs.”
It appears that married clergy are capable of this atrocity as well. And what about all the celibate priests who are not violating their covenant? In addition, in 2007 the Administration for Children and Families (of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) noted that nearly 80% of maltreated children were done so by parents…not mentors or clergy members. This rough glance at the issue does have a running thread, and it’s not celibacy. Parents, teachers, clergy…all in positions of authority.
Yet even though the issue may center on power and control, I do challenge the theological reasons behind clerical celibacy. First, simply because Christ was unmarried is not a reason for clergy to also be unmarried. You cannot create a mandate from something that somebody didn’t do, unless it is addressed something you shouldn’t do. Jesus didn’t drive a car either, does that mean we also are not allowed to drive? Secondly, it is clear that the apostle Paul is not giving a mandate from God, but rather submitting his personal opinion in 1st Corinthians 7. How do I know? Well…he says it in verse 25! “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”
For someone who is a pastor, I particularly find being a married an asset to my ministry. Sure…being married takes time away from my work with the church, but Amanda really keeps me balanced. She reminds me what really is important, and warns me when I’m being less than spiritual. I think I’m a better pastor because of my wife. The Roman Catholic Church is turning more lax in their approach to celibacy, most recently in the form of allowing defected Anglican married clergy to become priests and keep their marriage. It will be interesting to see if more changes are made in this lifetime.