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Why I Don't Think It's the Celibacy - Input Junkie
September 18th, 2010
06:15 am

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Why I Don't Think It's the Celibacy
Often enough, I see people claim that celibacy is a major cause of sexual abuse by priests, and if they were allowed to marry, there'd be a lot less sexual abuse.

However, it's quite clear that a great deal of sexual abuse is done by people who haven't taken vows of celibacy. Furthermore, priests could have consensual relationships with each other or with other adults -- there was a recent protest by Italian women who were sick of not being able to marry the priests they were involved with and having to conceal their relationships.

I've heard that sometimes the Catholic church tells men that the vow of celibacy will solve their problems with their sexuality. I'm not going to say that never happens, but there's plenty of evidence that the vow of celibacy doesn't change anything for a lot of priests. Meanwhile, the promise of an end to unwanted desires is going to attract pedophiles into the priesthood.

There's a theory that, aside from any other considerations, celibacy has protected the Catholic church by shielding it from nepotism. I have no strong opinions about that, though other religions seem to manage without requiring celibacy. On the other hand, the Catholic church is a bigger prize (richer and more centralized than any other religion, I think) and therefore greater concerns about nepotism might be reasonable.

I think part of the problem is simply structural-- any large organization with access to children faces the temptation of quietly transferring abusers rather than letting them be punished.

Another part is arrogance-- to the extent that Catholics (both inside and outside the hierarchy) believe that the Catholic church is worthy of automatic respect, abuse is going to be likely, and this is much harder to change than the celibacy rule.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/435323.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:andrewducker
Date:September 18th, 2010 10:57 am (UTC)
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I totally agree. If I was under orders to be celibate I'd be having affairs, not abusing children.
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From:chickenfeet2003
Date:September 18th, 2010 11:10 am (UTC)
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There has been plenty of nepotism in the Church historically. It just takes the form of preferring nephews (or occasionally illegitimate children).
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From:agrumer
Date:September 18th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
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Or towards friends, which is how Pope Benny got his job.
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From:nancylebov
Date:September 18th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
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I was thinking about the man's political skills, which much be extraordinary-- Pope isn't the first plum job he's gotten, and how someone like that could have such a case of foot in mouth disease.

The synthesis is probably that he does know the right thing to say-- to high-status Catholics.

Or maybe he's somebody's nephew.
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From:nancylebov
Date:September 18th, 2010 12:05 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the background on "nepotism". That being said, I have no idea whether the Catholic Church still has a problem with members of the hierarchy giving excessive advantage to family members.

I don't know whether Catholic ideas about forgiveness amplify the problem-- secular organizations are certainly apt to move abusers around or just leave them in place. Punishing high status people is an expensive process.
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From:chickenfeet2003
Date:September 18th, 2010 11:42 am (UTC)
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I think another point that doesn't get brought up in the debate is that the church has a deep historical opposition to any secular control over clergy. The issue of in whose courts "criminous clerics" were justiciable was huge for a long time. I don't think the church has ever really given up the idea that it, and its servants, are above all temporal jurisdiction. It's an institution with an immensely long institutional memory.
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From:wouldyoueva
Date:September 18th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)
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Part of the problem is the willingness to take that pledge--whether it's violated or not--puts the pledge-taker in an advantageous bargaining position. Yes, the priest might think, you can take me away from this diocese--but who are you going to replace me with? Now multiply that by thousands. Under those conditions, moving them around works better than just kicking them out.
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From:sartorias
Date:September 18th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
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Oh, those medieval and Renaissance popes preferred their nephews (many cases these were actually their sons).

The idea was that you are married to Mother church--that priests and nuns dedicated themselves to God, and in practical terms, were not divided between work for the church and their families. As the church was the only form of social aid that the western world had, it more or less worked: during pestilence and disasters, the nuns and priests and monks were expected to clear and bury the dead, and hold the fabric of the cities together. They dispersed food during bad times, and were pretty much the only means of education available to common folk.

The world has changed so much that the celibacy vow seems ineffective and pernicious to the rest of us; the Reformation saw that and set it aside, and I wonder if eventually the Catholics will do so also. They seem to change glacially--but they do change, if one looks at their long history.
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From:bugsybanana
Date:September 18th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
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In this NYT article, a Catholic theologian mentions the other consideration I'd heard of, that the church was preserving its property from claims by the children of priests, in a time when corporate ownership of property was a murky area of the law.

I'm surprised to see former Cardinal Egan be so receptive to priests marrying. He was on his way out the door then, though.
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From:goodbyemyboy
Date:September 18th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
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Pedophiles gravitate towards situations where they'll be in contact with children without arousing suspicion. Teachers, for example -- who abuse children at higher rates than priests -- or having their own kids. Priestly celibacy does (or did) set up a favorable situation for pedophiles, in which single men who had no interest in having sex with adult women could have access to children and people would assume pure motives.

It doesn't help that the Church has been more interested in preventing celibate gay men from becoming priests than trying to defrock child molesters and prevent them from becoming priests in the first place, either.

The idea that celibacy causes child molestation gives off disturbing undertones, to me, of "women, you'd better put out, because if you don't your spouse will start raping kids."
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From:nancylebov
Date:September 18th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Or from another angle, "You can't trust anyone who doesn't have a normal sex life".
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From:bradhicks
Date:September 18th, 2010 10:09 pm (UTC)
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I saw an article a LONG time ago, probably 20 years ago now, when this whole debate was relatively new, by a psychologist who'd worked at the Catholic retreat where they used to try to cure pedophile priests. He did say that there might be one reason that Catholic priests are slightly more likely to offend than others, and celibacy was only peripherally related to it: the really, really weird sex education that Catholic teenage boys and Catholic men get on the seminary high school to seminary college track. The example he cited, that he said he heard from lots of his patients, that what they did with little boys couldn't possibly be sex, because there was no way the little boys (or they) could become pregnant, and they were under the impression that the Catholic church's position was that it's only sex if someone can get pregnant, or at the very least if there is both a penis and a vagina involved. Since little boys don't have vaginas, and obviously can't get pregnant, they thought that what they were doing was a harmless way of relieving sexual tension that was less sinful than masturbation, which they all remembered having been told was an unspeakable, unimaginable, unforgivable sin.

This isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, what the church teaches, but enough people were giving out this misconception (pun unintended) that he said he ran into it all the time.

But that minor contributing factor set aside, there is only one meaningful reliable statistical predictor of whether or not a child will be sexually abused, and that is the number of men who are not related to them by blood who have unchaperoned private access to them for long enough to abuse them. I'm not saying neither women nor biological fathers ever abuse children, I'm just saying that (like stranger rape of children) it's so rare that it doesn't show up in the stats above the level of statistical noise, it shows up at a rate below the margin of error. The Catholic church could almost completely eliminate sexual abuse of children (and sexual coercion of adults) if they made clerical counseling and the rite of confession team affairs, the way a lot of doctors now refuse to examine or treat a child without a chaperon of some kind in the room.
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From:nancylebov
Date:September 18th, 2010 11:06 pm (UTC)
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In re badly done sex education: I've read something of the sort quite a while ago about fathers who abuse their children-- some of them believed that adultery is a sin and masturbation is a sin, but sex with children wasn't on the list of sins, and besides, their children were their property.

What's the source of your statistics?

I've read this, and I'm not so sure that sexual abuse by relatives and women is quite so rare as all that.

I agree that a chaperon system would help.

Edited at 2010-09-18 11:08 pm (UTC)
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From:siderea
Date:September 18th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
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I saw an article a LONG time ago, probably 20 years ago now, when this whole debate was relatively new, by a psychologist who'd worked at the Catholic retreat where they used to try to cure pedophile priests. He did say that there might be one reason that Catholic priests are slightly more likely to offend than others, and celibacy was only peripherally related to it: the really, really weird sex education that Catholic teenage boys and Catholic men get on the seminary high school to seminary college track.

I haven't read that article (I sure would like to!), but one of the many big post projects I have back brewing in the back of my head (and have begun starting accumulating references for -- if you find that article, do let me know) is the very fascinating and largely unknown-except-to-professionals history of Christianity Meets Psychotherapy in the 1970s and on.

I'm not going to get into all the details now -- but long story short is that various flavors of Christianity (and other religions, but they don't have social prominence in the US) have been promulgating ideas that are, at their heart, psychotherapeutic and wrong. Originally (AFAIK) Christian clerics saw nothing wrong with psychotherapy; indeed, through the 1950s and 1960s, psychotherapy was almost exclusively psychoanalysis which at that time and place was very socially conservative and not at all a threat. However, as there were theoretical revolutions in psychotherapy, as it became (however marginally :) more scientifically rigorous, and professionally mature (practitioners in the field started writing lots and reading one another's stuff, and beginning to develop a practitioner lore based on informal observation), the mental health field began to point out that there were a number of ways in which religions were simply factually incorrect about what they were teaching about human nature. Human sexuality was one such area. (And can I just say, when your understanding of human sexuality is lapped by the present stew of superstition, bias, and uninformed rumor that passes for the cutting edge in the psychology of sexuality, 2010, you really should just give up and go home. But I digress.)

(In fairness, it occasionally went the other way; a group of Christian pastors staged a concerted and ultimately successful movement to introduce a nosological concept to modern mental health care treatment, and in doing so may have saved psychiatry from itself. But that's another story....)

ETA: My point being, I am not surprised. Further, to return to the point of the original post, while I don't believe that celibacy is the problem either, I have a very strong suspicion, based on what I do know about the state of the psychological model in the Roman Catholic Church (something I do keep a tab on), that they are going about teaching celibacy wrongly. That is, if your model of how sexuality and sexual development works is incorrect, you're probably not going to develop successful interventions to shape sexuality the way you want. If your map is wrong, you'll wind up some place other than where you wanted to go when you try to follow it. And we can conceptualize celibacy as a skill. After all, like playing a violin, doing calculus, and shooting hoops, it is an unnatural act, and can only be mastered with intentionality, comprehension, and practice.

Edited at 2010-09-18 11:30 pm (UTC)
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From:trinker
Date:September 19th, 2010 04:06 am (UTC)
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http://www.darkness2light.org/knowabout/statistics_2.asp

30-40% of victims are abused by a family member. (2, 44, 76)
Another 50% are abused by someone outside of the family whom they know and trust.
Approximately 40% are abused by older or larger children whom they know. (1, 44)
Therefore, only 10% are abused by strangers.

http://www.darkness2light.org/knowabout/statistics_references.asp
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From:nancylebov
Date:September 19th, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
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Thank you for the link. It wouldn't surprise me if it's substantially correct, but where could they get the figure that 30% of victims never disclose to anyone?
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From:redbird
Date:September 19th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
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Those numbers cannot lead to that conclusion, because the statistics given on abuse by family members, non-family members they know and trust, and older or larger children who they know add up to more than 100%. That means they include children who are victimized more than once (which I entirely believe) and that there's no way to subtract the total number of victims in those categories from 100% and get anything useful.

It may well be true that only 10% are abused by strangers—or that only 10% are abused only by strangers—but it doesn't follow from what's given here.
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From:trinker
Date:September 19th, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
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They listed their sources at the bottom...I'm a bit too distracted with active under 3 kids to sift carefully.
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From:trinker
Date:September 19th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
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44. Kilpatrick, D., Saunders, B., & Smith, D. (2003). Youth victimization: Prevalence and implications. U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice report.

Not my area of expertise, though.
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