Catholic Church's Real Challenge
4/25/2002 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray
Although the discussions between the Cardinals and the Pope in Rome have
understandably focused on expediting the process for punishing abusers, the
Church must soon direct its attention to fighting those using the scandal as
a Trojan horse to surreptitiously undermine traditional Catholic teaching on
Ever since the onslaught of the sexual revolution, liberal clergy and
certain outside groups have banded together to "modernize" the Church.
These forces despise what they view as the Church's regressive views on
sexuality, and they believe they have found their first significant break.
With the molestation imbroglio brewing, these sinister partisans have
advanced the argument that ending celibacy might be a panacea, or least an
important first step.
Ending celibacy has tremendous surface appeal: the culture of
homosexuality now dominant at many seminaries and even some dioceses would
be diluted, and the huge personal cost for straight men of forgoing marriage
would be eliminated.
If reports cited by Father Donald Cozzens, a former head of a seminary, in
his book The Changing Face of the Priesthood
are correct, then 25-50%
of American priests are gay. Although many priests, including the Catholic
Information Center’s John McCloskey, find that figure dramatically high,
mounds of anecdotal evidence suggests that homosexuals, including some
active ones, account for a disproportionately high share of priests.
It's absurd to argue that celibacy has forced priests to satisfy their
human urges by molesting teenage boys. It's much more reasonable to assert,
however, that adding hundreds or thousands of married men to the priesthood
would markedly change a culture that in some areas has been shaped by
While diluting the homosexual culture found at several seminaries and
dioceses is necessary, ending celibacy would also change the fundamental
nature of the priesthood. Catholic priests have a dual devotion to God and
parishioners—there simply isn’t room in their lives for families of their
A priest recently relayed to me an interesting story: a Methodist minister
who taught at his seminary told him that when he was deathly ill at a
hospital, he called a Catholic priest, not
a fellow Methodist. The
minister gave two reasons: 1) he could call a Catholic priest in the middle
of the night guaranteed to reach him, and 2) a Catholic priest is able to
give fully of himself to others and would not have a family to tend to.
The priesthood is a sacred institution, and messing with something that
has worked for centuries should not be done lightly. There has undoubtedly
been a cultural problem at many American dioceses and seminaries that has
contributed to the sexual abuse of minors. But the quandary in which the
Church finds itself was not triggered by celibacy, but rather permissive
views on homosexuality and sexual activity generally stemming from the
The peddlers of the dissident culture, which has been skillfully analyzed
by Michael Novak and Father McCloskey, among others, began a stealth
campaign more than 30 years ago to “modernize” Catholic teaching on a whole
host of issues, including sexuality, birth control, and abortion. In the
process, promiscuity and homosexual activity became the norm at many
seminaries, and the vow of chastity was dismissed without so much as a
It was in the dissident culture present at several seminaries and dioceses
that an atmosphere conducive to sexual abuse of teenage boys flourished. If
Catholic teaching on sexuality had been followed and abusing priests turned
over to the authorities, the scandal would not have erupted as it has.
Given that lax sexual attitudes have contributed to the current mess,
ending celibacy and loosening sexual requirements on priests would only take
the Church further down the wrong path.
It is instructive that the scandals have been concentrated in a relatively
small number of dioceses and not been spread evenly throughout the country.
After all, if celibacy and “outmoded” teachings on sexuality are the real
culprits, all dioceses should have suffered equally—but that has not been
the case. Isolated incidents can happen anywhere, but widespread abuse can
only occur in an environment that protects and shelters abusers and does
nothing to combat, or worse promotes, a corrosive culture.
Reinstating traditional Catholic teaching at renegade dioceses is only
part of the equation. The Vatican needs to embrace Cardinal Francis George’
s zero tolerance approach to abuse in Chicago. Accusations of abuse by
priests are promptly turned over to the authorities to determine the
validity of the claims.
The Catholic Church will survive. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous.
After adopting swift procedures for punishing and defrocking sexual abusers,
a more pressing long-term problem awaits. Rooting out the corrupting
influence of the dissident culture will not be easy, but it will be
absolutely necessary to spare future victims of predator priests.
Editor's Note: Joel Mowbray is a lifelong, practicing Catholic.