Catholic Church's Real Challenge

Joel Mowbray

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 sexuality. 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 homosexuals. 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 own. 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 sexual revolution. 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 second thought. 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.