It’s Not About CelibacyDEAL HUDSON
The recent pedophile problems in various U.S. Catholic dioceses, especially Boston, have led – predictably – to a new wave of questions about priestly celibacy. Let us be clear: There is no relation between the vow of priestly celibacy and the incidence of pedophilia among Catholic priests.
The recent pedophile problems in various U.S. Catholic dioceses, especially
Boston, have led predictably to a new wave of questions about priestly
celibacy. Let us be clear: There is no relation between the vow of priestly celibacy
and the incidence of pedophilia among Catholic priests.
How do I know
this? There is less likelihood that a Catholic priest will be a pedophile (0.3%)
than a married man.
This statistic comes from the best and most current
study of this issue, Pedophiles and Priests by Philip Jenkins (Oxford University
Press, 1996). Jenkins shows that true pedophilia, that is, sexual contact between
an adult and pre-pubescent child, is very rare in the Catholic priesthood.
Jenkins also explains how the media artificially exaggerates these numbers
in their reporting. One U.S. Cardinal told me recently that many of the reported
incidents of "child abuse" are actually complaints going back many years about
the forms of corporal punishments administered by clergy in days-gone-by. Data
about actual sexual contact and routine spanking or paddling are being thrown
The whole argument against a celibate, male clergy based on
the pedophilia problem is, at best, impressionistic and, at worse, totally disingenuous.
Catholic dissidents who advocate married clergy and women priests are
trying to take full advantage of this present situation. Never once do they mention
that if a priest is faithful to his vows sexual relations of any kind will simply
never occur. Just how allowing clergy to marry, presumably members of the opposite
sex, will reduce pedophilia, is never explained.
The media is scrutinizing
the Catholic Church on this issue in a way they have never looked at other institutional
leaders, such as public elementary schools teachers, for example. The mere fact
that the statistical incidence of pedophilia among priests is less than among
married men with children should give the media pause, but it does not and will
I can't think of a single mainstream media outlet, with the possible
exception of Fox News, that does not demonstrate a consistent bias against the
Catholic Church. This is not to point a finger at every reporter and editor, but
to underline the constant tone and drift of their reporting.
example, would MSNBC spend an evening inviting people to call in and vote on whether
Catholic priests should be allowed to marry? Would MSNBC do a poll on whether
Jews should be allowed to eat pork on their holy days?
As Bill Donohue
of the Catholic League has shown for years, the media has no fear of offending
Catholics because Catholics evidently don't care if their faith is put up for
A statistical defense of the Catholic clergy, however, is not
enough to address the present crisis. There must be serious rethinking of how
to identify potential pedophiles before they enter the priesthood, and how to
deal with them once an incident occurs. It is clear such a priest can never again
to be assigned to duties that put children at risk.
The Church will
get its house in order without the help of those who want to knock it down and
Deal Hudson. "It’s Not About Celibacy." (February, 2002).
article was reprinted with permission of Deal Hudson.
W. Hudson is the former publisher of Crisis magazine. He is now Executive
Director of The Morley Institute for Church and Culture. He was associate professor
of Philosophy at Fordham University from 1989 to 1995 and was a visiting professor
at New York University for five years. He taught for nine years at Mercer University
in Atlanta, where he was chair of the philosophy department. He has published
many reviews and articles as well as five books: Understanding
Maritain: Philosopher and Friend (Mercer, 1988); The
Future of Thomism (Notre Dame, 1992); Sigrid
Undset On Saints and Sinners (Ignatius, 1994); and Happiness
and the Limits of Satisfaction (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996) and his autobiography,
American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003).
Copyright © 2002 Deal Hudson