Does celibacy create concern?





                          by Kenneth Bagnell

      It’s now well beyond a week since Paul Shanley, a former American Catholic priest in Boston, ended a long imprisonment for sexual exploitation which he’d introduced to his Catholic prey around Boston. (When years back he exploited the children he introduced his ugly acts as “special duties.”) Prosecutors wanted a life sentence. Over the years he snared innocent boys by claiming he had a “youth counselling service” through which he managed intimacy with scores of them. On his faked front he called it “a ministry for alienated youth” from 1969 into the 1970s. (The lawyer who represented the boys in Shanley’s trial years ago had deep reservation about his new freedom, stating he was outraged at his release from prison. One of the fathers of a boy is so angry at the release – his son was raped by the priest – said: “I want him to die in prison… however he dies, I hope it’s slow and painful.”

       It’s time to look not just at this terrible act of one man, but to look at the so-called big picture. It’s happened almost everywhere with the Jesuit order being “virtually free” (but not totally) from the terrible blemish. The major question – why the priests? – is not well examined. In Australia not long ago thousands of priests were charged.  Why always priests? Why? Why? And Why?

      It can’t be basic celibacy, since we know many a single man and he’s comfortably independent from seduction. Yet the most respected order, The Jesuits — the intellectuals of Catholicism –-were not free from the ugly acts. It happened in the Pacific Northwest, where the Jesuit order paid what a lawyer representing the organization describes as, “The largest settlement between a religious order and abuse victims in the history of the United States.” The penalty cost the order a very severe bundle — $166 million. The exploitation of the boys was dreadfully devastating, as it must have wounded devout Catholic lay people, given the respect of the Jesuit order. Nonetheless, the dreadful operation has left countless children in a condition which may have wounded them forever as well as leaving the highly respected order with a horrible historical scar.      

     One of the attorneys representing the exploited children, Blaine Tamaki, of Washington, said: “Over 450 native American children were sexually abused repeatedly, from rape to sodomy, for decades throughout the Northwest. Instead of teaching these children how to read and write, Jesuit priests were teaching them distrust and shame.” That was, I’m sure, a devastating time in Jesuit history, as I have known Jesuits and have respected their ethics as well as their high intellectual gifts.

     Australia’s enormous problem has given social scientists – psychologists, sociologists and so on – a reason for delving deeper than toward other cultures. The resulting numerous essays, lectures and, of course, books, one of which is The Impact of Child Sexual Abuse, is written by Richard Boyd, a well-respected psychotherapist in Western Australia. It’s quite evident that adult sexual activity with a child is always destructive maybe disastrous in one form or another. “Childhood abuse,” he writes, “ is considered one of the worst forms of trauma, and its effects, long term signs and symptoms are now found to span a large range of conditions documented in the psychiatric reference manual known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders….Sexual abuse is considered ‘soul murder’ as it literally robs the child victim of their innocence, severely disrupts their developing sense of self and will later distort the then adult’s ability to form healthy relationships with themselves and others.” His book is well researched and clearly written.  Boyd notes in passing that “there have been shifts in attitudes to incest and sexual abuse within Australia since the 1960s…. the social rights movement and liberation of women’s rights has assisted in this regard…”  Australia’s Royal Commission on Sexual Abuse has reported sadly but firmly that ten religious orders have had members now charged. That’s almost 8 percent of the Catholic clergy of Australia. Gail Furness, the lead lawyer on the Commission claimed that about 1,000 institutions were named regarding sexual abuse by alleged clergy. The average age of assumed victims were ten year old girls and eleven year old boys.

      Given this frightening –- if dreadfully destructive — reality, what path should a Catholic parent take in advising a son or daughter on his relationship with the priests? It must be extremely painful to many and good Catholic clergy. But the worldwide publicity has deeply tainted the calling. Hence, I’m not sure but I’m inclined to what the late John Ruskin said back in the late 1890s: “It’s restraint that’s honorable to a person, not his liberty.” 

    As for the thousands who have acted disgracefully, were they not aware of the many passages in the scriptures that children are to be treated with great care, not exploited sexually and thereby probably wounded for life? One for the firm and foremost examples is simply this one in the book of Matthew. Just consider it and as you do think of the 4,441 Australian priests who are now charged with sexual abuse. Here it is: “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their necks and be drowned in the depth of the sea…” Yet look at the horrible mess! Have these guys gone to a seminary where they have what’s called, “theological scholars.” I truly wonder.

       Moreover, it goes further in that it emphasizes the treasure of children, and while it does not denigrate, does more affirmation for children than for adulthood. For one example its passages indicate that historians have seen how improper abuse is when it’s applied to a child. It still is. As a New Testament scholar puts it simply but clearly:   “The Bible encourages child blessing not child abuse.” Imagine then how this admonition squares with the Australian mass of children or, those whom Paul Shanley abused have been left a wreck.  After all, common sense from any social worker or clinical psychologist, or informed biblical scholar will tell you, in some form, this principle:    “The Bible prohibits child abuse in its condemnation of sexual sin. Sexual abuse or molestation is particularly devastating, and warnings against sexual sin are in scripture. To force sexual acts upon a child is a horrible, evil offense… In addition to committing a sexual sin, the perpetrator is also attacking the innocence of one of the world’s most vulnerable persons.” 




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  1. Alfred Woodworth
    Aug 11, 2017

    Some thoughts have come to mind since reading your blog. Four thousand , four hundred and forty one priests being charged with sexual crimes seems incomprehensible given the 2000 year old understanding of Christian ethics in the area of sexuality.

    One thing that comes to mind is the practice of confession with its forgiveness of sins and absolute privacy about what is confessed.
    In the British PBS television program FATHER BROWN , it is clear that the contents of confession however serious, will not be divulged to either police or bishop.

    And for those who give in to their desires though it is contrary to the accepted ethics of the Christian faith and likely also their own personal Christian ideals , it may be very reassuring to feel forgiven following confession and given another chance. It comes to mind to wonder if one gets accustomed to it , if it happens repeatedly.

    It is generally agreed that alcohol tends to reduce “inhibitions”. Is it possible that ready access to communion wine could play a part in giving into sexual temptation for priests as well as for lots of other people?

    In the course of my ministry of 37 years I knew one priest well enough that he spoke very candidly about some aspects of his life as a priest. He said that when he entered the priesthood there was always a housekeeper looking after things. Now he had no housekeeper and had to do everything himself. He said that if he had known that was going to happens , instead of entering the priesthood , he would have ” been off like a deer.” During the time I knew him he started going to alcoholics anonymous.

    It also comes to mind to wonder about the interpretation and application of love which is such a prominent part of the New Testament and there is much admonition about love in both church and society today .

    Perhaps religious authorities as well as secular ones and others who are aware of what has happened are stressed and conflicted as they consider the practical application of love toward the perpetrator and toward the victim . It would appear that there has long been much error in judgment regarding love in favour of the perpetrators rather than the practical application of love toward the victims and potential victims which would involve protection.
    There also comes to mind Jesus words of Matthew 7 and verses 13 and 14 ” Enter through the narrow gate: for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” To me those verses urge self discipline and the resistance of temptation. They also seem to be very much out of harmony with the temper of our time . Quite often nowadays one hears of people ” pushing envelopes” as they advocate against previously held values and ideals. I remember well a T- shirt I noticed a few years ago with the slogan ” Just Do It.”

    • ken
      Aug 13, 2017

      Thanks, Alfred, just found your message in spam. will post it on Ken’s website. Barb

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