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Published:March 30th, 2010 19:58 EST
Doctrine of Celibacy: Asking for Trouble?

Doctrine of Celibacy: Asking for Trouble?

By Geoff Dean


I am a Jew. The doctrine of priestly celibacy is a Catholic one. None of my business? Basically, yes. And yet, I cannot help but make a comment or two. I may have to go to confession after this one.....

 I have recently seen many articles touching lightly on the issue of the celibacy of Catholic priests and if this has any impact on the recent sexual scandals rocking the church and potentially implicating the Pope, himself, in part of the "coverup". Columnist have to tread very lightly on this issue since it involves religion, Bible interpretation, and matters of faith. And sex.

 I`m not much of a light treader myself but I wil try not to offend anyone. Not much, anyway.

 Celestine Bohlen, a journalist with Bloomberg News, has declared that the "time is right to..drop the celibacy rule for Catholic priests." The rule, a "discipline" and not "a doctrine" (a significant if semantical difference), was first "imposed in 1139", before which time, married priests were the rule. She claims that the rule tends to encourage people with "conflict-laden sexuality"" (quoting Klaus Beier, head of the Institute for Sexology and Sexual Medicine in Berlin) to enter the priesthood to "bury" their tendencies.

 I don` t know if I would go that far. Of course, the vast, overwhelming number of priests are neither pedophiles, nor predators, nor any other form of sexual deviants. The cases of abuse garner headlines and at times, sensationalized media coverage. Since the recent cases have implications for the Pope and the "Vatican bunker mentality", they have been given especially widespread and occasionally salacious treatment. I see no reason that a male cannot choose to be celibate without ill effects.

 Nonetheless, the potential danger has been considered almost from the inception of the rule, in ways high-brow, such as Andre Gide`s Pastoral Symphony and low, such as teen skin flicks like "Hot Under the Collar" and the TV soap opera parody, "Soap", not to mention an infinite number of dirty jokes, usually involving a priest, a rabbi, and a minister.

 Actually, the Bible, as far as I can tell, does not frown on sex. The Old Testament is filled with examples of kosher and non-kosher varieties. The Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon), often interpreted as an allegory representing God and Israel`s relationship, is especially explicit, sexual, and at times, even raunchy. (see 7:7,8 and 8:1-3 for some explicit examples). From the Old Testament view, sex is natural and to be celebrated, a gift from God.

 The Apostle Paul, a Jewish believer in Jesus, suggests that, while the unmarried state may be preferable, "it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (I Corinthians 7:9) In other words, if celibacy is going to get you in trouble, you`d better not try it. He adds that sex is not to be abandoned except for a short time and only by mutual consent to avoid "giving into Satan`s temptations because of lack of self control." (7:5)

 The Bible does speak of a "gift of celibacy" and Jesus seems to have been unmarried (the DaVinci Code notwithstanding). Celibacy can be an option, biblically, Old or New Testamentally-speaking. The problem comes when it is required. As Hamburg Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke, someone infinitely more qualified to comment on Catholic teaching than me, put it, "That`s when a dangerous situation can arise" including attracting people with abnormal sexuality to the priesthood.

 There are sexual abusers and scandals in every religious group and among those without any. As Bohlen states, most pedophilia cases occur within families. Celibacy is not the root of all evil. But if required celibacy has even a peripheral connection to increased likelihood of sexual abuse, especially of the vulnerable, the disabled, the youth, the elderly, and the like, shouldn`t a change or a least, a modification be considered. Or at the very least, a strengthening of the vetting of candidates for the priesthood.

 Pope Ratzinger, what sayest thou?