Does Priestly Celibacy result in Child Abuse? No.

Here’s an article from LifeSiteNews: Francis’ former doctrine chief blasts Vatican reform plan, German bishops on sex abuse, and a quote from the interview:

Cardinal Müller: “This is something crazy. They think that sexual abuse by some clergy has something to do with the interpretation of sexuality or with celibacy and women’s access to the priesthood. The existence of abuse is used to advance another agenda. It’s absolutely false.”

My article today deals only with the narrow question: does priestly celibacy make priests more likely to abuse children? This idea is often expressed in secular culture. They propose that the absence of sex in the lives of priests leads them to seek sex with minors.

My answer is based on my past work with sexually abused teens and children. I worked child and adolescent psych for two years. Most of those kids, about 75%, were on the psych unit due to behavioral and psychological problems specifically caused by sexual abuse. I’m not saying merely that the demographic of the population was that three fourths had a history of abuse. Rather, sexual abuse was the very reason that most were on the unit.

The typical abuser of boys and/or girls was an adult heterosexual man. Even when the abuser is male and the victim is male, the abuser was almost always a heterosexual man — who had sexual relationships with adult women at the same time that he was abusing boys and/or girls. This type of abuser is termed a situational generalist. He doesn’t care about the age or gender of the victim. He treats the victim like an object, and objects do not have gender. He acts contrary to his natural inclination to be sexually attracted to adult women because all child abuse is unnatural.

But the main point here is that these situational generalists, whether they were abusing boys, girls, or both, also had ongoing sexual relationships with adult women. This fact proves that a child abuser does not turn to abusing children as a result of lacking a sexual relationship with an adult woman. It implies that priestly celibacy is not one of the causes of priests abusing children.

Another type of abuser is the pedophile. Now the term pedophile is used in two ways: broadly and narrowly. The broad use of the term refers to any adult who has sex or wishes to have sex with a minor. The narrow use of the term refers to adults who are solely or mainly sexually attracted to children.

Many abusers of children are not pedophiles in the narrow sense. They are not sexually attracted to the age (or gender) of the victim; what attracts them is the opportunity to treat a human person abusively. They seek abusive sex (even with adults). This is the most common type of abuser, and they often have sex with adults as well as children.

The pedophile in the narrow sense is not usually sexually active with adults (though occasionally they might have sex with an adult to gain access to the children). But even in this case, celibacy or the lack of sex with adults, is not the cause of the child abuse.

Situational generalists abuse children, even while they are having a sexual relationship with an adult. Pedophiles abuse children, even if they have the opportunity to have sex with an adult. That covers 95% of abusers. A small percentage of abusers are homosexuals; but those few abusers tend to be situational generalists. They have sex with adults of the same gender as themselves, and they also abuse children.

There is no subset of child abusers, not even a small 1 or 2% of abusers, who have sex with children because they do not have access to an adult sexual relationship. Thus, priestly celibacy is not even a partial cause of the child abuse problem in the clergy.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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