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Politics & Current Affairs

Celibacy and Child Rape

At the New York Review of Books Blog, controversial Catholic theologian Hans Küng blames the celibate priesthood for the epidemic of child rape in the Catholic Church. (The term “rape” is mine and it’s carefully chosen. When adults force sex on children, that’s rape.) He argues convincingly that the church would be a safer and healthier institution if priests were allowed to marry.

Küng argues that celibacy begets abuse because it sets priests apart from the rest of society and encourages them to think of themselves as a special caste that exists outside the secular law:

“Yet the rule of celibacy, together with papal absolutism and exaggerated clericalism, became one of the pillars of the “Roman system.” Unlike priests in the Eastern churches, the celibate clergy of the West remain completely separated from the laity, primarily by abstaining from marriage. They constitute a dominant social class of their own, fundamentally superior to ordinary Christians, but completely subordinate to the pope in Rome”

Klung puts celibacy front and center in his indictment, but his argument acknowledges how celibacy and patriarchy reinforce each other.

The problem is deeper than celibacy; it’s institutional complicity. If you create opportunities to rape with impunity, you’ll attract a bunch of rapists–whether you’re running a college campus or a religion or a day care center. Secular institutions usually have at least some checks and balances to keep these abuses in check and weed out as many predators as possible. But the Catholic Church makes a virtue out of being undemocratic and unaccountable.

Self-appointed guardian of decency Bill Donohue of the Catholic League went on CNN to reassure the rapist community that the Catholic Church is a safe space for them:

“DONOHUE: It’s not pedophelia. Most of the victims are post- pubescent. You have to get your facts straight. I’m sorry. If I’m the only one who is dealing with facts tonight, that’s it. The vast majority of the victims are post-pubescent. That’s not pedophelia, buddy. That’s homosexuality.”

Donohue and his allies make it a point to defend rapists on general principle, and rapists know it. (Notice how Donohue tries to shift the blame to an entire sexual orientation, away from the individuals who committed the crimes or the institution that covered for them. Of course, there were also priests who raped pubescent girls. Does it follow that heterosexuality is to blame?)

Allowing priests to get married is probably a step in the right direction. At least the change would attract more healthy people to counterbalance the predators. However, the rape problem will persist as long as guys like Donohue make a career out of excusing it.


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