The final chapter of the Catholic Church's now quarter-century-long quagmire will not arrive until the celibacy requirement for its priests is lifted.
Nothing else will -- or can -- adequately atone for the molestation and permanent psychological damage inflicted upon hundreds (and now, we learn, likely thousands) of small boys by the very messengers of god these children are meant to look up to. No apology, however humble, nor even resignation or arrest will satisfy the outrage felt by the more than one billion Catholics in the world -- not to mention the rest of us watching.
Two facts have crystallized in the last month: the first is that these are not a few "bad seeds," as we were told in 2003, and as spokespersons for the Papal Authority are now trying to tell us again. Major outbreaks of allegation are not confined to Boston and Ireland but are coming from Wisconsin, Arizona, Brazil, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands -- it goes on. Der Spiegel reports that a hotline set up by the Catholic Church in Germany to counsel victims of abuse received 4,500 calls on its first day. The benefit-of-the-doubt window has simply closed, and we should call it what it is: an epidemic.
The second fact that has emerged is that mandated celibacy is intrinsically the problem, and not merely a symptom. This is the only major religious sect in the world that maintains such a requirement (Buddhist monks and nuns take a vow of celibacy while living in a monastic community, but they may leave and try a life with sex anytime they wish.) With the exception of some minor communities, every other denomination of Christianity allows its priests to marry and have families. And this same sect, the only to demand celibacy, is also the only one that has engendered an abuse epidemic. The correlation is as simple as it appears.
Further, it has been widely pointed out before this article that sexually-confused men are drawn into such a priesthood. A cycle has been established: young children are left in the care of sexually-repressed single men, under the umbrella of an organization that has done nothing but cover, quiet, and obfuscate claims of abuse. For the pedophiliac priest, what incentive is there to cease? He will be transferred, or put into counseling -- but he will not be shamed, and he will not be arrested. No, the onus is on the Church leadership to break this cycle.
From 1962-1965 the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican convened, and the resultant revelations changed the face of the Catholic Church dramatically: no longer would the Mass be recited in Latin; no longer were Catholics forbidden from attending Protestant services or reading a Protestant Bible; not eating meat on Fridays became optional. These were substantial changes, met with some controversy and division, but from which the Church eventually recovered and moved on. Reforming the mandate of celibacy for priests would involve comparatively less change -- after all, it is really only an interpretive Biblical issue. The scriptures have nothing to say about a priest's marital status.
At that Council in the early 60s was a young priest brought in as a theological consultant. His name at the time was Father Joseph Ratzinger, now called Benedict. That man would be wise today, as the epidemic around him grows wider and more public, to remember Vatican II, and one of the more important features of divine revelation -- that strictures are malleable when necessary. He might not realize it yet, but calling for Vatican III may be the only card he has left to play.
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