ABC News takes a full week to get it wrong.

ABC News is just now discovering last week’s confusion over Christoph Cardinal Schonborn’s comments on priestly celibacy. If you missed it, the cardinal had written a column for his diocesan magazine addressing the past sex abuse scandal.

In the article, Cardinal Schönborn called for an “unflinching examination” of possible reasons for pedophilia, and said that this includes the issues of training priests “as well as the question of what happened in the so-called sexual revolution.”

“It also includes the issue of priest celibacy and the issue of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the church and of society as a whole.”

As a spokesman later clarified, Cardinal Schonorn wasn’t questioning celibacy, but saying that we need to look at the way we handle the personal development of the men we’re calling to be celibate priests. That’s a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and many others have made it. Celibate priests are still sexual beings; their seminary formation needs to acknowledge that and help them transform those energies.

Of course, that subtle point flew right past the headline writers at ABC News. Even though the mix-up was reported on — and then corrected — last Thursday, they went with “Top Cardinal Says Priest Celibacy Rule Needs to be Reexamined.”

Sigh.

There was one good section in the piece:

[Father Edward] Beck rejects the notion that there is a direct link between celibacy and pedophilia within the Catholic Church. “Pedophilia is its own disease. It cuts across all professions; doctors, lawyers, rabbis…it is not limited to priests. Can celibacy lead people to act out sexually? Yes. But when it comes to acting out this way with kids, no.”

On the other hand, another leading German Catholic, Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschk of Hamburg, told German Radio on Friday: “The celibate lifestyle can attract people who have an abnormal sexuality and cannot integrate sexuality into their lives. That’s when a dangerous situation can arise.

This is an important distinction. The strongest argument against priestly celibacy — at least as regards its alleged harms — is not that it produces sexually unhealthy men, but that it attracts them in disproportionate numbers. While I think the problem would be better addressed through simple improvements in seminary enrollment and formation practices rather than upending the Latin priesthood, it’s a fair concern.

 

Brian Saint-Paul

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Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

  • Bill Russell

    Do they play baseball in Austria? Cardinal Schonborn’s batting average has been sinking. Within weeks he has had to issue an apology for his missteps in Medjugorje, and now he says he was “misunderstood” on celibacy.

    Meanwhile, the conference on celibacy two weeks ago in Rome at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross has reiterated an understanding of the apostolic origins and theological importance of celibacy as more than merely disciplinary. Somehow, at the same time, the media have overlooked the increased number of sexual abuse cases among Protestant clergy and public school teachers (generally estimated at least ten to twelve times the incident among Catholic priests, and rarely with censure or punishment), a “family man” in Congress offending young men, and a rabbi in New York just convicted of sexually abusing a boy who is his own son’s classmate. If only Protestant ministers, schoolteachers, congressmen and rabbis were allowed to marry…

  • Austin

    Public school teachers, who of course, are not usually celibate have a higher rate of abusing minors than priests. a large number of these teachers are women, some of them marrried women.
    This fact tends to torpedo the notion that celibacy “causes” abuse. Of course, there is the problem of the priesthood attracting men who are not normal, who have sexual issues. While this number is a minority, far from a majority, it still exists and must be dealt with.

    I think what happened here is twofold:

    1. Poor screening at seminaries, allowing men of questionable sexuality to be ordained.
    2. Bishops who dropped the ball very badly dealing with abusers.

    These issues can be corrected, if dealt with in an honest and effective manner. I think that Benedict gets it. He did dicipline Maciel, which JP II refused to do. Perhaps we are actually making progress in spite of the headlines?

  • georgie-ann

    for those who have always lived during a time with radios, telephones, and televisions available, it is hard to imagine what life was like BEFORE these things were invented & ubiquitous,…

    similarly, with the current “openness” about discussing and confronting psychological & sexual matters that has become a hallmark of our times, i would imagine that many of these “modern people” do not understand the silent climate of “taboo” topics and reticence that was so characteristic of days gone by, for better or worse,…

    a lot has changed in my lifetime, 1946-, and as far as i am concerned, we may have succeeded in opening all kinds of “bags of worms”–(domestic violence, sexual abuse & perversions, psychological disturbances),…and the opening up of these topics for admission, discussion, (& hopefully understanding & solutions), is really still in the very beginning stages of exposure, acknowledgment & study,…

    we’ve barely scratched the surface culturally and personally,…”solutions” are elusive and problematic at best,…

    the best that i think we can say is that society is “coming around” to be supportive of the victims, more willing to expose and confront abuse, willing to attach “warning signs” to alarming behaviors and situations,…

    we’re “working on it,” but we’re certainly “not there” yet,…

    innocence lost?,…yes,…but for some it was an “innocence” that covered much disguised pain & suffering,…

    percentages?,…who knows?,…sometimes it seems like the more we look, the more we find,…

    are we dealing with a few “rotten apples that spoiled the bushel?”,…or with a more pervasive tendency of mankind to sink to a lower common denominator if it is made tempting and available?,…

    sad,…perversion is losing its “surprise factor,”…we’re beginning to almost expect it to come creeping out of the woodwork–whether it’s famous athletes, politicians in airports, physicians, parents, kidnappers, the Catholic Church, public schools, date-rape, internet hoaxes, “dirty old men,” you-name-it,…

    can we even begin to say that we think we’re “getting a handle” on this stuff?,…thank goodness for some “treatments” that seem to have been able to help some of those in need,…but far more, i fear, are left with an acknowledged “problem” that is eluding a cure,…

    at least we’re becoming more “forewarned,” and can begin to take the steps necessary to protect ourselves,…we can’t go backwards to recapture an (illusory) more pristine time,…but we can try to face our lives and situations more realistically,…

    these “hidden human problems” are “huge,”…i doubt that man, on his own, can “solve” them,…analyze them maybe,…have insights,…make studies and efforts,…

    the best and truest healings will come from restoration of man’s relationship to God,…not with eyes closed to the faulty “human condition,”…but as vulnerable sinners absolutely in need of their Savior,…

  • Bill Russell

    “Leave a parish without a priest for twenty years, and the people will start worshiping animals.”

    St. Jean Marie Vianney

  • Scott Johnston

    If you recall from the abuse scandals in our own country, a disproportionately large segment of the abusing priests were ordained in the 60’s and 70’s. As you go forward from then, the accusations and confirmed cases of abuse go down significantly.

    As someone who has spent almost four years in seminary, I think I can say from personal experience that a great deal of improvement in terms of screening has already happened. Could things still be better? Sure. But, generally speaking, I am confident that it is much less likely today that a man attracted to celibacy because he has sexuality issues could get into seminary than was the case back in the 60’s and 70’s. The general public is not as aware of this positive change. But to seminarians and priests ordained in the last ten years or so, the positive change is quite evident. All the more so when hearing tales of the way seminaries were from orthodox priests who were in seminary in the 70’s. Their description of seminary then, contrasted with the experience of seminary now, let me tell you, is very different–in a direction much for the better.

    Being more careful to screen for sexuality issues among applicants has been given serious attention by the Church for some time now. And recall that the Vatican conducted a visitation of all American seminaries a few years ago. I personally experienced this. They privately interviewed every seminarian. And their questions included issues about the life of seminarians and any possible sexuality concerns.

    This bodes well for the future of the priesthood. But it doesn’t do anything to correct current (usually older) priests who have had issues since their time in seminary decades ago and before. Please be careful not to assume that the problems of an older generation of priests apply equally to the current generation of seminarians and priests.

  • georgie-ann

    well,…THAT’S Good News!,…& welcome,…(-:

    it’s good to remember that there is MUCH more to the Catholic Church than just the present moment, as we experience it,…

    & “underneath are the everlasting arms,”…

  • Peter Freeman

    Back in the day, when I was a youngster still trying to discern a vocation, probably the biggest turn off to seminary for me was the number of times I ran into seminarians that came off as either highly effeminate or downright homosexual.
    I guess that sounds a bit homophobic.

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