The case of Cardinal McCarrick has re-opened the problem of pedophile priests.
Let’s get a few things straight. McCarrick is not a pedophile.
Pedophilia is sex with children. The vast majority of cases of sex abuse involving priests are between priests and young men who are past puberty. This is called ephebophilia. Why is this distinction important? Because a late adolescent boy who is past puberty is already distinguished as a man–not a child. Therefore this puts the attraction firmly under the umbrella of homosexuality.
To put it simply, the majority of priests guilty of sex abuse are erotically attracted to young men. They are homosexuals.
(Don’t jump into a category fallacy: because most abusers are homosexuals does not mean all homosexuals are abusers. All Cadillacs are cars, but not all cars are Cadillacs.)
As a married priest one of the most frequent questions I get is, “Don’t you think if priests could get married it would solve the problem of pedophile priests?”
Marriage doesn’t solve pedophilia. Most true pedophiles are married men, and as I’ve just pointed out, most of cases of priestly sex abuse were not pedophilia. The priests were predatory homosexuals. For most men in which the homosexual condition is deeply rooted “just finding a good woman” is not really the answer. Simply allowing priests to marry is not going to solve that problem.
However, it is not quite so easy as that. In fact, the formation of masculine sexuality is often a complicated business, and the genesis of the homosexual condition is complex.
Many men go through a stage in which they are uncertain about their sexual preferences or they lack self esteem or confidence with women. If they are in an all male establishment their attentions and desires are sometimes directed towards other men. It might start with friendship and end up with them experimenting sexually and “playing around.”
If it is a case of immature sexual exploration, the healthy young man will repent, grow out of it, and given a good background and strong formation, will go on to develop properly ordered desires.
However, if the environment in which the young man finds himself is all male, and not only all male, but tolerating and even accepting of homosexuality, then what may have been a passing phase of sexual exploration may become a deeply seated tendency and lifestyle. Within the gay community it is common to tell young men who are confused, “Just accept it. You’re gay. You were born that way. Come out. Be proud.”
If this is the atmosphere in seminary, and you actually have high ranking Catholic priests like Fr James Martin SJ encouraging the gay subculture in the church, then of course, the young man will be fixed in his sexual orientation. If he continues toward ordination he will be encouraged to “be gay but keep it secret.”
This creates an intolerable strain on the man with same sex attraction. New Ways Ministry and Fr Martin say, “Come out. Be proud to be an LGBT Catholic! Oh, but if you’re a priest, keep it secret.” The priest is expected, therefore to live out a lie at the very foundation of his personality and masculinity. No wonder it all becomes an intricate web of cover ups, looking the other way and “don’t ask don’t tell.”
For some time now we have known of the “gay mafia” or the “gay subculture” in the Catholic Church. If a young man enters this world and tends towards homosexuality he will find himself in a welcoming and comfortable place. He is surrounded by other men who keep their homosexuality hidden and who, therefore, share a secret with men of the same disposition. This breeds an atmosphere not only of hypocrisy, duplicity and secrecy, but also one of what might be called “background blackmail”–not explicit blackmail, but a shared secret and need to cover up. They all conspire together to keep the secret lest their own secrets are revealed.
What is the solution for a priest with same sex attraction? This is not the subject of this post, but the folks in the Courage apostolate are working on this complex question.
The question here is, “Would allowing priests to be married solve the problem? I don’t think it would solve the problems of homosexual priests in a simplistic way i.e. “Well, all that young man needs is to find a good woman!”
However, I think more married priests might help in a more general way. I want to be careful here because, as a married man I have never been a campaigner for a married priesthood. I am on the record as supporting the discipline of celibacy, and I don’t think allowing priests to marry would be some kind of magic bullet to solve all our problems.
How might the increase of married priests help? It would help to undermine and destroy the culture of secret homosexuality in the church. The single male clergy club would be balanced by married men with families. Mature married men would help young men in the formation of an integrated sexuality and offer a positive way forward for them. Another benefit in having mature married men in the priesthood is that their (presumably good and faithful marriages) would help set an example of godly family life in the parish and the church generally.
If I were Pope I would recommend the Eastern Orthodox discipline: Married men may be ordained, but priests may not marry. Furthermore, if I understand correctly, the celibate priests in the Eastern Orthodox church are expected to belong to a religious community. They’re monks.
So having more married priests might help in a general way like this, but we mustn’t imagine that allowing priests to marry would solve the problem. A man is not immediately mature and chaste just because he’s married. Neither is he immediately a wonderful priest because he has a wife and family. The experience of the Protestant churches and the case of Fr Reese illustrates the fact that married clergy bring another whole set of very human problems. If you’re interested in reading more about the practicalities either way of married priests, I wrote about it for CRUX here some time ago.
The real problem–whether a man is married or celibate, heterosexual or attracted to the same sex–is ordinary men struggling to grow up into the full manhood of Jesus Christ. The real problem is for men, by the grace of God, to integrate their fallen sexual desires into a love that is everlasting. And we should remember that if men who are attracted to other men wrestle with their dragons, heterosexual men are not exempt. The dragons of porn, promiscuity, adultery and self indulgence are rampant.
I’m reminded of that scene in C.S Lewis’ The Great Divorce in which a young man has a little dragon attached like a parasite to his shoulder. This dragon controls and dominates him. An angel offers to deliver the young man from the dragon (which is an obvious symbol of sexual sin). The young man struggles because, although he knows he is enslaved by the dragon, he also loves the pleasure the dragon gives him. At last he agrees to be delivered, and it is a painful and searing wrench as the dragon is pulled off him. But then the dragon transmogrifies into a radiant, powerful white stallion onto which the young man leaps and gallops off into the light.
When it comes to sex, it is this grace filled, pure and powerful chastity to which we all are called.
Pope St John Paul II said “Chastity is the work of a lifetime” and for all men who are doing that work, we are also called to be merciful –not only with ourselves, but with our brothers, and to know that mercy is not a lily livered self indulgence, but a kind of tough tenderness that understands when a brother stumbles, but also extends a hand and demands that he gets back up again.