Term Paper: Celibacy and Sexual Deviance

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[. . .] In addition, Jenkins says that there is no evidence that Catholic priests have a higher rate of sexual deviance than schoolteachers, residential counselors, social workers, or scout masters. His findings are as follows:

Just to find some solid numbers, how many Catholic clergy are involved in misconduct? We actually have some good information on this issue, since in the early 1990s the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago undertook a bold and thorough self-study. The survey examined every priest who had served in the archdiocese over the previous 40 years, some 2,200 individuals, and responded to every internal complaint ever made against these men. The standard of evidence applied was not legal proof that would stand up in a court of law, but just consensus that a particular charge was probably justified. By this low standard, the survey found that about 40 priests, about 1.8 per cent of the whole, were probably guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers. Put another way, no evidence existed against 98 per cent of parish clergy, the overwhelming majority of the group. Since other organizations dealing with children have not undertaken such comprehensive studies, we have no idea whether the Catholic figure is better or worse than the rate for schoolteachers, residential counselors, social workers, or scout masters." (Jenkins)

Argument for the Connection

Many psychologists and religious scholars say that some evidence points to the fact that the serious and widespread problem of sexual deviance within the priesthood is caused, at least in some part, by the Church's clerical celibacy requirement. (Berry) These specialists have urged Catholic leaders to reexamine and modify their teachings about sex.

In "The Naked Ape" by Desmond Morris, homosexual behavior is reported as "seen in situations where the ideal sexual object (a member of the opposite sex) is unavailable." Morris argues that if males or females are forbidden sexual access to their opposite members, they will find sexual outlets in other ways.

Psychologists link these findings to Catholic priests and celibacy, saying that priests are required to remain celibate and taught to abhor sexual relationships with women. (Berry) Therefore, many might be more inclined to seek other outlets for their sexuality, including sexual deviances, like homosexuality or pedophilia.

Dr. Jay Feierman, a psychiatrist who has treated hundreds of pedophilic priests at a Catholic treatment center for abusive priests, believes that celibacy is an unnatural state and could result in deviant behavior. "If you tell a man that he's not allowed to have particular friends, he's not allowed to be affectionate, he's not allowed to be in love, he's not allowed to be a sexual being, you shouldn't be surprised at anything that happens."

In view of evidence like this, it seems logical to conclude that, if priests were permitted a normal outlet for their sexuality; they would be less inclined to seek an outlet through deviant behavior.

SIGNIFICANCE recent estimate reveals that there are currently approximately one thousand legal actions against priests alleged to have sexually abused young children. However, heads of religious orders are overlooking the issue as much as they can.

The Pope has stated that these incidents are heinous crimes against humanity and serious sins, but has not done anything about them. (Jenkins) Many Catholics assumed that religious leaders would immediately dismiss the culprits from priesthood, but instead, nothing happened. In fact, there have been several cases brought up recently that suggest that religious leaders have intentionally covered up evidence of sexual deviance in an attempt to protect the Catholic Church.

Because of the current structure of the Catholic Church, in which all authority emanates from the Vatican, only the pope is authorized to defrock a member from the priesthood. The pope's current view involving the church's priests is similar to that of a marriage vow, which means they take each other for better or worse.

However, as a result of the increase in sexual misconduct charges against its priests, the pope has appointed a committee to study ways within the church's canon that might allow for priests who are found guilty of child molestation to be dismissed. Still, little has been done to punish or reprimand the guilty clergy, other than medical treatment.

Priests who have been accused of sexual deviance are often sent to treatment centers, in which medical professional aim to make the priest acknowledge that he does have a sexual problem; accept responsibility for his sexual behavior; and understands the sequence of thoughts, feelings, events, circumstances or triggers that make up the pattern that precedes his sexually offensive behaviors.

The treatment of clergy sexual offenders is long and costly. In today's economic climate, there is increasing pressure within the Church to justify such high levels of expenditure, out of a limited church treasury, when treatment will seldom enable priests to return to ministry.


The Catholic Church has been recently hit with more allegations of clergy sexual abuse than any other faith or denomination, but clergy sexual abuse has afflicted virtually every religious denomination. In recent years priests, rabbis, ministers, and gurus have all been charged with molesting children.

Many church critics immediately seize upon the most obvious difference between Catholic priests and other clergy: Priests are supposed to be celibate. Critics argue that the requirement for celibacy draws sexual deviants into the priesthood, and gives priests no acceptable alternatives for their sexual desires.

The significance of this paper is that it will show that there is no substantial evidence so far that Catholic priests or any other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination or even non-clergy.


The facilities available for this research project include computer labs, libraries, and bookstores.


Berry, Jason. Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. Doubleday, 1992.

Burkett, Elinor, and Frank Bruni. A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church. Viking, 1993.

Hudson, Dean. Ten Myths About Priestly Pedophilia. Crisis, July, 2001.

Isely, P. Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: A Historical and Contemporary Review. Pastoral Psychology, 1997.

Yallop, R. A secret struggle of the Catholic church. The Age, 1994.

Bockle and Pohier, eds. "Sexuality in Contemporary Catholicism," Seabury Press, 1976

Coldrey, B.M. The Sexual Abuse of Children as a Public Issue. Studies,1996.

Wilkinson, E.K. People, Priests and Pedophilia, International… [END OF PREVIEW]

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