Thursday, December 5, 2013

Beware: Non-Celibates Writing about Celibacy


Oh brother. More lazy stereotypes about celibates. Bill Keller’s op-ed today in The New York Times “Sex and the Single Priest” (ha ha) says that pretty much all celibate priests are lonely and that celibacy “surely played some role” in the sexual abuse crisis. By his own admission, Mr. Keller hasn’t been an active member of the church since around high school. But that’s not the problem with his piece: former Catholics have written perceptively about the church. The problem is that Keller’s article is based largely on the opinions of two priests who left the priesthood and a sister who left her order, and his own speculation about what the celibate life must be like. That’s like writing a piece on marriage and speaking only to divorced men and women. “Yeah,” some of them might say, “married life stinks.”
Maybe it would have been helpful to look at some actual data.  Sure, there is some loneliness in the priesthood--and there are problems in married life too. But the picture that Mr. Keller paints is ridiculous. In the latest survey on priests from the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate in 2009, 95 percent report they would “definitely or probably choose priesthood again,” up from 79 percent in 1970. Wow. Must be pretty lonely. And as for celibacy “surely” leading to pedophilia and cover-ups, that overlooks the fact that most sexual abuse happens in families, many cases are found in schools and sometimes even in macho places like the Penn State football program. The reasons for the sexual abuse crisis in the church are complex. As they are in families and in schools. But no one says that (a) marriage, (b) teaching or (c) football leads to abuse. Celibacy must be the main culprit in the church, say pundits, because it's so “weird.”
His comment that celibacy deprives "priests of experience that would make them more competent to counsel the families they minister" also would imply that a married person should of course never see a single psychotherapist or an unmarried psychiatrist, since they would be incapable of counseling a married person; or that a prison chaplain would need to have been incarcerated to be "more competent."  It's a limited notion of professional counseling.
Overall, the article is rife with lazy stereotypes and flat-out guessing. (“The apostles had wives.” Really? Peter did--but all of them? Guess I missed those mentions of Zebedee's daughters-in-law. And, not to put too fine a point on it but Jesus was celibate.)
Ironically, Mr. Keller likes Pope Francis a great deal and speaks of his overall approach to the church approvingly. But he somehow missed the fact that Jorge Mario Bergoglio took a vow of chastity when he made his first vows as a Jesuit in 1960, and made a promise of celibacy at his ordination in 1969. In short, he has been living celibately longer than Mr. Keller has been away from the church. Does the Pope strike anyone as a sad and lonely guy?
All I ask is that the next time that any pundit writes on celibacy it might be a good idea to talk to some celibates.