Thursday, November 24, 2005

Hiding Behind Homophobia

For a thousand years it was neither illegal nor uncommon for Catholic priests to be married. What brought celibacy to the fore was the concern that as the church became more wealthy, the offspring of clergy would demand inheritance rights. Celibacy had nothing to do with a higher state of spiritual purity, and everything to do with a higher state of financial power.

I am not criticizing the church for this change in policy— organized religion has always been more about power than piety— I am simply noting this by way of introduction to the latest Vatican document dealing with priestly sexuality. This document, leaked to the press and due to be officially released on December 6th, states that homosexual men will no longer be accepted to the priesthood unless they can prove they have been celibate for at least three years (how does one prove that?), and will promise to teach the official Church doctrine that homosexual sex is always wrong.

The document, which has been in the works for over thirty years, does not ban homosexual priests from the priesthood, and there is no overt attempt to seek out gay priests and seminarians and remove them from the priesthood. In fact the document will probably have little or no effect on the priesthood at all, except to remind gay priests that they might want to check out Episcopalianism when they get a chance.

What interests me here is the timing of the document. The church has been working on this since 1974. I don’t understand why it took them so long. It isn’t as if they church actually debated whether or not homosexuality was a sin. God ruled on this thousands of years ago, and while it is true that liberal Jews have overruled the Almost Almighty in this case, it only took them a couple of years to do so.

I suspect that the release of this document is meant to show the faithful and the world that the Church is finally taking action against priestly pedophilia. It has taken them a lot longer than 30 years to get around to this, and now that they have someone ought to tell them that they are going after the wrong guys.

While anti-gay web sites cite bogus data to link homosexuality with pedophilia, scientifically credible empirical research does not show that gay or bisexual men are any more likely than heterosexual men to molest children. I am not claiming that homosexual and bisexual men never molest children, only that they are no more likely to do so than heterosexual men. Weeding out gay priests will have no real impact on priestly pedophilia.

It is not the fault of the Catholic Church that some— a tiny minority— of its clergy molest children. The Church’s sin was in hiding their pedophiles, protecting them, in effect enabling them, and allowing them to continue to spread their evil from parish to parish. The sin is as much on the heads of the bishops who protected the pedophiles and endangered the public as it is on the pedophiles themselves.

Just as the Church’s rule of celibacy was a smokescreen to protect the power of its ruling elite, so the Church’s latest effort to weed out gays from the priesthood in order to cleanse itself of pedophiles is a smokescreen to protect the ruling elite from the charge that they protect priests who molest children. If the Church were serious about pedophilia it would stop wasting time on gays and work more closely with the psychiatric, psychological, and legal communities to create better ways to identify, arrest, and prosecute pedophile seminarians and priests.

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