Thursday, 22 April 2010

Celibacy is not the problem: the core of Catholic ideology on the family is

Following the avalanche of revelations regarding sexual child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, the suggestion has been recurring recently that the root of the problem is to be found in the – by all means silly, dated and inhuman – prescription of celibacy for priests and members of congregations. See, e.g., this, this, this and this. I believe that this idea is a side-track of a serious kind – averting attention from what is really the source of what we have seen revealed during the last few years. The Roman catholic child abuse scandal is, I conjecture, the effects of certain key elements in the core of the Roman Catholic ideology with regard to human reproduction and the family.

First, to my knowledge, there is no credible evidence whatsoever that sexual child abuse is more common within the Roman Catholic social context than in other comparably large social or institutional settings. In particular, there is no such evidence with regard to settings where celibacy is not proscribed practice. But this is hardly the issue! What is the issue is what has been pressed by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, among others recently: the fact that the institution of the Roman Catholic Church has (presumably for many centuries) embodied a conscious and organised cover-up of the cases of sexual child abuse occurring within the confines of this church, especially when perpetrated by priests. This may look as an analysis close to satire such as this one, but hang on a minute and you'll see it's more to it than that!

What is the issue is not that some Catholics, or even some professional Catholic representatives, are child abusers. Child abusers are to be found all around the human block! What is the issue is the way in which the Roman Catholic Church, condoned by their highest leaders, has systematically shielded the abusers to the detriment of the victims, and set the preservation of the institution before the interests of real human being. I've blogged before of what becomes of the Christian message of love when unchecked by secular rationality – this is another example. However, in this case, there is a sinister connection to some of the core ingredients of ideology on which the Roman Catholic Church builds its power over people, nations and ideas.

A recurring theme in Catholic teaching is the sanctity and impenetrable integrity of "the family" – a teaching that has been inherited from Judaism and preserved also in other versions of Christianity, as well as taken over within the Islamic faith. As a matter of fact, this dogma, as observed by feminist philosophers like Alison Jaggar and Susan Moller Okin, has been transported into sizable portions of secular liberal democratic societies, perhaps best evidenced on the theoretical side by the uncritical way in which John Rawls awarded  "the family" an unmotivated shielded position as an autonomous "sub-society" in his otherwise outstanding political thinking (said by a moral philosophical opponent, mind you).

A recurring theme in Catholic preaching is the notion of the dignified family, i.e. the heterosexual (properly) married couple who have sex only to glorify the master plan of the creator to have humans fill up the earth and who, accordingly, have hordes of children. This ideal reflects several central themes in catholic moral dogma: the sinfulness of all sorts of sex that lack procreative potential (hence, the alleged sinfulness of contraceptives, masturbation, oral sex, petting, homosexual sex....), the sinfulness of even potentially procreative sex outside the context of (Catholic) marriage, the sinfulness of procreation (even for a married couple) that is not the result of sex (hence the critical view on assisted reproductive technologies), the impossibility of dissolving marriage no matter what failures with regard to caring duties married partners engage in, etcetera. In this teaching, human beings are mere instruments for the institution allegedly installed merely for the sake of being obedient to a supposed supreme authority – what Catholic ethicists and propagandists usually refer to as human dignity. This is why, for the Roman Catholic Church, the family is not for society to meddle in, it is the business of the church. This is what explains what for non-Catholics like myself has always come out as the most superbly bizarre preoccupation with sex you might find among anti-sex extremists. Well, you know all about this, I reckon, so what's the connection to the child abuse you might ask?

Well, here you are. We already know that, regarding ordinary families, the official Roman Catholic attitude to sexual child abuse is to have the preservation of the family as the highest priority, not the well-being of the victim. Confession and atonement for the torturer is the prescribed medicine, not the rescue of victims of torture. This is not changed by the opaque rhetoric about children's best interest always being about not being separated from their family - this empty and cynical gesture is hardly believed by anyone nowadays besides the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (if you have some time, please study the teachings of this virtual central committee of the Roman Catholic Church) and a few fanatical followers. Now: the institutional attitude towards sexual child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church itself perfectly reflects this very attitude at a grander level. For, in Catholic ideology, the Church is more or less a perfect analogue of a family - it is God's family. Thus, the family has to be preserved whatever the cost to its members. Thus, the institution goes before the well-being of people. Thus, shielding the abusers even at the cost of facilitating further abuse is perfectly in line with core Roman Catholic teaching, and so is lying your head off in the face of allegations you know to be perfectly true. So much for human dignity.


  1. Now I want you to listen to this little f*cker...


    When I see your UGLY FACE I understand why you are an atheist

    the really SHARP END OF OCCAM’S RAZOR…

    they mix SKEPTICISM with ATHEISM…


    with the atheists:

    they start begging when they start dying…


    with their LIVES…


    but you have NO ANSWER TO DEATH... therefore you

    the Death of Ath*ism










    you little liars do nothing but antagonize…

    and you try to eliminate all the dreams and hopes of humanity…

    but you LOST…


    Crystal Night, Atheists!


    Have I said this before?

    PULLING THE PLUG on atheism




    Einstein puts the final nail in the coffin of atheism…



    atheists deny their own life element…










    Shermer - Randi - Myers - Harris - Dawkins VS. NOSTRADAMUS - EINSTEIN - MARKUZE

    you are ANNIHILATED!!!


    Repent and turn to God.

  2. Well, I guess I can't get a better proof of being right than that, I guess. Thank you, DM.

    PS. I'm not an atheist, but neither am I a theist - whatever that has to do with the morality of facilitating child molestation.....

  3. The Catholic Church believes that tradition is sacred. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has carried a tradition of secrecy and hypocrisy for a long time. I would compare them to the Pharisees of the New Testament. They will not admit to wrongdoing until they are proven wrong because they obviously don't want people to believe that they are a flawed religion. As someone with a devout Catholic father, I see how, like you mentioned, the Church really can be, or claims to be, everything. I took religious education for ten straight years, and just about every year we were taught that "Catholic" means "universal," and that the Church is everything - that "we are many parts, we are all one body." I've met some Catholic priests that seemed like honest, insightful people, but most of them merely gave sermons with many words and little meaning, and seem to think of themselves like kings or nobles. I was recently told by a priest that it is not ok for a Eucharistic minister to bless people using the father, son, holy spirit hand gesture because that gesture is specifically reserved for priests.

    The Catholic Church should modernize if it expects to retain its younger members. In religious education, I was taught that birth control, homosexuality, and premarital sex are "unnatural" and therefore hated by God. I was also told that other, non-Judeo-Christian religions, such as atheism, were problems that caused other problems such as communism. Today, the majority of younger people, at least in my area, have taken on views in which "alternative" sexualities are embraced, birth control is recommended, and other religions are commonly accepted, rather than being looked on as cults of heathens or infidels.

    I am an American high school student, and I am a confirmed Catholic. I lie to my parents and Church members almost every day - I claim to be Catholic. I even participate in the Mass - I read petitions, and I have been trained as a Eucharistic minister. I am a hypocrite. I am also an atheist (with the agnostic belief that, while I personally disbelieve in all deities, there is no way of knowing, at least at present) - I can't handle the idea of my father thinking that I am going to hell. He's a smart man, but why he goes for the Catholic crap, I don't know. He was a "cradle Catholic," though - to keep members, Catholics must indoctrinate/brainwash children from a very young age. But these days, some of the cradle Catholics are beginning to think for themselves, and active membership is dwindling, at least in my area. If they want any major support from Generation Y, they had best modernize, and quickly. Many are calling for the resignation of Pope Benedict, but it's not just him. The Church has a lot of problems, and instead of concealing them, they should try to fix them.

  4. You build your entire case here on the supposedly special tendency by the Catholic Church to cover up crimes of this kind. I think if you check facts more closely you will see that this tendency has been almost universal. It exists in schools, other institutions that handle children and in society at large. The tendency to cover up and protect the prestige of people in power like teachers, priests, parents and so on at the cost of young and powerless victims is a geat scandal of course, but it is not a consequence of anything that is special to the Catholic Church. If you look at the specifics, cover up has by no means been universal in the Church and when it has occurred it has occurred for different reasons. For example at the time when most offences were perpetrated, the 60ies and 70ies there was an exaggarated faith in the power of therapy in solving problems like this. It is also interesting to note that at the same time there was a movement within society at large to decriminalize pedophilia. (See for example the German Green party and Danny Cohn-Bendit).

  5. In fact, I agree with you that the sort of culture where an institution hides away grave wrongdoings to avoid scandal even at the expense of former and forthcoming victims of the same wrongdoing can be found elsewhere as well. For instance, in families due to exactly the sort of teaching with regard to the integrity of the family that I described. And there are those pro-pedophilia movements for sure. But I fail to see how this in any way makes the actions of the highest leaders any better.

  6. No it doesn´t of course. Those actions are despicable, especially when perpetrated by people that tend to be highly trusted like teachers, priests and so on.

    What I don´t understand is how this motivates your all out assault on the Catholic view of the family. I think that doctrien only states what should be evident from observation. All around me where I live there are lots of families where children are nurtured and loved, and where they can mature in safety and trust. Yeah, sure, there are dysfunctional ones also but that does not in itself mean that there is anything wrong with the institution as such.

    To have children implies a grave responsibility to build and maintain an safe and nurturing environment for those childrens where they can mature. The family as a pattern is a realistic way to fulfill this obligation that has endured the test of time. The different families in our society mostly fulfill a very valuable social task which is very seldom acknowledged, at least not in Sweden. The Catholic church simply emphasizes this salient fact. I don´t understand what is wrong with that.

    When it comes to the much despised catholic sexual morality. For me it is simply a species of controlling your animal drives by reason. The church does not teach this only with respect to sexuality, but also with respect to other drives and addiction that can harm the rational and harmonious life like gluttony, and addiction to money, gambling, drugs, anger, hatred, envy, sloth etc.

    The fact that the sexual morality of the Church is so often highlighted today does not say as much about the Church as it says about current culture. We are very keen on controlling our appetite for food and our tendency for laziness by reason in order not to get bodily unhealthy, but at the same time we think it is inadmissible to try to controll the sexual drive in the interest of the health of relationships and our minds. It is evident to me that the uncontrolled use of the sexual drive can wreak more havoc than almost any other drive except maybe for anger.

    Btw. these things seem to vary if you look at history. In some periods gluttony is the prevalent vice for example, at other times unbridled agression, at other times it is laziness.

  7. You confuse the Catholic view of the moral status and significance of children, with the view of the family. In fact, what the blog piece suggests is that these two are practically inconsistent.

  8. I don't know where you got you catholic-bashing views from. I certainly don't recognize this from what I know of catholic teaching, but this kind of stuff is fairly standard in extreme protestant propaganda and you can find it on many websites dedicated to hating the catholic church.

    Your description of catholic teaching is seriously biased I think. Just to take one example. You say the following:
    "the notion of the dignified family, i.e.the heterosexual (properly) married couple who have sex only to glorify the master plan of the creator to have humans fill up the earth and who, accordingly, have hordes of children."

    Does this represent catholic teaching on this issue? Not at all.

    The church teaching on sexual love within matrimony is that it is an expression of the love that exists within God himself. Sexual love is thus a participation in the extacy of love that is at the base of creation. It also serves to strengthen the bond of love between the persons and it is also creative in that it gives rise to new individuals. Also in this way it is reminiscent of God himself. So in the sacrament of matrimony the couple can participate in a deep sense in the nature of God himself.

    For a reference check out for example the encyclical Humanae Vitae. This is the standard modern reference on church teaching on this issue. There the emphasis is not particularly on procreation when it comes to describe the point of marriage. I section 9 which describes married love, fecundity is only talked about in the last paragraph (of five).

    Furthermore the church is not against family planning per se. On the contrary it is a duty to observe "responsible partenthood" in this regard, that is to space birhts with means, harmony of family etc in mind.

    The kinds of descriptions of catholic doctrine exemplified by your post is what you get if you approach catholic doctrine with preformed mistrust: "Nothing the church says can be taken on face value. Evertything is a smokescreen hiding nefarious and malicious intent." It is the classical way of the bigotted anticatholic propagandist, if you excuse me.

  9. Well, Johan, maybe so, but that seems to me to be due to yourself not distinguishing between the idealised theory and its actual practice. Also it is a direct result of the Roman Catholic Church having organised itself as it has, with a clear indisputable leadership which can be held accountable for how they act as leaders. Note that the criticism is directed towards the action of shielding abusers and facilitating their further abusive activities. I would have reacted no different had the Swedish PM behaved similarly. This behavior, as you suggest, is also clearly against normal catholic moral teaching, but is has nevertheless been the institutionalised practice. My suggestion has been that what explains this is the view of the church as a family possessing a sort of inviolable integrity in relation to secular society.

    The fact is that the preferred reaction to abuse within families has been the one that I have described. The fact is that the highest leadership of the church has acted in this way regarding abuse by priests and similar representatives. Had our PM behaved similarly, I would have looked for explanations for that.

  10. Oh, I'm totally at one with you that families, churches, monasteries, and what have you, as well as secular institutions can be oppressive, and serve the interest of those in power at the cost of those with less power. I was only disputing the claim, that I thought you made, that it is the catholic doctrine on marriage and sexuality that explains that this occur in catholic institutions and catholic families. I don't think that view holds to scrutiny. Firstly because it occurs in non catholic institutions as well and secondly because there is no intrinsic connection between catholic morality and child abuse, quite the contrary.

    Jesus made one of his harshest statements of condemnation about those that would "cause one of these little ones to sin." This forms the background for the way the church looks on this offence from a moral point of view. Sexual sin is looked upon as grave matter because it often involves destroying the dignity of other persons.

    Also the prevalence of child abuse in the Church at least according to the John Jay report had a peak concurrent with the sexual revolution at the late 60ies and 70ies. These trends had a profound influence also among the clergy and in the religious orders at the time. In my wiev it was not the strict sexual morality of the church that explains this peak but the temporary abandonment of the same, in certain circles.

    To get the proportion of "catholic offences" for the last 50 years or so I compared the self reported incidence of sexual abuse during childhood among women in the US which seems to be everything between 10% and 25%. Taking the lower figure and assuming the figures are similar in the catholic group, which count ~70 million, of which ~35 million are women, and 3.5 million have been abused if the lower figure is correct. ~2000 women have reported being abused by catholic church staff in the periond 1950-2000. This represents 0.5 pro mille of the total. Just to give some proportions to the issue.

  11. Well, I've never made any claims with regard to the relative number of offenses. My comment regarded the way in which the institution has deliberately and systematically handled them.