A modest proposal for errant priests

Some rough jokes have been played on priests throughout the ages, based around their celibacy. The philosopher David Hume recorded one in his history of England, played by Geoffrey Plantagenet, the father of Henry II, whose family had a notorious bad temper: "When he was master of Normandy, the chapter of Seez presumed, without his consent, to proceed to the election of a bishop: upon which he ordered all of them, with the bishop elect, to be castrated, and made all their testicles be brought him in a platter."

Hume's friend, the historian and not wholly willing celibate Edward Gibbon, commented that the priests involved "might justly complain ... of the pain and danger; yet, since they had vowed chastity he deprived them of a superfluous treasure."

This is so funny and so unfair because we know that the Roman Catholic church would never dream of castrating its priests, though St Origen is supposed to have done it to himself, and Abelard had it done at the instigation of his wife's uncle, Canon Fulbert. Both men became theologians of the utmost distinction. One hesitates to draw the obvious moral.

Short of castrating all priests on the night before their ordination, the Church is always going to have a problem with a system in which all its priests are expected to wrestle with and subdue one of their most fundamental urges. These problems are more subtle than they may seem. Some people are both highly religious and highly sexed. There is no necessary correlation between a call to the priesthood and a call to celibacy.

Officially, the Catholic church admits this and allows married priests in the UK, in the United States, and in countries where it overlaps with the Orthodox married clergy, among the so-called Uniate churches. But this admission is partial and half-hearted. The married priests in Western Europe were all born Anglicans. It is assumed that if you are born a Catholic and have a vocation to the priesthood, this will coincide with a vocation to celibacy. All the evidence suggests that this is not true. The result is a dangerous condition of double-mindedness, and institutional hypocrisy. This may be compounded by other aspects of official teaching on sexuality, such as the ban on artificial contraception and on the remarriage of divorcees.

Dr Richard Sipe, an American former monk who became a psychotherapist after his marriage and has studied celibacy for the past 25 years, says: "Priests and bishops don't believe what they teach sexually." Catholics are very sensitive to accusations of hypocrisy on these matters; but there really does seem to be a huge and institutionalised gap between the official teaching of the Church and the private beliefs of those who teach it. This must have a corrosive effect.

One of the ways in which this effect is seen is, perversely, in the forgiveness of sinners. The serial celibate is forgiven again and again. Even Roderick Wright was offered a parish until he had social intercourse with the News of the World. He is not a unique case. Dr Sipe, the last time he was in England, said he knew of one priest who had had affairs with seven women over 15 years. Two he encouraged to have abortions; one he finally married, which brought his career as a priest to an end. He made an honest woman of her, as the saying goes, and perhaps an honest man of himself. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the main distortion of celibacy is that it produces a system where betraying a woman is a forgivable weakness, and betraying an institution an unforgivable crime.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments