Child sex abuse within Roman Catholic Church linked to clerical celibacy

Australian report indicates that 'obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances'

Rose Troup Buchanan
Saturday 13 December 2014 12:09
Activists protesting sexual abuse in the Catholic church hold up placards outside St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney
Activists protesting sexual abuse in the Catholic church hold up placards outside St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney

Clerical celibacy may have contributed to endemic levels of child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, a new internal investigation has claimed.

Australia’s Truth Justice and Healing Council’s 40-page activity report, believed to be the first time a link has been drawn between celibacy and paedophilia, has prompted Church authorities to insist there are no considerations to remove present requirements of priestly chastity.

Francis Sullivan, the Council’s chief Executive, claimed: “There would be a long way to go before that conversation would be had and it would be beyond our brief anyway”.

The Council, established in January 2013 in response to a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, has a mandate to both represent and reform the Australian Catholic church – but does not necessarily represent the views of the entire clergy.

Indeed, a Vatican spokesperson was quick to dismiss the evidence presented.

“We certainly don’t take the issue lightly, but are these claims [by the Healing Council] based on a serious, long-term psychological study?” a senior Vatican source told the Daily Telegraph.

Instead the spokesperson suggested that abuse was far more likely to take place “within the family, and family members are by their nature not celibate — they could be fathers or uncles”.

The contentious single line comes halfway through the report, stating: “obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances.”

Queensland University of technology researcher Jodi Death, who has carried out extensive research into child abuse within the Catholic Church, told The Guardian that evidence suggested a higher incidence of abuse in the Catholic compared to other denominations that allow clergy to marry.

“The problem of celibacy in the Catholic church is it puts priests in an elite category,” she said. “They are set apart because of the celibacy that’s required of them and this gives them the authority to exercise power.”

Australia has faced its own share of the worldwide child abuse scandals gripping the Catholic Church, which is the country's largest single denomination, representing about a quarter of the population.

Victim advocacy organisation Broken Rites alleges that more than 100 Catholic priests have been charged for sexual offences against minors, while other organisations state the figures are nearer the thousand mark.

The wide-reaching scandal prompted the Australian government in 2012 to form a Royal Commission – in partnership with the church – to investigated child abuse within the church across Australia.

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