February 27, 2013
Optional Celibacy: Issue for Next Pope
By Mike McManus
“Celibacy is not working and has not worked. Its track record
is very, very poor,” says A.W. Richard Sipe, author of five
books on celibacy.
“Everyone knows that the sexual abuse crisis is the symptom of
mandatory celibacy not working. If there were optional celibacy,
it would eliminate many problems,” he added. Sipe was a monk for
18 years and a priest for 11 of them. He left the priesthood,
married and became a therapist who helped care for hundreds of
In 1993 the BBC asked Cardinal Jose Sanchez, who led the
Congregation of the Clergy, about Sipe’s studies estimating that
no more than 45%-50% of priests are practicing celibacy. “I have
no reason to doubt the accuracy of those figures,” the Cardinal
This week Pope Benedict XVI asked Cardinal Keith O’Brien of
Scotland to resign immediately after being accused of
“inappropriate” and “intimate” acts toward three priests and one
former priest. Britain’s “The Observer” newspaper quoted one man
who said he was a 20-year-old seminarian when first approached
“You have to understand the relationship between a bishop and a
priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to
him. He’s more than your boss, more than the CEO of your
company. He has immense power over you. He controls every aspect
of your life.”
O’Brien planned to retire March 17 when he reached age 75.
Benedict accepted his resignation on February 18, so he won’t be
among those voting for a new Pope.
Last Friday O’Brien told the BBC, “There was a time when priests
got married, and of course we know at the present time in some
branches of the church – priests can get married, so that is
obviously not of divine origin. I would be very happy if others
had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or
should get married.”
In fact, the Indonesian Bishops Conference, the Brazilian
Bishops Conference and the Canadian Bishops Conference have
called for the consideration of optional celibacy. In 2010 three
bishops in Belgium and the head of the German church, Archbishop
Robert Zollitsch, said that married men should not be excluded
from the priesthood.
In the last week, two American cardinals gave formal depositions
on their management of priests accused of abusing minors.
Last month retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony was
stripped of his remaining duties over allegations that he
shielded pedophile priests in the 1980s. He was deposed last
Saturday, questioned by lawyers representing the Survivors
Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). The Los Angeles
Archdiocese paid $660 million to 508 victims by 221 priests.
Similarly, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is president
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was deposed by
lawyers for some of the victims of sexual abuse by priests in
Milwaukee when Dolan was Archbishop from 2002-2009. During that
period, the archdiocese moved $55 million into a fund for
cemetery maintenance and $74 million to a fund for individual
parishes. The archdiocese later declared bankruptcy when faced
with lawsuits by hundreds of victims of sexual abuse.
Dolan “made a conscious decision to secretly and in a quite
sinister way to move funds into parishes and transfer funds into
other corporations to avoid having to pay the survivors,”
charged Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for some of the abuse victims.
In a month, 40,000 documents revealing Milwaukee clergy abuse
will be released by court order.
Nevertheless, both Dolan and Mahony will be among the cardinals
electing a new Pope.
SNAP argues that Mahony should not be allowed to vote for the
new Pope. In fact, SNAP held a press conference Tuesday in Rome
asking Benedict to “discipline at least a handful of current
prelates who are concealing or who have concealed child sex
abuse and insist that every bishop post names of the credibly
accused predator priests on his website.”
Two Italian newspapers published reports that the Pope’s health
is not the reason he is stepping down, but because some senior
Vatican priests are being blackmailed by male prostitutes. The
Vatican denounced the reports as “unverified, unverifiable or
There have been more than 3,000 civil lawsuits filed against the
church over child sexual abuse in the U.S. and $3.2 billion was
paid to victims. The revelations led the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops to issue a “zero tolerance” policy, and the
number of reported incidences has dropped substantially.
However, more cases are surfacing around the world.
Will this lead to the election of a Pope willing to make
celibacy optional? More than 70% of American Catholics support a
That would certainly end the priest shortage and restore moral
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