Prevent Priest Sex Scandals: End Celibacy

The Reverend Hans Küng is a Swiss Catholic priest, although of the renegade sort, who has been expressly forbidden by the Catholic Church to teach its theology. For more than forty years he has been somewhat of an outspoken radical on religious topics, most especially when it comes to the doctrine of papal infallibility, which he has repeatedly written to condemn.

These days, though, the Catholic Church has rather larger problems than the question of whether the Pope is ever able to make a mistake, most especially a raft of priest-pedophile scandals ranging from the USA to Ireland, and now in Germany as well. In an opinion piece appearing now in the authoritative French newspaper Le Monde (translated from German), Küng comes forward with a straightforward solution: To fight the pedophilia, let’s abolish priest celibacy.

Of course, the Roman Catholic establishment will have none of that. In his article, Küng carefully lists – and then controverts – three assertions coming from Rome in reaction to these pedophile scandals: 1) That they are not actually the result of the priestly vow of celibacy; 2) That the scandals represent no sort of truly systemic failure within the Church; and 3) That, in any case, bishops have taken adequate measures in response. America, Ireland (yes, even such a Catholic country of around 18 centuries of Church history as Ireland), now Germany: of course it is a systemic failure! And while, yes, celibacy cannot be the exclusive cause of this behavior on the part of so many priests, it is fairer to say that the twisted and strained Catholic attitude towards human sexuality of which celibacy is but one aspect surely plays a big part. (As for the bishops: their record of rather covering-up than dealing forthrightly with pedophile scandals cropping up under their jurisdictions is clear.)

Küng really goes after the whole concept of enforced celibacy for priests here; he examines both Scripture itself as well as Church history to shoot down the very idea, pointing out that nothing of the sort was actually required of priests until the tenth century, when celibacy was mandated by Pope Gregory VII while influenced by a certain circle of monks (who themselves were celibate, but by their own choice). Plus, even back then, when both the spiritual and temporal power of the Catholic Church had reached its height (and the First Crusade was about to be launched), this new measure still touched off major protests among priests in Italy and in Germany.

I’ve already mentioned the bishops and their “hush up” policies towards the pedophile incidents. But Küng also reminds us that, after a certain point in time, all pedophile cases were referred to the office within the Vatican known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where such centralized handling apparently helped them to be buried all the more effectively. A certain Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was in charge of that particular office starting in 1981 – until he was chosen as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005! It turns out that Küng and Ratzinger have something of a common personal history, as they were colleagues for a time back in the early 1960s when they both worked as advisors to the Second Vatican Council. But this latest article – in such a high-profile publication as Le Monde – is certain not to do much to improve their relations, nor to soften Küng’s official treatment from the Vatican.

UPDATE: Küng’s article has now made its way to the blog of The New York Review of Books in a proper English translation.

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