FEBRUARY 21, 2019
The Times, the Abuse Crisis, and the War Against Celibacy
The New York Times has spent this past week in a less than subtle attack on clerical celibacy, insinuating it as the cause of the current crisis in the Church. On the eve of the Vatican summit on The Protection of Minors in the Church, the Times, in a panic that homosexuality will be blamed as the cause of the crisis, has decided to go on the offensive to discredit celibacy instead.
The Times has long been America’s doyen of the Sexual Revolution, using its pages to push the bounds of accepted sexual practice for decades—recently added to the mainstays of abortion on demand and homosexuality have been attempts to normalize transgender living and open marriages. The teachings of the Catholic Church and willful celibacy remain the final two bulwarks against this Revolution that asserts that sex—in any way, with anyone—is the ultimate expression of individual desire and personal fulfillment.
A chief lie of the Sexual Revolution is that human beings must act on their sexual urges, in whatever way they are manifested. Those who do not, the Revolution asserts, are acting against nature by “repressing” these urges, and such repression is likely to explode in an ugly manner at one point or another.
As essential as it is for the Church to teach the truth about human fulfillment and sexual morality, willful celibacy, especially clerical and religious celibacy, speaks even more powerfully by providing real-life witness against the lies of the Sexual Revolution. Through celibacy faithfully lived, our priests and religious show an incredulous world that the service of God and of other people is a great spiritual good that is worth the sacrifice of sex and other temporal goods.
Enter the Times narrative for the week of February 17. The Times is well aware that, since the scandal with ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick broke in the summer, faithful Catholics have vociferously demanded that the pope and Church leaders do something about the widespread reports of homosexual activity among some priests, a factor that they correlate to the sexual abuse of minors, 80 percent of whom were male and post-pubescent. So, with the Protection of Minors summit upon us and with conservatives looking for real action on the homosexual issue, the Times sprang into action.
First, on February 17, there was an opinion piece questioning the motives of the book, timed to be released as the Vatican summit opens, In the Closet of the Vatican, by French homosexual activist Frederic Martel. Ironically, whereas Martel told the Timeshe hopes the book will help people perceive homosexual priests as normal, the Timesfears the book will generate perceptions of homosexuals as “creatures of stealth and agents of deception.” Dissension in the ranks among progressives is a clear sign of tension over this issue.
Second, on February 18, on the front page, the Times published “‘It is not a closet. It is a cage.’ Gay Catholic Priests Speak Out” in an attempt to elicit sympathy for homosexual priests, who were depicted as suffocating victims of an intolerant Church. The Timeseven distanced itself from its former champion Pope Francis, whom they celebrated vigorously after his famous “Who am I to judge?” remark in 2013, because he “has grown more critical in recent months” of homosexuality in general and the prospects for homosexuals in the priesthood. With the recent sex abuse crisis, the Times lamented that “widespread scapegoating has driven many priests deeper into the closet.”
In defending these priests, the Times asserted that “study after study shows that homosexuality is not a predictor of child molestation,” and pointed to the John Jay Report on abuse in 2004 as their proof, as did Cardinal Blaise Cupich, a key summit organizer, at the pre-summit press conference on February 19. Neither cares to mention the November 2018 study by the Ruth Institute, led by sociologist Father Paul Sullins, that, using the same data as the Jay Report, asserts “a strong correlation between the percentage of self-described homosexuals in the Catholic priesthood and the incidence of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy.” This study would not fit into the narrative they are trying to weave.
Third, on February 19, noted on the front page but found within the international section, the Times published “The Vatican’s Secret Rules for Catholic Priests Who Have Children” with a clearly stated intention: stories of priests fathering children “draw uncomfortable attention to the violation of celibacy by priests and, for some former clerics and liberals inside the church, raise the issue of whether it is time to make the requirement optional.” Whereas homosexual priests were depicted as victims, these heterosexual priests were shown as unfaithful villains. But both types have the same problem in the Times’s mind: celibacy is making the lives of priests—and those with whom they come in contact—miserable.
Contrast these three articles, perfectly timed and correlated, with a shorter article on February 19, located deeper in the paper and without a front page tip: “Southern Baptists Announce Plans to Address Sexual Abuse.” The article states that “nearly 400 Southern Baptist leaders have been accused of sexual misconduct or crimes against more than 700 victims since 1998.” The internet version of this article links to the Houston Chronicle piece that broke the story, one that horrifically echoes news pieces detailing sexual abuse and cover up within the Catholic Church. Yet the Times’s account makes no mention of a single gory detail, nor does it opine over the causes of this abuse. Celibacy clearly could not be one: the first act of abuse mentioned by the Chronicle was perpetrated by a married pastor.
As if all this was not enough, the Times piled it on with a fourth article, another opinion piece, on February 20, whose title makes it clear just how defensive its staff has become: “The Catholic Church Is Breaking People’s Hearts.” The subtitle is equally frenzied: “[The Church] fires gay workers, vilifies gay priests and alienates parishioners who can’t make any sense of this.”
“The best defense is a good offense,” goes the old adage. The Times has clearly taken that to heart in its reporting this week. In seeking to defend the Sexual Revolution’s dogma that homosexuality is good, normal, and should be accepted by society, it has deliberately insinuated that celibacy is the cause of priests’ mental anxieties and deviant behavior. But, as the Southern Baptist example illustrates, the Times is pushing an agenda rather than seeking the real causes of sexual abuse by clergy.
Celibacy itself is not the cause of sexual abuse or other sexual failures of clergy—the abuse of celibacy does not negate its use. These moral failures all stem from a lack of holiness, which makes one more susceptible to temptation, and a failure to properly integrate men’s sexuality within their lives. Instead, some priests, and especially the serial abusers, became driven by their sexuality, a tragic situation enabled by seminaries that formed men in accordance with the bankrupt dogmas of the Sexual Revolution rather than those of Jesus Christ.
Hence, contrary to Frederic Martel’s claim that the more loudly a cleric denounces homosexuality, the more likely he is to be homosexual himself, we have evidence that where prelates themselves were engaging in such practices—witness ex-Cardinal McCarrick, the late Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, and Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee—their dioceses were not exactly known for being touchstones of holiness and fidelity to the teachings of the Church.
But the Times does not want to pursue these leads or causes, because it knows what it will find. As Father Sullins said in response to criticisms of his study on the causes of abuse, “[T]o people who hate the truth, the truth looks like hate.”
David G. Bonagura, Jr. teaches classical languages at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism (Cluny Media).