Monday, October 19, 2009

Bishop Lahey Affair and the Question of Catholic Priesthood and Celibacy -- 7

Some Observations (Contd.)

  • A priest's life is a lonely and totally sacrificing life. To understand a Catholic priest's life, his celibacy and his chastity, imagine yourself as a person who formally promised to remain unmarried and chaste (no sex with yourself or with any other person) for the rest of your life. You have none around you to share your intimate thoughts, none to confide to. You are supposed to have a spiritual director in the person of another priest, but he may not be near you -- he may be in another parish or institution -- in some regions of the world, dozens of kilometers away. As a priest, you are the leader of the spiritual life of your people, numbering few hundreds to several thousands. You are administrator of the church and schools under you. Every week, you hear confession of hundreds of Catholics. At the dead of the night, someone may come to take you to the seriously sick person several kilometers away. You can't say no, you have to go to hear confession or give holy communion to that sick person. Every day you come in contact with scores of people -- male and female. You have to listen to them, you have to counsel them, you have to nurture them spiritually, you have to help them financially, if necessary. Your are for them, but there's none for you particularly. The more people you deal with, the more sexual temptations and urges you might be facing. At night, you may be all alone in the whole church compound. You are to pray, meditate, and make sacrifices to sustain you spiritually. How do you feel about it? It is easy to blame a priest for any transgression, but very difficult to live a life like him.
  • There's none to guard the guards, to inspect the inspectors. The Catholic Church places an inordinate emphasis on sins, because a person's spiritual salvation depends on whether he or she lives a sinful or sinless life. The Church emphasizes that its members avoid masturbation, abortion, fornication, incest, adultery, murder, stealing, and lying and observe the Sunday obligations, fasting and abstinence from meat during the season of Lent and the like. It also suggests that its members go to frequent confessions to keep themselves spiritually clean for receiving Christ in their hearts through holy communion. The priests are the vanguards and they are supposed to look after these affairs of the laity (common Catholics). But, what about the "Sins of the Fathers" --- sins committed by priests and bishops? There is no sufficient check and balance about them as they are the implementers of the Church laws, rules and doctrines. There's none to inspect the inspectors, so to say.
  • Priestly chastity and celibacy, at what cost? Non-Christians, especially Jews and Muslims (who do not have celibacy in their religious practices) wonder aloud as to how Catholic priestly celibacy (unmarried state) and chastity work. They have difficulty in understanding how a man or a woman can live without marriage or sex. I vividly remember one event in my village church compound. Some Catholic teens were sitting on the football field. Another Muslim teen who happened to be there, at one time, pointed towards the convent and said that our foreign parish priest had so many wives (meaning local nuns living in the convent). At that time there were about half-a-dozen nuns living in that convent. I said that the priest is not married and he cannot marry. Then he wondered how a priest could live without marrying. I told him in my own way: "Catholic priests take a special training to lead an unmarried life. So do the nuns!" By his body language I could understand that he was not convinced. The Catholic celibacy evolved in the Catholic Church in imitation of Jesus Christ, who remained unmarried throughout his earthly life. St. Paul, an important apostle of the Catholic Church said that those who can accept and remain unmarried, let them do so, and those who can't, let them marry. The celibate life is a v-e-r-y v-e-r-y difficult life. It's a constant struggle on a daily basis because sexual temptations and urges are part of human nature. The unmarried priest has to take on that challenge because he willingly accepted the celibate life. Through prayer, sacrifices and keeping oneself busy, he has to keep discipline in his personal and sexual life. In youth, priests, like any other males, experience the production of testosterone in high gear and spermatozoa in over-production mode. Many priests let the Mother Nature take its course in this matter. As a result, these priests get relieved from sexual tension through 'wet dreams' or night pollution. Sometimes, this struggle seems to be long-enduring as if there is no end to it. This group of priests do want to remain honest to their priestly promise of celibacy and chastity. In the Catholic Church there are examples of saints who struggled extremely hard in this regard. Some resorted to self-flagellation and others to more painful means to get rid of their temptations and urges. St. Francis of Assissi is said to hurl himself onto thorny bushes -- getting all scratched-up and bloodied! There are other priests, who fall short in this effort. They go for self-sexing (masturbation, onanism, self-abuse, auto-eroticism or whatever name you want to call it). They don't want to wait for the natural fallout. They want to finish the job immediately. They know that they violated the Church's prohibition on masturbation, but go to confession and legitimize their status. Although they act against their promise of chastity, they at least maintain their celibacy. They choose the lesser evil. Finally, there are few who can be called 'daredevils.' They go for other-sexing (sex with another person -- male or female). Child sexual abuse, raping, and consensual sex with an adult male or female fall in this category. Some of them soon realize what grave sins they have been committing against their celibacy and chastity. They go to confession and cleanse their soul and commit such sins no more. They return to the fold. From this group, there are remaining ones, although very few in number, who loose control of themselves and persist in this third act. They suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. They are incorrigibles, they are renegades, you might say. They badly need psychological and other help. What role does pornography play? Any male, whether married or unmarried, is attracted to pornography. A person may use it for self-stimulation only, another may use it both for stimulation and a prelude to sex-act on another. Those who go for child-pornography, they are extremes -- they are sick in the mind.

  • The subject of clergy sex and sex abuse needs to be a part of regular seminary training and orientation. The clergy sexuality and morality with legal repercussions and responsibility should be an integral part of the Catholic major seminary curricula throughout the world. Seminarians need proper orientation and guidance regarding this important matter. This orientation is all the more necessary now because they need to learn how to behave with common Catholics who are more aware of and alert to clergy sex abuses. This orientation is imperative because some of the priests, although not involved in any wrong-doing, are not capable of facing any question raised or comment made by any lay Catholic on clergy sex abuses. Either these priests completely avoid the questions or get very sensitive and upset. They never learned to handle the issues on this subject. This shows their immaturity and uneasiness. Seminary orientation on the subject will give confidence to future priests to face the questions of priestly sex abuse.

  • Unmarried Catholic priests do not hold monopoly of clergy sex abuse, married Protestant ministers and pastors also fall for it. The news media give the impression that the clergy sex abuse is the monopoly of the Catholic Church. It is not so. Protestant clergy and ministers have the same problem although they are married.

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