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Church Officials Defend Celibacy, Reject Link to Sex Abuse
John Thavis
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, March 16, 2010
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VATICAN CITY (CNS)—As the Year for Priests moves into its final phase, a chorus of Vatican officials and experts has defended priestly celibacy and rejected the idea that celibacy has anything to do with sexual abuse by priests.

The latest to take on critics of celibacy was Manfred Lutz, chief of psychiatry at a German hospital and a consultant to the Congregation for Clergy.

Speaking at a theological convention on the priesthood in Rome March 12, Lutz said people who view celibacy as "unnatural" fail to understand the positive value of self-control in human sexuality.

"Science now tells us that there is no correlation between celibacy and pedophilia," Lutz told an audience of about 700 priests at the Pontifical Lateran University.

The assumption that celibacy represents a warning signal for psychosexual imbalance is also wrong, said Lutz, who helped organize a Vatican conference on sex abuse in 2004. On the contrary, he said, it's the wider society that misunderstands sexuality and that promotes an "idolatry of the body" that has left millions of people unhappy.

Lutz said there was no question that celibacy "is certainly not something for weak characters." The commitment to celibacy usually falters in a priest when his spiritual life weakens, or when he becomes too focused on himself. For that reason, it may be a good idea to have priests live in communities when possible, he said.

Lutz said it was not true that married priests would be better able to pastorally guide married couples. For one thing, he said, there is a risk that a married priest will unconsciously and inevitably apply his own personal marriage experiences to the problems faced by others, whereas a celibate priest has a wider viewpoint.

He said those in the church who promote the idea of ordaining married men of proven virtue, or "viri probati," are often the same people who want to erase all distinction between clergy and laypeople.

Lutz, who is married and the father of two children, said the more fundamental reason some people have aggressively attacked the church's rule on priestly celibacy is that celibacy is a concrete—and unwelcome—reminder of the power of faith and the value of self-sacrifice.

Another speaker at the convention, Nigerian Msgr. Fortunatus Nwachukwu, head of protocol at the Vatican's Secretariat of State, said it was important to understand priestly celibacy as more than sexual abstinence or avoidance of certain behaviors.

"When seen only from this dimension, celibacy becomes a sad and even scary way of life comprising only a series of mortifications. This would be unfair since celibacy is essentially a positive lifestyle that puts the priest totally at the service of God and of others," he said.

The Vatican newspaper, in a front-page commentary March 10 by Bishop Giuseppe Versaldi, a retired professor of canon law and psychology, rejected celibacy as a factor in sexual abuse of minors by priests.

"It has been established that there is no cause-effect relationship: above all because it is known that sexual abuse of minors is more widespread among laypeople and married people than among the celibate clergy; and second, research data shows that priests guilty of abuse were already failing to observe celibacy," it said.

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