A South African cardinal on Monday apologized for offending victims of child abuse when he described paedophilia as an illness and not a crime. While we can agree that those who have themselves been abused (as some priests were) are perhaps more susceptible to becoming abusers themselves, we cannot excuse such deliberate, evil behaviour as simply “illness” or “syndrome”.
Priests know, sometimes even better than most, what is right and wrong. If we go down the illness-path, one day we will be reading of “drunk-driving” syndrome, “hijacking-with-assault” syndrome and “toddler-beating” syndrome.
One of the reasons there is so much sexual exploitation and scandal in the Roman Catholic Church is that priests are burning with lust.
Burning with passion
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:9, “But if they (unmarrieds) cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (NIV) The backgrounds to Paul’s (and the Bible’s) view of sex and marriage goes right the way back to Genesis 1. God’s general decree to humans is recorded in Genesis 1:28. It says, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’”
God’s general purpose is for men and women to get married, as Adam and Eve did, have sex (become one flesh) and to have children. In that order. (Genesis 2:24).
Marriage and sex in the church
Although the early church allowed married clergy, the Roman Catholic Church later came to see celibacy (abstaining from sexual intercourse) as a better example of the norm and model of Jesus’ priesthood.
The law of celibacy became mandatory by Pope Gregory VII at the Roman Synod of 1074. This law mandated that, in order to become a candidate for ordination, a man could not be married. This unmarried lifestyle is seen to allow priests to involve themselves fully in the affairs of the Church, without worldly distractions. Priests are “married” to the Church. The more cynical view is that, at that time, the reason for the celibacy rule was to ensure that any money remained with the Church and was not inherited – especially the Pope’s money.
Jesus and Marriage
Jesus never married, but his parents (biological mother and adoptive father) were married and Jesus had brothers and sisters. The Roman Catholic Church holds to the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. That is that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus and remained so to the end of her life. However, Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in several biblical passages. Mark 3:31 say that Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see Him. (cf. Matthew 12:46, Luke 8:19)
Peter and Marriage
The Apostle Peter, the converted fisherman, disciple of Jesus and leader of the early church, was married. We read of Peter’s mother-in-law sick with fever (Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:30, Luke 4:38) and Paul mentions that Peter took along a believing wife in his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:5). Marriage it seems presented no problem to Jesus and his close followers, including Peter. Ironically, the first “Pope” (in Roman Catholic tradition), was a married man. Although Catholics would deny this and give other explanations of the biblical passages referred to.
Paul and Marriage
The apostle Paul who probably never married, counselled Christians rather to marry than to burn with lust and encouraged regular, frequent sex between husband and wife (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9). The Bible is pro-marriage, and pro-sex in marriage. The apostle Paul wrote that some may choose to remain single and celibate for the sake of the gospel, but that is their choice. Apparently those that do remain single have the spiritual gift of “singleness” that may include extra grace to combat loneliness (1 Corinthians 7:7).
Single and celibate for the gospel
I’m sure that some priests have the gift of singleness and their celibacy has aided their ministry, like that of Father Bob Damron who writes, “When I was a missionary priest in Colombia, my celibate life provided me the opportunity to live a life similar to that of the people I served; for example, to live in a home made of cardboard, plastic, and bamboo as they do.” Many evangelical Christians, some of whom are my heroes, have chosen lives of singleness and celibacy. John Stott is a good example. Yet the Bible does not legislate lifelong singleness and celibacy for anyone.
Sex is not the problem, lust is
The bottom-line is that, I think, many Roman Catholic Priests (and nuns) are burning with lust. They do not have the gift of singleness and should be enjoying emotional and physical intimacy within the boundaries of marriage. Prohibited from marriage and forced to be single, some priests have allowed themselves to act on their God-given sexual desires in sinful and criminal ways. This does not excuse the offending priest, but may explain one reason why some priests act as they do.
My advice to the new pope if he reads this post: Thank you for your humility. Please keep reminding Catholics of the gospel of Jesus. Please return the Roman Catholic Church to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Love and counsel those priests who have been abused, keep potential abusers away from children, take a tough stance on any abuse or exploitation, and allow priests to marry, as the Bible permits. Allow them to enjoy intimacy in the way God intended.
(Although this post is directed towards the Roman Catholic Church, I realise that people in any church or organisation can act in ungodly, criminal ways. I unreservedly condemn all abuse, in any form, done by any one.)