Most non-Catholics couldn’t care less what the pope says about women being ordained, or the Vatican’s response to gay marriage. And it makes no difference whether or not the Church reverses its stance on birth control: 70 percent of its congregants claim to ignore that ordinance anyway.
But there is one church law that the new pope has the authority to reverse that truly matters — and not just to the one billion Catholics throughout the world — and that is lifting the clerical celibacy edict.
Walking though the Piazza San Pietro, one of the first things you see before entering Saint Peter’s Basilica is a statue of a humble-looking man clutching a handful of keys. The figure is not only an allegory of the Church itself; it is an image of the first pope.
According to Catholic Church doctrine, Peter was elevated to the papacy by Jesus himself: “You are Peter [meaning rock], and upon this rock I will build my Church.” And Peter, like most of the apostles, was married.
And he wasn’t the only one: Thirty-nine popes were married, and most of them fathered children, some of whom even ascended to the papacy themselves.
Not only was celibacy unmandated in the Church for more than one-thousand years, it was actually discouraged. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul writes: “How can any man who does not understand how to manage his own family have responsibility for the church of God?”
So why the change of heart in the Holy See? The long road to compulsory clerical chasteness is a weaving of history and hearsay dating back to the druids, through the edicts of the Councils of Elvira and Nicea, to the decrees of Emperor Constantine, and the Second Lateran Council of 1139. Along the way — doubling both as earnestness and foil — was a hope that by banning marriage within the priesthood, “holiness” would arise to extinguish the sexual and fiscal scandals that rocked the Catholic Church throughout much of Europe.
But the short story, however, and the punctuation mark of this rambling historical yarn of de-sexing the Scripture-citers is, in a word: Money.
By the early eleventh century, in response to a gaggle of pastoral offspring — legitimate and illegitimate — who were scrambling over inheritances, Pope Benedict VIII decreed that priestly property could no longer be transferred outside of the church. And yet, for centuries thereafter the Vatican, by way of decrees, canons, and penalties were unable to effectively enforce celibacy.
It wasn’t until the twenty-fourth session of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century that the Catholic Church, by official decree, banned all marriages by priests, with the exception of converted already-married Anglican ministers. Only the aforementioned loophole remained and that meant that all money, and property remained in church hands.
There were detractors who went on record, as far back as the twelfth century. Bishop Ulrich, prophetically announced that “When celibacy is imposed, priests will commit sins far worse than fornication.” But it didn’t mean that abstinence made a priest turn fondler, rather that the Church had become a hideout for pedophiles.
For a Christian pedophile, a forced-celibate priesthood holds much allure. The priest not only needn’t marry an adult whom he is not sexually attracted to; his family and peers won’t question his bachelorhood And then there’s the added bonus of being lauded as a “man of God.” Assuming he entered the priesthood initially because of a devotion to his faith, he acknowledges his sin and believes that God will cure him.
And just when the priest comes to the realization that his God has failed to save him from his pedophilia, he also happens to be conveniently surrounded by what he ran away from in the first place: the objects of his desire, children. Moreover, he is aware that if caught, he may well be transferred to another parish and protected by other bishops and other men like himself in the upper echelons of the Church. For priests of this ilk, it is a win-win-win solution.
One of the chief problems facing the Catholic Church today is the paucity of new priests enrolling within the church — the situation is an exercise in tautology: pedophiles within their walls are either ignored or protected because they are needed, while people who want to serve will not enter the priesthood because of the celibacy rule. According to a Catholic proponent for anti-celibacy who spoke to the Hartford Courant “The pool [of priests] is so small, they don’t have enough to let these guys go.”
Those within the Church who are in favor of celibacy have argued that prior psychological screening, as well as specially trained priests skilled at dealing with sexual issues, is a panacea for priestly pedophilia. While the former should be a prerequisite regardless of celibacy, the latter belies that fact that one cannot distinguish between the ally and the enemy within.
Ironically, the reason the Church banned marriage is precisely the reason why it will need to allow it: Money. With increasing lawsuits against the Catholic Church, and fewer parishioners filling the coffers, the Vatican can no longer afford to ignore and protect its pedophiles.
If Peter was the rock upon which Jesus built his church, then perhaps the Vatican could consider a new theme song from an old negro spiritual to welcome marriage back into the Church and turn out the pedophiles within their ranks:
“Oh, there’s no hidin’ place down here/ No, there’s no hidin’ place down here/ Oh, I went to the rock to hide my face/ the rock cried out, ‘No hidin’ place!/ There’s no hidin’ place down here!.’”