Celibacy in Crisis: A Must Read Book

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the problem of sexually active priests in general and the ongoing situation of former EWTN friar/personality David Stone. In that post, I stated my belief that consensual relationships between priests and adults were abusive by definition, not just because of the power deferential but also because of the secrecy and lies that such a relationship requires. I recently finished “Celibacy In Crisis” by A.W. Richard Sipe, a former Catholic priest now turned psychologist, and I now realize that my previous assessment of priestly sexual relationships was too kind.

As you might expect, it’s a study about celibacy (or rather, the lack thereof) among Catholic priests, and it leaves no stone unturned: heterosexuality, homosexuality, transvestism, exhibitionism, pedophilia, and even bestiality. The basic thesis is that the Catholic church imposes celibacy on its priests but doesn’t bother trying to teach them how to be successful at it or how to integrate it into a mature sexuality, which then leads to acting out inappropriately, whether in terms of contact with minors to using adults of either sex to “experiment” with. Sipe emphasizes how many of the priests he interviewed are psychologically immature. That is, they appear to be “stuck” at the emotional age of twelve or thirteen and don’t know how to control their libidos or even what their sexual orientation might be. This would explain why so many priests have abused altar boys, as they consider themselves to be at the same mental age of the boys they’re abusing. What I found to be particularly interesting was that this immaturity was true of priests whether they had been formed in the minor seminaries or had come to the priesthood later in life. Bluntly speaking, it appears that the types of men who are attracted to the priesthood are those who are emotionally and mentally unbalanced.

Intellectually, I knew that many priests have sexual relationships, but if Sipe’s conclusions are true, then only two percent of priests are faithful to their vow of celibacy and have managed to integrate it into their personalities as mature, healthy men. Sipe relates a laissez-faire attitude towards celibacy among the hierarchy, where priests are encouraged to have sex to “find themselves” or to “get it out of their system” by their superiors (after all, you can always confess afterwards). Other people — men, women, and children alike — as just tools to be used for priestly gratification, talk of “human dignity” be damned.  In this corrupt system, everyone knows who’s abusing children, who’s sleeping with women, who’s gay, etc., and they all use these secrets against each other to get what they want or to shame an enemy. It’s not that there’s a “Lavender Mafia” in the Catholic hierarchy so much as everyone is a little mafiosa, regardless of their orientation.

I was particularly moved by a story that Sipe included of a woman who had had a sexual relationship with a priest. She recalled how intelligent and charming he was at first, but then as the relationship grew more physical in nature, the priest’s immaturity began to show through, revealing that he was a “boy in an adult’s body.” When the woman invariably became pregnant, the priest freaked out and demanded that she get an abortion, lest his promising career be sidelined by scandal. In the end, she was left with sadness, regret, and depression, while the priest was transferred to another parish and became a big-name monsignor. As shocking as this story is, it can’t be rare; after all, there have been plenty of cases where diocesan money has been used to support the illegitimate children of  the hierarchy, and in many parts of Catholic Africa, the priests don’t even hide their concubines and children:


Given this, it seems to me that Catholic sexual ethics as a whole is a big farce that no one, except for a handful of pious conservotrads takes seriously. After reading Sipe’s book, it’s clear that not even the hierarchy truly believes what they’re preaching; it’s just another way to lord power over the laity. I’m reminded of the old Soviet joke where workers pretend to work and the state owned industries pretend to pay them. There’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” dynamic between the hierarchy and (heterosexual) laity, in which the latter assumes that the former is celibate, while the former assumes that the latter isn’t using contraception. This is why openly LGBT people and feminists are such a thorn in the side of the hierarchy and their conservotrad enablers, because they’re actually honest about a matter that almost everyone else is lying about. As an asexual celibate, I have nothing against celibacy if that’s what a person wants to do, but if so many priests and bishops are failing so disastrously at celibacy and dragging down other people with them, I think it’s work asking why this is tenet is considered non-negotiable. Given that the church “doesn’t believe in” asexuality, it’s odd that it demands “compulsory asexuality” of its priestly class.

As with many things of this nature, the very people who need to read Sipe’s book the most — the conservotrads and radtrads who think that Pius XI’s “Casti connubii” tells you all you need to know about proper Catholic sexuality — will never read it (the fact that the book costs about sixty dollars new doesn’t help). Conservotrads and radtrads tend not to “believe in” the social sciences, probably because the findings are diametrically opposed to how they think the world should work. Although Stipe is clear that he is not advocating for a married clergy and that his data can be read many different ways (the last chapters of the book are actually suggestions about how celibacy could be taught to seminarians so they could become emotionally mature and psychologically sound), he demolishes many conservotrad and radtrad beliefs about the nature of the priesthood, like the notion that orthodoxy prevents abuse, the whole “Lavendar Mafia” theory, the belief that the clerical sex abuse scandal was a “homosexual problem,” that having more straight candidates will clean up the priesthood, and that everything was just swell pre-Vatican II before the sexual revolution ruined it all. Most of all, it destroys the notion that priests are “holier” or more moral than the rest of us, and that Catholic sexual ethics are failing on every level. As the old saying goes, if you don’t want to stop eating sausage, don’t find out how it’s made, and the conservotrads/radtrads have no desire to find out what’s in the Vatican frankfurters.

Lastly, reading Sipe’s book convinced me that ordaining women priests would not solve matters, whether in elevating the status of women as a whole or making the hierarchy more transparent. The entire Catholic hierarchy is a “boys club” in the worst sense. It’s entire orientation is to be contra women, as they represent sex, attachment to a worldly family, and the sin of Eve. There is no way for women to be integrated into such a world, and after finishing Celibacy in Crisis, I don’t see why any ethical person of either sex would want to be a member of such a degenerate club.