The phrase “If only public teachers/coaches/scout leader/whoever could marry!” is often bandied about by conservotrads to mock the notion that the clerical abuse crisis is caused by celibacy, noting that non-Catholic individuals who are presumably free to marry are also guilty of sexual abuse. While it is true that child molesters can be of any marital status, religion, or profession, the “If only X could marry!” view ignores the reasons why the reputation of the Catholic church has been so damaged by the clerical sex abuse scandal.
First, no one denies that public school teachers, coaches, etc. can be abusers. However, when a teacher or a coach commits a crime and knowledge about this becomes known to the principal and other higher ups, the offender usually isn’t shuffled to another school where they can keep doing the same thing. This is one reason why the Penn State scandal caused such outrage, because the same dynamics that were seen in the Catholic priest scandal (e.g., lying, cover-ups by higher-ups, knowledge that abuse was happening at all levels of the organization, prioritizing the abuser over victims) were present there. It’s accepted that there will be a few “bad apples” in any group, but in the case of the Catholic church, the abusers were coddled, while the victims were gaslighted and threatened into silence. If the bishops had send offending priests to the police at the first instance of impropriety, rather than protect them and dump them onto unsuspecting parishes, there wouldn’t be a scandal to begin with.
Second, Catholic priests and religious figures in general are held to a higher standard of behavior than teachers, coaches and other secular authority figures. If you claim, as the Catholic church does, that your organization was established by Jesus Christ and that your ministers are “other Christs” with souls that are “ontologically different” then the public is going to expect more from your than they would of the local scoutmaster or swim coach. Conservotrads expect people to show deference to priests and bishops on issues of faith and morals because of they are “God’s representatives,” but then claim that they are no different than public school teachers, scoutmasters, and coaches when they do something wrong. You can’t have it both ways. That these men with “ontologically different” souls can’t figure out that moving around child molesters instead of sending them to the police is a bad idea casts serious doubt on the concepts of priesthood, sanctity, and that supposed “ontological difference.”
And while we’re on the topic of questionable sanctity, did you know that Mother Teresa vouched for a serial abuser to continue with his “ministry”:
Third, the problem with celibacy and the Catholic priesthood is that 1. no one is serious about it 2. the priesthood as an institution is steeped in corruption and lies. It’s number two that really distinguishes the Catholic sex abuse crisis from all others. The most important thing to the priesthood is to create an appearance of celibacy, not to actively achieve it. This is why the casual use and abuse of men, women, and children by priests wanting to “find themselves” is tolerated by their brother priests, so long as the public doesn’t find out about it. Catholic sexual ethics defines all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage to be forbidden, meaning there’s no moral difference between masturbation, consensual sex between two unmarried adults, an adult having sex with a child, or an adult having sex with an animal. Since all of these behaviors are considered equally offensive (and can be confessed after the fact) in the Catholic mind, there’s no reason not to indulge in violent or predatory behavior if you have the means and the desire to do so, especially if you know your brother priests can cover for you. Abusive priests exist in a generally toxic social ecology that isn’t found in any other religious group. This isn’t to say that abuse doesn’t happen in other religious groups (that would be absurd), but that the dynamics in abuse are very different than what happens in a Catholic context, which is really a world unto itself.
As with many things in the Catholic blogosphere, the “If only teachers could marry!” meme is meant to provide an easy way to avoid having to think about the wrongdoing of the Catholic hierarchy. It shuts down criticism and deflects blame onto the people who have the audacity to reveal the unpleasant truth. I’ve mentioned before how many conservotrads insist that the problems has to do with “unorthodox” priests. But given how many “orthodox” priests and bishops were either engaged in abuse or guilty of covering it up, it should be clear that that’s not the problem. The article I linked to about Mother Teresa vouching for a serial child molester also notes that conservotrad darling Fr. John Hardon also gave this same abuser a clean bill of mental health. While the allegations that Hardon helped cover up abuse has stalled the campaign for his beautification, it did nothing to stop the inevitable canonization of Mother Teresa. Similarly, John Paul II’s gross inaction on the clerical abuse scandal, as well as his public feting of Marciel Maciel, did nothing to stall his own canonization. Part of being “orthodox” requires that you implicitly trust those who are in the religious and/or priestly life, and not look too closely when something appears to be amiss, and given this I would say that being “orthodox” is a major factor in perpetuating a culture of abuse.