BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Viewpoint: Celibacy and sexual abuse
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George answers reporters' questions
Tough questions are being asked of the US Church
test hello test
Kieran Conry
Bishop of Arundel & Brighton
The Catholic Church is facing two important issues relating to sexuality.

The first is the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests. It is doing enormous damage to the Church in the USA, and on this side of the Atlantic also.

The other issue is that its priests should be celibate - that is, remain unmarried.

There is no evidence that people who are celibate are more likely to abuse children.

The two questions should not be confused. If they are regarded simply as two aspects of one problem, then neither can be properly addressed.

The problem of child abuse has been faced only relatively recently and is one that our society still finds difficult to understand.

In regard to Catholic priests who abuse, we must put the problem into perspective.

High standards

It is not so much the number of priests who have abused children.

This number is still relatively low, but it is particularly scandalous that a priest should do such a thing when the Church demands such high standards of behaviour from people.

There is no evidence that people who are celibate are more likely to abuse children.

Celibacy still has value as the example of the way Christ himself lived

The majority of child sexual abuse takes place in the home and is perpetrated by people who are married.

The Church in England and Wales has made strenuous efforts to deal with the problem.

It has encouraged people to come forward and tell if they have been abused, and promised that all allegations will be treated seriously.

In order to guarantee proper procedures, it set up an independent inquiry under Lord Nolan. The recommendations of his inquiry are now being implemented nationally.

Ancient tradition

The practice of celibacy is an ancient tradition of the Church.

The fact that the Church has married priests indicates that this could change.

In England and elsewhere, married clergy who came from other traditions have been ordained as Catholic priests.

If the tradition of compulsory celibacy is preventing men from choosing the priesthood, many would say that the tradition should be reviewed.

Celibacy still has value as the example of the way Christ himself lived: he was celibate and poor and is the model for the priest's life.

There is a risk that some who choose celibate priesthood may not have dealt properly with their own sexuality.

If we are trying to solve the problem of child abuse, the question of celibacy might be a dangerous distraction, leading us to think we have a solution.

If there is a solution, it lies elsewhere.

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories