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Catherine Pepinster: At tillade præster at gifte sig vil ikke løse det pædofile problem

15. juli 2014

Catherine Pepinster, redaktør på The Tablet, skriver i et debat indlæg i The Guardian bl.a.:

It’s good Pope Francis is talking about the church’s sex abuse problem and letting clergy marry, but they are separate issues.

As an Argentinian, Pope Francis probably doesn’t know about English diminutives. But he really ought to be called Pope Frank. This is not a man who minces words, as his recent comments about the sex abuse of children by priests makes clear. In a recent meeting with victims of such abuse he talked of the sacrilegious crimes committed by the sons and daughters of the church, and in an interview with La Repubblica this weekend he reportedly talked of abuse as a leprosy and as “the most terrible and unclean thing imaginable” (although it should be noted that the Vatican has since described the quotes as a “product of [the journalist’s] memory ... not the precise transcription of a recording”).

We are now a world away from the 1980s, when evidence first emerged of clerical child abuse and the Catholic church’s response was to vilify both the journalists investigating and the victims testifying. The first cases were reported in 1984 in a courageous Louisiana paper, the Times of Acadiana, and led to a church-organised advertisers’ boycott for the editor daring to call for the bishop to resign. Revelations of abuse in the US, Ireland, the UK, Australia and elsewhere were frequently met with denials, both of incidences of abuse by priests and cover-ups by the church hierarchy. In places such as England and Wales, the bishops have since set up child protection and safeguarding committees. Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, took action against one of the most notorious abusers, the Legionaries of Christ founder Marcial Maciel, and frequently met with victims during his travels. One might say that the clean-up, the penitence and the PR are all in hand. But it’s much harder to deal with the cause.

During his La Repubblica interview Pope Francis said that 2% of priests are paedophiles. I have to admit that yes, about two in every 100 priests I have known or reported on have later been exposed as abusers of children, especially adolescent boys. Psychiatrists who specialise in this field estimate its prevalence at about 4% of the general population. One of the most simplistic claims about abusers in the Catholic church is that their acts are directly linked to celibacy, as if these any celibate male has repressed urges that burst out if there’s an altar boy handy. But that doesn’t account for Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, or the social workers, teachers, Anglican vicars, and fathers and uncles who have all assaulted young people. As Esther Rantzen, founder of Childline, once said to me, people who want to abuse children find ways to access them. Becoming a Catholic priest was one way of gaining a position of trust and authority in the parish, in the school and in the confessional.

Yet that figure of 2%, compared to the 4% norm, remains troubling. The most convincing explanation I have ever read for this frequency among Catholic clergy is that of the German professor Klaus M Beier of the Institute of Sexology at the Berlin Charité hospital, whose research shows that people with desires for children and adolescents have known for a long time of their fantasies and impulses, and they seek out ways to control them. Celibacy ordered by a religious institution is attractive because it is imposed on them, says Beier, but that imposition makes it bound to fail, as they are not willing themselves to deal with their problem. It seems to me, then, that a paedophile is akin to an alcoholic, or any other addict. Abstinence imposed by external rules, not really wanted by yourself, will fail.

This indirect link between celibacy and abuse is why I’m not convinced that Pope Francis’s remarks about heterosexual married clergy have anything to do with the paedophilia problem in the Catholic church. Rather, the two are connected because Pope Francis is a man open to discussion and with a focus on people and their nourishment. He speaks often of the poor and their needs, but he senses a spiritual hunger as well as a physical one, and if you’re Catholic, you need communion. Whether you’re in the west with increasingly elderly priests, or in the developing world with huge distances to be travelled to attend mass, you need more priests. The easiest way to deal with that is to let married men be priests. Celibacy, though, does have one advantage: it’s a level playing field for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Bring in heterosexual married priests, and there’s another issue then, about gay clergy. We’ll have to see what Pope Frank has to say about that.

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