SHAFAQNA – A report by the Australian Catholic Church claims that priests’ vow of celibacy may be linked to child abuse in what is being seen as the first admission of its kind by Catholic officials. The report suggests that obligatory celibacy may have contributed to abuse in some circumstances, adding that “psycho-sexual development” was necessary to stop trainee priests from becoming child abusers.
The 44-page report was produced by the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which was formed by the church to advise on collaborating with a five-year government inquiry into thousands of cases of abuse by priests in Australia.
The council’s supervisory group includes the archbishops of Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide.
The Catholic church has long maintained that there is no link between celibacy and sexual abuse involving priests.
On Friday, the Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi ruled out a connection. “This idea has been aired but there are many cases of abuse by family members, who are not celibate,” he said.
In 2010, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was then the Vatican secretary of state and virtually ruled the church until Benedict XVI stood down, linked child abuse to homosexuality, claiming: “This is the truth and there is the problem.” He was swiftly contradicted by other Vatican officials.
Francis Sullivan, the chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said that he was not calling for an end to celibacy in the report and that abuse of power was the problem.
“We’ve got to ask the question about whether celibacy was an added and an unbearable strain for some,” he told the newspaper The Australian.
“It doesn’t mean that celibacy needs to be eradicated — let’s not turn the church on its head — but we are saying you can’t have an honest and open discussion about the future without having an honest and open discussion about celibacy. We are placing celibacy on the table.”
George Pell, the former archbishop of Sydney, told a parliamentary inquiry last year that celibacy “might be a factor in some cases” of abuse by priests. The report suggests: “Ongoing train- ing and development, including psycho-sexual development, is necessary for priests.”
Psycho-sexual training meant “understanding how you grow as a sexual being, understanding how you relate passionately but not in a sexual way,” Mr Sullivan told ABC News Radio.
In July, Pope Francis estimated that 2 per cent of Catholic clergy worldwide were child abusers.
Celibacy is a relatively recent tradition in the Catholic church. St Peter, the first pope, was married, as were many of his successors up until the 16th century.
In 2011 Pope Benedict allowed married Anglican priests to enter into the full communion of the Catholic church.
Pope Francis, while serving as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, wrote that celibacy “is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change.”
However, he added: “For the moment, I am in favour of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons.”
In May this year, he told reporters that “celibacy is not a dogma of faith, it is a rule of life that I appreciate a great deal and I believe is a gift for the church.” But he added: “The door is always open, given that it is not a dogma of faith.”
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