Catholic Priests Child Sex-Abuse Scandal Study No. 206
he problem of some Catholic priests sexually molesting children has been known for long time. The reason the problem did not make the headlines before, is simply because Catholic Church leaders have clung to a policy of secrecy and defensiveness. Whenever a scandal surfaced, Church officials dismissed parents’ complaints, or made a financial settlement and reassigned the offending priest to another parish, while ordering members to be silent.
This policy of secrecy is finally coming to an end. Newsweek reports, “since this crisis exploded in January, accusations against nearly 200 priests have surfaced in 13 states and Washington, D. C. Sylvia Semarest, a Dallas lawyer who has reviewed court filings nationwide, estimates that 1,400 or more priests have been sued in recent years” (Newsweek, April 1, 2002, p. 53).
The problem of child sex-abuse by Catholic priests, is not confined to the USA. Reports are now coming in from several foreign countries where Catholic priests are being sued for their molestation of minors. These developments raise two questions: (1) What impact will the sex-abuse scandal have on the future of the Catholic church? (2) Will the Catholic Church reconsider her teaching on celibacy?
Sex-Scandals and the Future of the Catholic Church
There is no question that the exposure of offending priests and the ensuing legal actions is tarnishing the image of the Catholic Church. The long-term impact, however, may not be so damaging because it affords an opportunity to the Catholic Church to do some housecleaning. Note that the Catholic Church has weathered far worse scandals in the past. I am thinking, for example, of the dissolute popes of the Renaissance period who had no regard for the solemnity of their office and for the conscience of the people.
For example, Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) has the notorious distinction of being the most corrupt pope of the Renaissance period. His dissolute life-style and his determination to advance the political fortunes of his numerous children, are a trade mark of his Pontificate. The Pope himself acknowledged the legitimacy of several of his children. Among Pope Alexander’s mistresses after he became pope, the most famous was Giulia Farnese, called for her beauty, La Bella. The escapades of this pope would have filled the front pages of the Enquirer and satisfied the most sensational modern taste for scandals.
The fact that the Catholic Church has weathered scandals far worse than the present one, shows that the stability of the church cannot be easily shaken. The reason is that Catholics believe that some corrupt church leaders do not weaken the strength of their church, because Christ established her, is guiding her in the formulation of dogmas, and is leading her to her final triumph. In other words, Catholics are led to believe that the strength and stability of their church is not affected by corrupt church leaders, because ultimately Christ is in control of their church. This popular erroneous belief largely accounts for the survival and growth of the Catholic Church, in spite of the scandals that have rocked the church during the course of her history.
Will Celibacy Ever Become an Option?
Some observers assume that current sex-scandals may cause the Catholic Church to reconsider her stand on priestly celibacy. This assumption ignores that Catholic beliefs and practices are based on historical teachings, not on popular opinion. The Catholic practice of requiring its clergy to remain permanently unmarried has a long and well-established historical tradition, which cannot be altered.
Celibacy in the Catholic Church became a canonical obligation through the concerted effort of popes and church councils. The earliest legislation is canon 33 of the Council of Elvira (about A. D. 305), which states: “We decree that all bishops, priests, and deacons, and all clerics engaged in ministry are forbidden entirely to live with their wives and to beget children: whoever shall do so shall be deposed from clerical dignity.”
The implementation of celibacy has been a difficult task for the Catholic Church. This is indicated by the decretals of several popes (Damasus I, Siricius, Innocent I, and Leo I) who issued decretals enforcing the practice. The Lateran Council of 1059 threatened all priests unwilling to give up their wives or concubines with the loss of employment and the right to celebrate the mass. The laity was warned against attending the services of married priests. The third canon states: “No one shall hear mass from a priest who to his certain knowledge keeps a concubine or a secret wife.”
In recent years the traditional Catholic position on celibacy has been vigorously restated by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and by Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (On Priestly Celibacy), issued on June 24, 1967. In the light of the well-established historical Catholic teaching on priestly celibacy, it is unthinkable for any Pope, present or future, to make the practice optional.
Why is the Catholic Church so deeply committed to uphold their church law on celibacy when the Scripture clearly states: “A bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife” (I Timothy 3:2)? The fundamental reason is the need to ensure that all the Cardinals, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and all persons entering religious orders, are fully and exclusively committed to the Church. Ultimately what is at stake is the power of the Papacy. By enforcing celibacy, the Pope can count on the undivided allegiance to him by all those who serve the church in the various religious orders. Having no family ties, these men and women are tied exclusively to the church, which is symbolically embodied in the person of the Pope.
What all of this means is that for the Pope to relax the church stand on celibacy, would be tantamount to political suicide. It would weaken the very foundation of his power. Thus, the perpetration of celibacy is dictated more by political considerations, than by Biblical concerns.
In the light of these considerations, we conclude that the current sex-scandals will have no significant negative impact on the future of the Catholic Church. On the contrary, the pressure on Catholic Church leaders to root out molesters and screen more carefully applicants for the priesthood, will eventually strengthen the credibility and influence of the Catholic Church.
— by Dr. Samuele Bacchicchi, “End Time Issues,” No. 82. W
Scandal in the Church of God Ministry
An amazing parallel exists between the crisis in the Catholic Church, and the ministry of the Church of God. Whereas celibacy is a political tool to keep Catholic priests loyal to the Pope and Church hierarchy, Church of God elders and pastors who do not have a self-supporting job are likewise tied politically to their Church organization. Salaried elders can be slaves to their organization’s headquarters in the same way that celibate priests are minions of Rome.
The Bible gives ten qualifications for an elder or pastor, I Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:7-9. Besides being the husband of one wife (not divorced and remarried), he must rule well his own house, and must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. To fulfill this, the elder must have extensive business and/or personal dealings with non-members, such as a job, business, or public charity service. The community knows the elder to be of good report. He is an example to the community. Is your Church pastor like this?
Paul supported himself by making tents, while preaching in Corinth for eighteen months, Acts 18:1-11. Those who bought Paul’s tents knew him to be an honest man. Paul was an example to the ministry and the brethren. In an age of corruption where some did not want to work and instead sponged off the brethren, Paul worked night and day so he would not be supported by the Church, II Thessalonians 3:6-12; I Thessalonians 1:9-10; I Corinthians 4:12. At times Paul did take wages, II Corinthians 11:7-9, but was generally a laborer, I Timothy 4:10, who exhorted the rest of the brethren to follow his example to those outside the Church, I Thessalonians 4:11-12.
Problem Church of God ministers have been transferred to other churches, just like unscrupulous or immoral Catholic priests have been moved to abuse other flocks. “Dumb sheep” members believe, as Catholics do, that “God is in control” of their Church organization. The Truth is that the Bible requires elders to be above reproach. The laity has the power of the purse. Tithing is a crucial doctrine, because when the money stops coming in, corrupt leaders have no way to continue. It behooves you to know the salary of your Church pastors and leaders. Fulfilling God’s law of tithing is more than merely giving 10% of your income, it is making sure it is properly used to further the work of the Almighty.
Please write for the free article, “Ten Basic Qualifications of an Elder,” and our free 60-page book, The Tithe in Scripture, by Henry Lansdell. Also request a copy of the most recent Giving & Sharing financial statement. — written by Richard C. Nickels W