Scandal leads some to ask: Who should be priests?

Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2002

The child sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church has stirred up questions about whether the priesthood attracts molesters.

Some commentators have suggested that the priestly requirement of celibacy plays a role in sex abuse by bottling up natural outlets for sexuality, and they have called for the priesthood to be opened to married people and women.

Others have said most of the allegations refer to priests having sexual relations with teen-age boys, and they say the church should weed out homosexual priests.

Jody Liliedahl, a Catholic layman in Juneau, said the question of priesthood may need to be addressed in the future, but the current sex abuse issue won't precipitate that discussion.

And local Catholics, like others, have said there's no necessary connection between celibacy or homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children. Many abusers in general society are married, and some of the priests' victims were girls, they point out.

In response to a reporter's question about homosexual priests, Liliedahl said he has known homosexually oriented priests in his decades as a Catholic.

"They have all been chaste, holy, disciplined men, and some of them I would hope to emulate in holiness," he said.

Abstinence causes stronger sexual urges and fantasies, but it doesn't lead to sexual deviance, said Tony Mander, a licensed clinical psychologist in Juneau and a consultant to the state on sex abuse programs for prisoners.

But he said child molesters who can't have adult sexual relationships may be attracted to a celibate vocation because they can blend in with a larger group of people who, for other reasons, aren't having such relationships.

The attraction of the priesthood for molesters would be increased by any attempt by the church to conceal sexual offenders, he said.

Cardinals from the United States, in a public statement after meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican late last month, said a link between celibacy and pedophilia "cannot be scientifically maintained." The meeting "reaffirmed the value of priestly celibacy as a gift of God to the Church," the cardinals said.

Charles Rohrbacher, a Catholic layman in Juneau, said the scandal raises the larger question of trying to understand the roots of sex abuse by clergy. It's not enough to say that all professions have molesters, which is true, he said.

"It raises the question of looking at what might be the deeper cause of this problem in the church," Rohrbacher said.

"It also raises the question of our need to have a really free and unrestrained conversation in the church, between bishops, priests and the laity, on how we got to this, what factors would lead a priest to do all this," he said. "But also whatever caused the cover-up."

Eric Fry can be reached at

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