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April 15, 2002

Celibacy is not to blame for pedophilia

by Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo

No, it is not fair to blame celibacy for the crime of pedophilia committed by some priests and bishops. It is as wrong to say this as it is to say that marriage causes adultery, red lights traffic violations, or drug stores substance abuse.

I was shocked by the media proposal that the Catholic Church should review her policy on celibacy, suggesting that it be abolished.

The recent scandal in North America has brought shame and deep anguish to all priests because some people may think that all of us are guilty of this felony.

I begin this series of articles not only with tears of sorrow and shame, but also with the greatest desire that the vow of celibacy will remain firm and spotless, that it remain a source of sanctification for Catholic priests, and never be an occasion of scandal and perversion.

There is shame because, inevitably, the abomination of a few will affect the entire priesthood. Because of our solidarity, the crime of pedophilia has harmed the reputation of priests all over the world. Similarly, the holiness of priests lifts up the entire presbyterate. It is precisely this solidarity which identifies Catholic priests, obliging us to share the disrepute of the predators who wear the same clerical collar. We are condemned and censured by public opinion as if we were guilty of the same crime.

The news which was broadcast by the media bears a note of sadness for the twofold scandal. First, there is the transgression of the Divine Law. Secondly, we have to consider the hurt cast upon the candour and purity of the victims, the poor children whom Jesus said are like angels who see the face of God.

As He said, “it would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in Me to be drowned by a millstone around his neck in the depths of the sea. What terrible things will come on the world through scandal. It is inevitable that scandal should occur. Nonetheless, woe to that man through whom scandal comes” (Mt. 18:5-9).

Jesus was adamant in reprimanding and avoiding scandals: “If your hand or your foot is your undoing, cut it off and throw it from you! Better to enter life maimed or crippled than be thrown with two hands and two feet into endless fire. If your eye is your downfall, gouge it out and cast it from you! Better to enter life with one eye than be thrown with both into fire.”

How can we remain models for our people in the face of these horrible events? The only way to restore trust in the very field where some priests have failed is by a strict exercise of our celibacy, because we priests are called to emulate the chastity of our model, Jesus Christ. We try very hard to imitate Him, so it would be seriously wrong to lose heart. The overwhelming majority of us are generously dedicated to our ministry and have the respect and love for our flocks which they deserve.

Looking at our parishes, at our gathering of the entire presbyterate, I am amazed how faithfully, day after day, we serve the needs of the people entrusted to our care. The criminal actions of a very few individual cases are exploited by the media, as if the whole Church was corrupt and without remedy.

With dismay I listened to one young priest lament that perhaps we should not wear our collars so no one would recognize us. He said: “People look upon us as though we are monsters.” I replied, “Father, we must now, more than ever, uphold the sign of our priesthood without shame. To be discouraged and to withdraw from the public view is to surrender to Satan’s ambush.

“The more the media scrutinize the actions of priests who have abused children, the more we must show that our conduct reflects the life of Jesus. I also promise you that, after this ordeal is over, and it will be over soon, the respect and our reputation will be restored.”

The best way to destroy mistrust is to show that our vocations are genuine. Our parishioners appreciate our dedication. They love us. On the other hand, the coverups, the permissiveness of the past, are ended.

In all dioceses, zero tolerance is now the rule. Perhaps the same vigilance did not exist in the past; society preferred to hide the molestations. Not any more. Our dignity will be respected and admired because we are convinced of the sanctity of our priesthood.

Our priestly future, in this archdiocese, is strong and vibrant. The presence of the Holy Spirit is moving our parishes. We are blessed with new conversions and with those returning to religious practice. There is a feeling among the faithful that our efforts, our prayers, our sacrifices are the ladder they are taking for their spiritual life, to ascend to God.

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