THERE’S AN UNMISTAKABLE GLEE among leftists, both within and without the Catholic Church, about the ongoing scandal of pedophile priests. Amidst the devastation wrought by sexual abuse, both to its immediate victims and to thousands of good priests sullied by their perverse colleagues, the Church’s critics see an opportunity for ideological advancement.
It begins with an assault on priestly celibacy, which is only a matter of Church discipline, not morality. But it ends, they hope, with undermining some of the very ideals that have sustained Western Civilization, such as everlasting truth, a fixed notion of morality, and free will.
In Slate, William Saletan impishly asks, "Does abstinence make the Church grow fondlers?" It’s a question answered forcefully and affirmatively throughout the establishment press, where the nexus between priestly celibacy and pederasty is largely taken for granted. In the Los Angeles Times, Terrance Sweeney, a former Jesuit priest, writes that celibacy "can easily lead to profound loneliness and can foster a disposition toward sexual deviancy."
Thence follows the predictable remedy: End what Sweeney erroneously describes as the "mandatory requirement" of celibacy. (The priesthood isn’t mandatory; the vocation is answered voluntarily.)
But the notion that celibacy separate from its advantages or liabilities as a Church discipline can either cause or nurture deviant practices is a logical non-starter. If, as Sweeney and others suggest, it’s asking too much of priests to restrain "powerful human instincts," doesn’t it follow that heterosexual priests those who might marry if they could would seek out their gratification with women? Prostitutes and mistresses would be the obvious temptation, not altar boys.
It’s the left that has long argued that sexual orientation is immutable and ingrained, that it cannot suddenly be redirected toward other appetites by pressure or will. Yet the Catholic Church’s critics insist that men who find themselves attracted to minors, usually young males, could somehow be sexually satiated with lifelong, monogamous marriages to aging women. Why do the critics suddenly reverse course?
Because the connection between priestly celibacy and priestly sexual predators isn’t logical but ideological, its proponents are less concerned with the marriage prospects of their local pastors than with the cultural victory that would come with the Church’s adopting their fallacious reasoning and its underlying assumption that sexual appetites are irrepressible and beyond our control.
Were the Church to accept that premise (it won’t), it would need to renounce its teaching that sex, far from being cheap and obligatory, is special and sacred, a covenantal bond between husband and wife made possible only through God’s grace. Then, it would quickly find itself needing to embrace much else of the left-wing social agenda.
After all, marriage alone is insufficient to accommodate the full diversity of sexual desires. If the Church were to concede that human beings must have sex, then the unmarried would also need to be included, and so Rome would have to dispense with its teachings on premarital sex and homosexuality. Taboos on fornication, masturbation, and pornography would necessarily follow suit.
Those who are married but no longer receive sexual fulfillment from their spouses would also have to have free recourse to fulfilling their needs, thus completing the nullification of the Sixth Commandment. Then, having fully adopted the tenets of the sexual revolution, the Church would need to embrace the cultural implements that sustain it, and lift its proscriptions of contraception and abortion.
This isn’t a matter of simple slippery-slope theorizing. The Church’s antagonists have long made it clear that their targets aren’t limited to the celibate priesthood. Saletan quotes another former priest, Richard Sipe, as recommending that the Church’s "whole system of teachings on gender and sexuality is being questioned." At issue is not just the life of a priest, but the whole of the Church’s theology on sexual morality.
These have long been left-wing targets, but why? It’s not as if Catholic moral teaching, or for that matter, Catholicism, is forced on anyone. In a democratic society that upholds religious freedom, both faith and obedience are entirely matters of individual choice. Those who reject what the Church teaches need not so much as set a foot inside. Why, then, should leftists of any stripe give a hoot about what Catholics hold to be the immutable will of God?
Because leftists bristle at the very idea of an enduring morality that neither bends with circumstances nor changes on the basis of popular will. For an ideology that operates by knocking down institutions or corrupting them from the inside, the notion of any organization maintaining the same resolute sense of right and wrong for 2,000 years is both incomprehensible and maddening. For the radical who believes he can recreate the world in his image, the Catholic Church stands as a constant, humiliating reminder of his limitations.
Moreover, rooted in Catholic moral teachings is an unshakable belief in free will, that man is not just the sum of his "natural instincts" but a thinking, rational being capable of choosing good over evil. That notion also strikes at the heart of leftist thought, which discards individual responsibility in favor of collectivism. Thus crime is never the fault of the criminal, but of a racist, classist, or capitalistic society. Palestinian terrorists aren’t to blame for their heinous deeds; they’re merely the "frustrated" or "desperate" victims of Israeli security policy.
Blaming celibacy for ephebophilia shifts the blame for wicked deeds away from those responsible criminal priests and the bishops who have protected them.
At the heart of the radical enterprise is the very elimination of the belief in enduring truths, unchangeable morality, and free will. The leftist assault on the Church is part and parcel of that strategy. It’s a matter of concern not just for Catholics, but all people committed to higher ideals.