Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why the Church doesn't want to -- and can't -- abolish the celibacy rule

I had read a couple of articles mentioning that Leonardo Boff, in light of the latest spate of sex abuse cases, had called for the abolition of the celibacy requirement. Now, he has published his views on the theological forum Atrio. We bring them to you in English.

By Leonardo Boff
Atrio
4/7/2010

The emergence of cases of pedophile priests in almost all Catholic countries is still in progress, revealing the extent of this crime that has caused so much damage to its victims.

It is little to say that pedophilia has embarrassed the Church, or to apologize and pray. It's worse. It represents an unpayable debt to those children who were abused under the cloak of credibility and confidence that the role of priest embodies.

The central thesis of Pope Ratzinger, which I got tired of listening to in his lectures and classes, is invalidated by itself. For him, the important thing is not that the Church be large. It's enough for it to be a "little flock", consisting of highly spiritual people. It is a small "reconciled world" representing the others and all humankind. It happens that within this small herd there are criminal sinners and that it is everything but a "reconciled world." He must humbly accept what tradition used to say: the Church is holy and sinful, a "chaste prostitute" as some of the ancient Fathers used to say. It is not enough for it to be Church; like everyone else, it has to go along the right path, and integrate the sex drive, which already has billions of years of biological memory, to be an expression of tenderness and love, not of obsession and violence against children.

The pedophilia scandal is a sign of the times. We learned from Vatican II (1962-1965) that we have to discover through signs the message that God wants to convey. I think the message is along this line: it's time for the Roman Catholic Church to do what all other churches have already done: to abolish celibacy imposed by church law, and free it for those who see meaning in it and are able to live it out with gaiety and freshness of spirit. But this lesson is not being grasped by the Roman authorities. On the contrary, despite the scandals, they reaffirm celibacy more strongly.

We know the education for the integration of sexuality in the formation of priests is insufficient. It takes place away from normal contact with women, causing some atrophy in the construction of identity. The sciences of the psyche have made it clear that men mature only under the gaze of women, and women under the gaze of men. Man and woman are reciprocal and complementary. Genetic and cellular gender has shown that the difference between a man and a woman, in terms of chromosomes is reduced to just one chromosome. The woman has two X chromosomes and the man has one X and one Y chromosome. From which it is derived that the base-gender is female (XX), the male (XY) being a differentiation of same. There is therefore not an absolute gender, but rather only a dominant one. In every human being, man and woman, there is a "second sex." In the integration of "animus" and "soul", i.e. of the two dimensions of the feminine and masculine present in every human being, the seeds of sexual maturity are sown.

This integration is hampered by the absence of one of the parties, woman, who is replaced by imagination and phantoms, which if they are not subjected to discipline may lead to distortions. What was taught in seminaries is not without wisdom: who controls the mind controls sexuality. For the most part.

But sexuality has a volcanic force. Paul Ricoeur, who has reflected philosophically on Freud's psychoanalytic theory a lot, recognizes that sexuality is beyond the control of reason, of moral norms and laws. It dwells between the law of the day, in which established rules and behaviors prevail, and the law of the night, where drive, the force of spontaneous vitality, operates. Only an ethical and humanistic life plan (what we want to be) can give direction to sexuality, and transform it into a force for humanizing and fruitful relationships.

This process does not excluded celibacy. It is one of the possible options that I defend. But celibacy can not be born of a lack of love; on the contrary, it must result from an overabundance of love for God that overflows to those around one.

Why doesn't the Roman Catholic Church take a step and abolish the celibacy rule? Because it is contradictory to its structure. It is a totally authoritarian, patriarchal, highly hierarchical institution, and one of the last bastions of conservatism in the world. It covers a person from birth to death. For anyone with minimal civic awareness, the power conferred upon the Pope is simply tyrannical. Canon 331 is clear: that power is "ordinary, supreme, full, immediate, and universal." If we remove the word "Pope" and put "God", it works just as well. Therefore it was said: "the Pope is the minor god on earth", as many canonists have said.

A Church that puts the power in its center, closes the doors and windows to love, tenderness and compassion. The celibate person is useful to this type of church, because the celibate one is denied that which makes him more deeply human -- the love, tenderness, emotional meeting with people, which would be more easily facilitated if priests were married. They become fully available to the institution, that can just as well send them to Paris as South Korea.

Celibacy involves co-opting the priest totally to the service not of humanity, but of this type of church. He should only love the Church. When he discovers that it is not just "Holy Mother Church" but can be a stepmother who uses her ministers according to the logic of power, he becomes disappointed, leaves the ministry along with mandatory celibacy and gets married.

As long as this logic of absolutist and centralizing power lasts, we do not expect the celibacy rule to be abolished, no matter how many scandals occur. Celibacy is too convenient and useful to the ecclesiastical institution.

But then what about Jesus' dream of a fraternal and egalitarian community? Well, that's another problem, perhaps the main one. From that perspective, we would pose the question of celibacy and the style of church that would be most appropriate to His liberating message differently.

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