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The Final Word on Celibacy

by William Cleary

Celibacy In Crisis: The Secret World Revisited

by Richard SipeBrunner-Routledge 350 pp. $24.95

Since Richard Sipe first limned the outlines of "The Secret World" in 1990, lots of new shadows have filled in the tragic landscape. Lots of excellent, ever more frightening books as well. Still we need Sipe's original sketches, and it's good to have his book back in print with helpful new elements. To his original interviews with 1500 people, he now adds his experience of the current, astonishing, clergy abuse crisis. Especially valuable is the substantial introduction by Richard McBrien in which in effect McBrien says celibacy is an important negative part of the crisis, and has to go.

But how does something so much a part of the Catholic Church come to an end?

If Sipe is correct, it is really already over. Even if Sipe is half correct, it's over. His numbers are only approximations, but people in the know McBrien, for instance give him the benefit of the doubt. Sipe says only some 2% of priests have really "achieved celibacy," only some 50% really attempt to live it, and all the rest carry on in agony and ambiguity with as we know from the Feb. 27, 2004 national audit at least 4% and upwards to 7% in some places drifting off into actual criminal sexual abuse often of children. Not a pretty picture.

When I read Sipe in 1990, frankly I was offended by his loose process, by his unpleasant stories, and by his conclusions. Now I know I should have paid much more attention. It was an important early book in this historic tragedy and if you want to understand the subject, Sipe's book is key. He pulls no punches. It's all there: homosexuality, sexual compromises, priests and minors, how prevent abuse, priests and women: the whole story.

Personally, I don't really want to know any more about this subject. I wish it would go away. As with the video record of the Twin Towers disaster, I often choose not to look. Many people feel the same.

The trouble with this approach is that the Church catastrophe is still continuing: daily new accusations, new legal dodges, new law suits, new suspensions of priests, new avoidance tactics by bishops and disingenuous manipulation of our supposed lay experts. You can find it daily on the NCR Clergy Abuse Tracker -- at http://www.ncrnews.org/abuse/. But I suspect it is no longer widely followed. It's too lengthy and too depressing. For this reason I suggest it is time to add a daily summary of the tracker something more manageable -- to be published daily perhaps on a daily web magazine. What I am thinking of is a list of one-liners, a kind of "news summary," perhaps called Shameful Catholic Headlines Today.

Some time ago I picked a calendar day at random and surveyed the news articles on the tracker. On just a single day -- the tracker connected me to all these stories.

Scranton, Pa. Accuser may see priest's records...

Boston, Ma Prison slaying of pedophile priest....

Worcester, Ma Lawyer and DA battle over priest records...

Canada: Newfoundland diocese must pay for assaults...

Boston, Ma Nun's book calls clergy complicitous...

Milwaukee, Wi Lawyer demands names of priest abusers...

Crestwood, KY Priest molestation victims get a retreat center...

Knoxville, TN Sex abusing bishop still honored....

Concord, NH Bishop slow reporting abusing priests...

Phil. Pa Two priests abused him repeatedly says man...

Phil. Pa Boys allege nun sexually abusive...

Jersey City, NJ Banned reform group allowed at college...

Phil. Pa Six men claim sexual abuse as kids...

Anchorage, Al Second priest abuse victim comes forward...

Minn. Mn Symposium studies clergy sexual abuse...

St. Louis, Mo Pedophile priest in jail insists he's still clergy...

The day was a very ordinary day. On any other day the tracker will have as many shocks and scandals, and no print publication begins to convey what is happening in the world of the clergy scandals, still so much of a Secret World.

Most amazing: while the Church membership grows at almost 10% a year, the US seminaries are virtually emptying. Historically speaking, next to nobody wants to be a priest or have a son become a priest. The vocation shortage which five years ago was acute and seemed terminal is now twice as bad as it was then, with almost 5000 US priests suspended for accusations of sexual abuse, and many of them newly pulled from the altar, with a consequent additional chill to the vocation atmosphere. (On the other hand there seems no shortage of priests with vocations to the episcopate.)

One interesting long section at the end of Sipe's book and written with thoroughness and devotion takes up "the achievement of celibacy" and heroically supports the supposed positive side of the practice. I do not consider it convincing, but religious celibates themselves will surely find it helpful.

Thanks for the advice, Doctor Sipe. Maybe we'll take the medicine, maybe not. #



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