The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Stereotyping celibacy

The other day, in the Boston Globe, former priest and current author James Carroll had this to say about celibacy:

The Catholic scandal has laid bare an essential pathology that is unique to the culture of clericalism, and mandatory celibacy is essential to it. Immaturity, narcissism, misogyny, incapacity for intimacy, illusions about sexual morality — such all-too-common characteristics of today’s Catholic clergy are directly tied to the inhuman asexuality that is put before them as an ideal.

Reading that, Jesuit writer James Martin — understandably — hit the roof:

Frankly, I’m sick of this crap. It’s one thing to address the clerical culture that has given rise to the sex abuse crisis. It’s one thing to take aim at an all-male clergy that prevents women from entering into roles of leadership (and married men, too). It’s one thing to investigate how celibacy contributed to a hermetically sealed world in which married men and women were seen as “less than,” and therefore whose cries were not heard during when it came to sexual abuse. It’s one thing to wonder how much a celibate world provided a refuge for men with sick sexual impulses. And, to be fair, some of his piece does try to do this.


But it’s quite another thing to malign an entire group of people who live their promises of celibacy with integrity and their vows of chastity with love. And why, pray, has Carroll left out celibate women? Where are the evil Catholic sisters in his opinion piece? Are they immature, narcissistic, misogynistic (misanthropic?) incapable of intimacy and deluded about sexual morality, too? They live celibately, in case he hadn’t noticed. Oh, but wait, Carroll likes nuns. “The nuns acted as if the reforms of Vatican II were real,” he wrote a few weeks ago. But how could they do that if they were celibate, and therefore immature, narcissistic, incapable of intimacy and deluded about sexual morality?

I can’t help but agree with Jim Martin’s conclusion:  “I eagerly await The Boston Globe publishing his description of traits
that are “all too common” in women, Jews, blacks, Muslims, gays and
lesbians, and, well, fill in your own ethnic group or social minority or
religious group.” 

Read the rest here.

Comments read comments(15)
post a comment

posted May 18, 2010 at 9:41 am

Perhaps the difference between an all-celibate priesthood and an all-celibate sisterhood is more about the basic differences between male and female thinking and personalities (general, I know, and there are exceptions to every rule).
You see the same thing in the gay community — gay men tend to be narcissistic, misogynistic and immature, and less likely to be involved in long term intimate relationships while lesbians tend to be actually some of the kindest, nicest, most low-key women I know — they are more likely to be involved in monogamous, long-term relationships.
Maybe it’s not the celibacy as much as the all-boys clubbiness of the hierarchy.
Let’s face it — most men need women around to keep them civilized.

report abuse


posted May 18, 2010 at 10:17 am

Any Jesuit worth his salt should know that hatred of men as a sex is misandry and not misanthropy. This Jesuit apparently flunked Greek.

report abuse

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

posted May 18, 2010 at 11:00 am

James Carroll needs to let it go. I left a comment at Fr. Jim’s post about my thoughts; go read it there if you wish.

report abuse


posted May 18, 2010 at 11:33 am

To be very pedantic, celibacy is simply the state of not being married, and the not-having-sex is is a side-effect of the not-being-married. I wonder if there isn’t a point about it being bad to live alone, where marriage is one form of not-alone, but then so is any sort of communal life from vowed religious life, to single people who are roommates to diocesan priests who live in rectories with other priests.
This is not about sex. It’s about there being at least one person in your life who needs to know which meals you are going to be home for, which meals you are cooking and which meals you will need to be fed. Someone who expects you home at a certain time and will get worried if you are late. Someone whom you will annoy if you are a slob. Someone that you will need to take care of if they get sick, and someone who will take care of you if you get sick.
Someone whose opinion matters to you, who will be shocked and appalled if you do something shocking and appalling.
I live in a sparsely-populated mostly rural diocese. Priests here almost always live alone, and it’s a fair hike to the next parish. In the last decade or so assignments have been getting shorter and shorter. Our current pastor is in his first year. His predecessor was here for a year, his predecessor four years, his predecessor seven. The priest here for four years was transferred after one year in his assignment after he left here. The pastor here for seven years was an “old-timer” and so when he was here we always had a newly ordained priest who stayed for one or two years as the pastor served as mentor — and we covered two missions in addition to the church in town, which was all 3 churches in 2 counties. The upshot is that our parishioners have now been trained not to get attached to our priests, and our priests not to get too attached to the parish.
I think is that “it is not good for man [or woman] to be alone” is a pretty good overriding rule, as long as we understand that marriage is just one form of “not alone.” Martin, of course, is a religious order priest, who lives in a big city, and is emotionally attached to all sorts of people, starting with his Jesuit confrères. Where I am, in contrast, the way of life for diocesan priests is a substantial obstacle for living a healthy and normal emotional life. There are all sorts of ways other than a married priesthood to address the problems — but they are problems, they are getting worse, and we need to address them.

report abuse


posted May 18, 2010 at 11:42 am

People like James Carrol are best ignored.

report abuse

Mere Catholic

posted May 18, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Cathyf, I think you are bringing up excellent points. Sex does not necessarily equal companionship. A woman (or man) who wakes up alone in a bed after a one-night stand is likely to be lonelier than a Mother Teresa who abstained from sex as a vowed religious, but was surrounded by her community of sisters. We need to make sure that our priests have the support of parish communities and their brother priests lest they lose the companionship (and as you mention, accountability) that community provides.
Also, priests and religious aren’t the only ones called to abstain from sex (which is what Carroll really is offended by). So is every Catholic who is not in a valid marriage. So is every Catholic who is married and sexually tempted by a non-spouse. Does the label of “immaturity, narcissism, misogyny, incapacity for intimacy, illusions about sexual morality” also fit those instances of “asexuality”?

report abuse


posted May 18, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Thing is, people think that because one is celebat that one loves less. That’s not the truth. Truth is, you get to love God more.

report abuse

Frank Hannon

posted May 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Mr. Carroll has spent the many years since abandoning his priestly vows apparently attempting to explain and justify that momentous personal decision. This ongoing exercise involves the refutation of seemingly every single aspect of Church orthodoxy. It seems to me that recent years have seen him adopt a shrillness that didn’t previously exist, which might suggest that, try as he does, he remains ill at ease. It’s similar to those homosexuals whose unceasing rants about gay rights sometimes feels like a masked attempt to come to terms with themselves.

report abuse

Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted May 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I think Frank Hannon has it right. I read Carroll’s column which was full of juvenile psychobabble (of the kind that should be kept in his novels.) I was unaware he is a board certified psychiatrist. If there is anyone who needs some time on a psych’s couch it appears to be he.

report abuse


posted May 18, 2010 at 10:07 pm

First off, we don’t have any way of knowing if nuns are more inclined to honor their chastity vows over a lifetime. It is apparent that any sexuality, if expressed, did not take the predatory bent that it had with so many of the men. There is no doubt that celibacy can be practiced in a healthy way, even by men. It is equally clear however that many of the young men entering seminaries in the last half century were not in a position to do so. Many were homosexual men who could not even admit that to themselves, so they tried to stuff it away in hopes that the collar would somehow free them. Healthy celibacy takes a great deal of maturity, at least as much as that required for healthy marriage, and yet you had this class of grown men who were permanently arrested at age 14 or 15 with unsupervised access to real young men of that age.
The primary root cause of the abuse crisis was not celibacy, but rather utter lack of accountability, moral reasoning and transparency by church leaders. What celibacy did, however, was to increase recruitment of spiritually and emotionally unhealthy young men into the priesthood. It provided the kindling for the fires which the leaders then ignored and hid until it burned down the reputation of the church itself.

report abuse

pharmacy technician

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:48 pm

What a great resource!

report abuse

Your Name

posted May 27, 2010 at 6:18 pm

“deluded about sexual morality”
I don’t think anyone in the Catholic hierarchy has the authenticity to talk about “sexual morality”.
Clean up your own messes first, I say.

report abuse

Lose Belly Fat

posted May 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Haha, nice fight you got going here. Who is right? The plot thickens :)

report abuse


posted May 31, 2010 at 9:22 am

What a great resource!

report abuse


posted September 7, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Where are the evil Catholic sisters?
Gee Greg, you didn’t read the news? Some were running the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.
And you’ll find some of them in Sister Jesme’s new autobiography, “Amen”.
Look over here and you’ll find a bunch during a good read through these posts:
“A national survey, completed in 1996 but intentionally never publicized, estimates that a “minimum” of 34,000 Catholic nuns, or about 40 percent of all nuns in the United States, have suffered some form of sexual trauma. Some of that sexual abuse, exploitation or harassment has come at the hands of priests and other nuns in the church, the report said. The study, recently obtained by the Post-Dispatch, indicates that the victimization often has had devastating psychological effects on the women. Many of the nuns said they were left with feelings of anger, shame, anxiety and depression. Some said it made them consider leaving religious life, and a few said they had attempted suicide.”
Martin Luther said it best: “there is never less chastity than in those who vow to be chaste.” Particularly when it was started just to control church property…

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

This blog is no longer active
This blog is no longer being actively updated. Please feel free to browse the archives or: Read our most popular inspiration blog See our most popular inspirational video Take our most popular quiz ...

posted 10:42:40pm Dec. 12, 2010 | read full post »

One day more
A reminder: "The Deacon's Bench" is closed! Please enjoy the archives! ...

posted 11:26:20pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Meet Montana's married priest
Earlier this week, I posted an item about Montana getting its first married priest. Now a local TV station has hopped on the bandwagon. Take a look, below. ...

posted 10:29:55pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Big day in the Big Easy: 10 new deacons
Deacon Mike Talbot has the scoop: 10 men today were ordained as Permanent Deacons for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. This group of men was formally selected on the day the evacuation of New Orleans began as Hurricane Katrina approached. The ...

posted 6:55:42pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Gaudete! And let's break out a carol or two...
"Gesu Bambino," anyone? This is one of my favorites, and nobody does it better than these gals: Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Staade. Enjoy. ...

posted 1:04:10pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.