There’s always been a sense of dueling antithesis between the Catholic media’s two NCRs—the National Catholic Reporter and the National Catholic Register. But readers’ gripes normally center on questions of orthodoxy rather than good faith. Trust in good faith, however, can quickly be shattered by a piece of the likes of one published last week in the National Catholic Reporter, a rant which does better to earn the label “anti-Catholic” than recent offerings from the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek.
Despite the lack of evidence tying celibacy per se to the proclivity for sexual predation, the article’s authors, Fran Ferder and Fr. John Heagle, rehearse a conspiratorial argument about the supposed deviancy to which the unmarried are given.
Celibacy is mandated for male church leaders. Women are excluded from sacramental leadership, thus creating an ecclesial environment that offers a perfect refuge for those whose sexual interests do not include women. Among them are the sexually disinterested, who simply don’t pick up sexual cues in the environment. For these asexual men celibacy is easy—and so is failing to notice if some of their brothers become sexual with minors. Since asexual individuals have a minimized capacity for intimate feelings, their affectivity is stunted, limiting their ability to experience the whole range of the most normal human feelings, including falling in love and feeling horrified over the abuse of a child.
To review, then: The way we discern the depravity of child abuse is not by the use of reason or the contemplation of ethics, but feelings—feelings developed through sexual activity. Following the logic, we might conclude that Hugh Hefner, given his considerable experience, must have the keenest sense of all of the havoc sexual harm wreaks on children. Ferder and Heagle go on to suggest that those who live celibacy successfully do so on account of sexual pathology, blunting their consciences to evil, while other priests in their midst commit sex abuse with impunity. How the “asexual” ones manage to end up as bishops involved in cover-ups is left unexplained. With the explanation growing increasingly complex, little is resolved, and some Catholics might simply conclude that the authors’ experience with ordinary priests and seminarians is somewhat limited.
If Ferder and Heagle’s reasoning sounds familiar, it’s because it stems from the more commonly heard line about celibacy delivered by skeptical secularists: Not only is real celibacy unreasonable, but celibate environments are breeding grounds for sexual predation given the lack of the sexual outlet provided by marriage. That marriage seems not to solve the problem of sexual abuse in other religious groups or in society at large is lost on these theorists. Joining them are Ferder and Heagle, who seem to believe that sex and marriage serve, among other goals, to rescue their participants from the otherwise uncontrollable urge to commit sexual crimes. Heck, that makes marriage sound more repressive than celibacy. As is so often the case, allegations about psychological conspiracies operating within the Church do little but complicate the issue of sex abuse, and give Ferder and Heagle’s readers the impression that the armchair is preferable to the psychologists’ couch when it comes to understanding the Church.