Vatican defends celibacy for priests

VATICAN CITY: The Vatican today denied that its celibacy requirement for priests was the root cause of the clerical sex abuse scandal.

Suggestions that the celibacy rule was somehow responsible for the “deviant behaviour” of a few priests have swirled in recent

days, with opinion pieces in German newspapers blaming it for fueling abuse and even Italian commentators questioning the rule.

Much of the furor was spurred by comments

from one of the pope’s closest advisers, Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who called this week for an honest examination of issues like celibacy and priestly education to root out the origins of abusive priests.

“Part of it is the question of celibacy, as well as

the subject of character

development. And part

of it is a large portion of honesty,” he wrote in the online edition of his diocesan newsletter.

His office quickly stressed that Schoenborn wasn’t calling into question priestly celibacy, which just this week Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed for priests as an “expression of the gift of oneself to God and others.” But Schoenborn has in the past shown himself receptive to arguments that a celibate priesthood is increasingly problematic for the church, primarily because it limits the number of men who seek ordination. Last June, Schoenborn personally presented the Vatican with a lay initiative signed by prominent

Australian Catholics calling for the celibacy rule to be abolished and for married men to be allowed to become priests. In the days following Schoenborn’s editorial this week, several prominent prelates shot down any suggestion that the celibacy rule had anything to do with the scandal, a point echoed today by the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

“It’s been established that there’s no link,” said the

article by Bishop Giuseppe Versaldi, an emeritus

professor of canon law

and psychology at the

Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

“First off, it’s known that sexual abuse of minors is more widespread among lay people and those who are married than in the celibate priesthood,” he wrote. “Secondly, research has shown that priests guilty of abuse had long before stopped observing celibacy.” The article also defended Benedict as a “vigilant shepherd of his flock” in confronting the crisis decisively early on.

The Vatican has been on the defensive ever since

the first of some 170

former students from Catholic schools in Germany came forward with claims of physical and

sexual abuse, including

at a boys choir once led by the pope’s brother.