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 CNS Special report:
 Coverage of John Jay report, National Review Board study.

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Transmitted 03/01/2004 11:03 AM ET

Celibacy issues are among questions raised in sexual abuse report

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In its report on clergy sexual abuse of minors, the U.S. bishops' National Review Board said several issues related to priestly celibacy "could provide a breeding ground for other crises" besides the child abuse scandal.

"It would be presumptuous of the review board, and beyond its mandate, to opine on the relative merits of a celibate or noncelibate priesthood," the report said. But the report raised questions that it said the bishops should study further.

"There can be no doubt that while it is a gift for some, celibacy is a terrible burden for others, resulting in loneliness, alcohol and drug abuse and improper sexual conduct," the board said.

Its report, released Feb. 27 at a Washington press conference, addressed the causes and context of the decades of sexual abuse of children by priests that created a massive crisis in the church when the extent of the problem began to unfold in 2002.

Seven of the report's 145 pages were devoted to "special issues relating to celibacy."

"The discipline of celibacy is not itself a cause of the current crisis," the board said.

But it said that lack of sound formation in sexuality and celibacy in seminaries appears to have been one of the significant problems underlying sexual abuse of minors after those seminarians became priests.

"In the hyper-sexualized American society of the past few decades, living a celibate life takes commitment and dedication on a daily basis both before and after ordination," it said.

"To be a successful celibate, one must understand the meaning and purpose of priestly celibacy," it added, and when formation was inadequate "those candidates who were most troubled sexually were most likely to fail."

The board said when seminarians were ordained the "abrupt change, both in increased responsibility and decreased oversight, increased the risk of sexual misconduct." It called for closer oversight of newly ordained priests and urged bishops to meet "personally and privately" with each of their priests "at least once or twice a year."

Noting that many diocesan priests live alone in rectories, without the community support and supervision common for priests in religious orders, the board urged bishops to revisit the question of their priests' living arrangements.

"Several witnesses (interviewed by the board) recommended that dioceses consider establishing residential living centers for priests that would help to meet the twin purposes of fostering community and healthy intimate relationships and ensuring oversight of priests," the report said.

The board also reported that "numerous witnesses told the board that they believe there were more incidents of sexual relationships between a priest and a consenting adult woman or man than between a priest and a minor."

The board acknowledged that the issue of clerical misconduct with other adults was "beyond the scope of this report," but said it could breed another crisis in the priesthood.

"Such conduct by a priest is gravely immoral. Bishops and other church leaders cannot allow such conduct to occur without consequences," it said.

"The church would be well-advised to consider establishing guidelines for addressing such lapses that would bring greater clarity to the meaning of celibacy, both for priests and the public," it added.

Because of the ramifications of clerical celibacy for many aspects of church life, it said, "the board believes that greater examination by the church of the role of, extent of compliance with and consequences of celibacy would be beneficial."


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