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CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND SEXUAL SIN

During the past several months, the Catholic Church has encountered one sex abuse case after another. Before me are articles with such provocative and descriptive titles as these: "Sex, Shame and the Catholic Church," "Sex Scandals Have Priests in Turmoil as Easter Nears," "Catholics in Crisis," "Crisis in the Catholic Church," and "Pope Calls Abuse an ‘Appalling Sin.’"

As time goes by we hear of Catholic scandals in Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Dallas, Texas; Lafayette, Louisiana; Fall River, Massachusetts; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Orange County, California; and other prominent cities and places. Some eighty priests are accused of child abuse in Boston alone! Recently a Polish Catholic Archbishop resigned because of sexual scandal involving sexual relations with seminarians. Not long ago, the principle or dean of the local Catholic High School in Fort Worth was picked up in a park on homosexual charges. A sexual crisis indeed has come and there appears no quick end to the problem. It is particularly tragic when this scandal involves young, impressionable, vulnerable, and trusting children!

However, we must not only charge Catholicism with the guilt of sexual sin. We continue to hear of Protestant ministers, pastors, and leaders who have been caught in fornication, homosexuality, adultery, and child molestation. One renowned televangelist was guilty of sexual compromise and later was sent to prison for fraud; his wife subsequently entered an adulterous relationship. Another televangelist was picked up for perverse sexual acts on two occasions. Richard Roberts, son of Oral Roberts and the head of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, is living in adultery with a second wife. Anita Bryant, the controversial anti-homosexual spokeswoman, openly entered an adulterous relationship CCM singer Amy Grant and her husband likewise divorced and Amy entered an adulterous relationship. Popular singer Sandi Patty likewise divorced her husband and openly entered an adulterous relationship, apparently with her preacher’s endorsement. One popular radio preacher of the past was implicated in homosexuality with school students--which ruined his career.  (Note: we have refrained from giving names of those who claimed to repent; only those who refused to repent or now refuse to repent are actually named above.)  We also continue to hear of Protestant ministers who are charged with child sexual molestation. It should be apparent to all that vast numbers of Protestant preachers and leaders (and not just Catholic clergy) are openly (or secretly) living in sexual sin!

Lest it be thought that we only cite religious leaders as offenders here, we must be reminded that vast numbers of church members and people in the general public are also guilty of sexual sin. Research indicates that the rate of fornication for church young people is nearly as great as the general public! And millions of church members, both Catholic and Protestant, are guilty of sexual compromise by way of fornication and adultery. Entire denominations are endorsing the perverse sin of sodomy or homosexuality! Furthermore, those guilty of the sexual sins associated with pornography (in written form, on videos, and on the Internet) must number in the multiple millions!

But let us discuss the present Catholic crisis for a few moments. This is what has taken the focus of attention in the media so we should address this matter directly. When sin of this magnitude receives public attention, we must address it in light of God’s own Word.

First, we must remember that historically Catholicism has had its share of sexual sin. During the medieval period (the so-called "dark ages") many a Catholic priest had his "mistress" on the side. Renowned historian Kenneth Scott Latourette speaks of the decline of the clergy in this period: "It is not surprising that in the rank and file of the bishops and priests there was widespread corruption. Clerical concubinage was prevalent. . . . We read of bishops with numerous illegitimate progeny for whom they provided" (A History of Christianity, Vol. 1, p. 641). At the time of the Reformation, this Catholic clerical sexual immorality was rampant. Even the so-called "Popes" themselves were known to have their sexual partners and an array of illegitimate children! It was a morally corrupt period of church history, a fact that even Catholic historians admit.

Second, forced celibacy is a false teaching condemned in Scripture. It is true that Paul advocates singleness for those who have the gift of celibacy and he notes that there are advantages to the single state so that one may devote himself unreservedly to the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 32-35). Jesus also indicates that some choose to forego marriage "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12). However, Paul points out that those without sexual self-control should marry (1 Cor. 7:9). The apostle goes so far as to say that those who would "forbid marriage" are teaching false doctrine (1 Tim. 4:1-3)! It is a serious sin to create commandments of men, especially ones that would lead others to sin. It is interesting to note that both Jesus and Paul were single and perhaps some of Paul’s fellow-workers remained single (e.g., Timothy, Titus, Luke), although this remains unclear. On the other hand, all of the twelve apostles were married as were Jesus’ four brothers (1 Cor. 9:5).

Could it be that the Catholic Church would not have the current problem in the realm of sexual immorality if they the church hierarchy had not imposed the false teaching of clerical celibacy on their priests (and nuns)? If the priests had satisfying marriages and had the blessing of children, would they be as tempted to commit sinful sex acts with children and adolescents? This is a question that millions of Catholic members are currently raising.

Third, Scripture teaches that elders must be married. Elders are also called overseers (bishops) or shepherds (pastors) in the Bible (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Peter 5:1-3). To qualify as an overseer, one must be "the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). Not only does this eliminate a woman from the position of overseer or shepherd, but it also eliminates single men from this Scriptural position. Do we see a conflict here? The Roman Catholic Church requires their priests and bishops to be single but Scripture requires overseers to be married! (Apparently evangelists or preachers need not be married; e.g., Paul, Timothy, Titus, etc.) Experience and history demonstrate that when Catholic priests have been forced to remain celibate (in conflict with Scripture), they sometimes fall into degenerate sexual practices, whether this be homosexuality, fornication, or the current problem of child sexual molestation.

Fourth, history informs us that enforced clerical celibacy only arose after the apostolic times. The heretical movement of the Marcionites in the mid-second century did forbid marriage, and a custom arose in the general or "catholic" church that unmarried men who became ordained should remain unmarried after ordination, and if a married cleric’s wife died, he was not permitted to remarry. The Catholic Church formally forbad clerical marriage by a synod in Elvira, Spain, in 305 (Latourette, p. 224). By 385 Siricius enforced celibacy on priests and in 390 a Carthaginian council required celibacy of bishops, priests, and deacons. Leo the Great, in the middle of the fifth century, further required subdeacons to remain celibate (Ibid., p. 224). We can see that enforced celibacy is denounced as a false teaching in the New Testament, and before many centuries passed, celibacy came to be a requirement of those in the religious life in the apostate church.

Fifth, as a further consideration, we might note that the current controversy in the Catholic Church regarding sexually immoral priests and bishops, seems to be connected to a greedy or covetous spirit on the part of some. Many of the adult men and women who testify against priests who have sexually abused them when they were children seem to be very concerned about obtaining a financial settlement out of their allegations. How can one place a cost amount on the lust, cruelty and inhumanity of perverted priests? Why should the Catholic laity pay a vast sum of money to their abused fellow-Catholics, particularly when they had no part at all in the abuse? Yet it seems like some victims are taking advantage of the current backlash against Catholic clergy and are bringing lawsuits against the church of their childhood. While we would in no way justify the sins of Catholic priests, we would suggest that this kind of retaliation and greedy spirit is clearly forbidden in Scripture (cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-8; Matt. 5:38-42; Eph. 5:3, 5).

Let us consider a few of the recommendations that would be warranted, based on the teaching of Scripture. First, let the Catholic Church own up to this sin and openly admit that child abuse—whether by a priest or bishop, a father, a step-father, or a sibling—is clearly sinful. As John Paul II expressed it, during a recent special meeting with American cardinals, sexual abuse of children by the clergy is "an appalling sin" (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 24, 2002). It definitely is "an appalling sin"! Let everyone acknowledge that this is true. Further, let everyone, whether Catholic or Protestant, speak loudly and clearly that all other forms of sexual immorality are sinful, whether fornication, adultery, homosexuality, incest, and every other wicked and lustful act and relationship.

Second, let us be reminded that sexual sin, including all forms of child abuse, will be punished in hell. "Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). All unrepentant child abusers will be judged by a holy God! Anyone guilty of fornication, adultery, homosexuality (sodomy), and other sex sins will not be permitted to inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-6; Col. 3:5-7). This is no little matter! Let us deal with it while life is still in our veins. Let every Catholic and Protestant minister acknowledge it and let every common church member own up to it. It is a matter of life and death, heaven and hell.

Third, let us all beware of the ever-present temptations around us. Not only is this a battle in one’s heart, but it also is related to external influences—whether that be immodest clothing, viewing pornography, use of the Internet, watching television, listening to worldly music, and many other stimuli in our modern world. Surely child pornography in magazines and on the Internet has snared thousands of men! Let us heed Paul’s wise counsel: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Romans 13:14). Let us seek the way of escape from all sexual sins (1 Cor. 10:13). Let all who are tempted seek to run from such lusts (2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Peter 2:11).

Fourth, let us all seek purity and holiness. God is quite clear in warning us that only those who live in holiness will see Him in heaven one day (Hebrews 12:14). Jesus Himself declared, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). He went on to say that we should take drastic measures, to the point of tearing our eye out and cutting our hand off, if that were to help conquer sinful lusts (Matt. 5:27-30). We must be holy as God is holy if we expect to be with Him eternally (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Fifth, let us make sure that we renounce any false teaching that would promote any form of sexual sin. We should not only condemn the doctrine of enforced celibacy promoted by Roman Catholicism, but we should likewise denounce the careless "unconditional security" teaching of churches that would tend to make provision for sexual sin. We should furthermore denounce the loose teaching on divorce and remarriage that would allow remarried adulterers to think they are saved when Scripture plainly says that all adulterers and adulteresses will not enter the kingdom of God. Now is the time to look at your own church, whether that be the Catholic Church, or one of the Protestant denominations, and determine whether false teaching is being promoted.

Sixth, let us also show great compassion on those adults who have been sexually abused and victimized by unscrupulous and lustful adults. We have focused on Catholic priests and bishops at this time, but surely child abuse by fathers, step-fathers, siblings, and others is a great problem in our age. Perhaps 20 to 25 percent of children have been victimized by this perverse phenomenon, to one degree or another! As adults, they may have many unresolved problems in their life because of this secret problem in their young years. One young woman shared with me of the deep pain and anguish that this experience gave her and how it affected her adulthood as well. (We must admit that those who have been participants in the priestly abuse, if they are mature enough to know the sinfulness of the relationship, do share some of the guilt and should seek forgiveness themselves.) Let us be used to reach out to all of the children who have been hurt and abused by lustful priests (or any other adult) and seek to share the love of Jesus with them—a Jesus who seeks their wholeness and healing.

May the Lord give us wisdom to see this present crisis as God sees it, and may we as individuals determine to walk in love and holiness before God and all people.

Richard Hollerman