The Shame of Celibacy

I was saddened to learn of the resignation this week of Gabino Zavala, Auxiliary Bishop of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

This is not another sexual abuse case involving a priest. Like many, I am skeptical of the Catholic Church. It's a sketchy place. And yet, as a resident of Los Angeles, I benefit from the Church's moral and financial presence here -- a presence that lifts up entire sections of the city. This is particularly the case in Latino communities, which make up 65 percent of the 5 million Catholics living in Los Angeles. The strength of these communities is the strength of LA.

By all accounts, Gavino Zavala is not just one of the good guys, he's one of the very best guys. One who has served the tragically underserved Latino community of East LA for 35 years. One who has been an outspoken advocate for immigration rights. One who is largely responsible for widespread prison reform. One who has worked tirelessly to improve conditions for the working poor.

It turns out, like billions of people, he is also a parent. And because of this, he is no longer a priest.

Speaking for the Church, in response to Zavala's resignation, Archbishop Jose Gomez writes, "The archdiocese has reached out to the mother and children to provide spiritual care as well as funding to assist the children with college costs." What is considered standard procedure by corporations and small businesses in this country is regaled as benevolence by the Catholic Church. A condolence package for its dishonorably discharged. A kind gesture to its non-celibate, mortal sinners.

Of which over half of Catholic priests are.

According to A.W. Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and retired psychotherapist who spent 25 years recording clerical sexual practices, "At any one time, no more than fifty percent of Catholic clergy professing celibacy are actually practicing sexual abstinence." A similar study by Father Victor Kotze puts the number at 45 percent. The Vatican does not dispute this. In 1993, when presented with these findings by the BBC, Cardinal Jose Sanchez stated, "I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those figures."

The fact is, if all bishops and priests who are presently engaged in consensual sexual relations with adults were to resign, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church would be decimated.

Why, then, doesn't the Vatican simply change the rule? According to Sipe, it comes down to money:

It's in the financial interest of the Church to uphold celibacy doctrines because it doesn't take as much money to supply the life's care of a priest or a nun as it would with an entire family. So the Church controls the system through guilt. Sin is their bailiwick. It sets up the guilt and then the forgiveness. For example, the most common sexual practice among young priests is masturbation. The church teaches that this is a mortal sin, so priests are immediately caught in a cycle of guilt and confession and guilt and confession. Many also have sex, another clerical sin. And who has charge of forgiving these sins? The Church. Control a person's sexual practice, and you control the person.

"Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone." --John 8:7