Q. How did pedophilia get to be such a big problem in the priesthood? Wouldn’t it be better if priests were allowed to marry?
A. It wasn’t until after Vatican II, when the world was once again in the midst of a sexual revolution, that abuse became more prevalent. In society in general, there was a lot of confusion as to what was considered proper sexual behavior. Sadly, a proliferation of pedophilia (abuse of pre-pubescent children) and ephebophilia (abuse of post-pubescent children) did occur at this time, in both celibates and sexually active people, married and unmarried.
The perception from the media is that sexual misconduct on the part of priests is due to celibacy and that this problem would be solved if priests were allowed to marry. In fact, statistics suggest that the incidence of abuse from priests is no higher than in any other sector of society. Being celibate does not make someone a pedophile/ephebophile, nor does being gay. However, the majority of those who committed abuse admitted to having homosexual orientations and primarily targeted teenage boys. It’s also worth noting that such priests most often had little to no prayer life, were disobedient to Church teaching, and had engaged in promiscuous behaviour before ordination.
During the pontificate of John Paul II, major reforms began in seminaries to ensure that applicants were thoroughly screened – physical and psychological examinations, direct and thorough questioning, background checks, character references, and the like. In the discernment process, a young man must discern his call to all aspects of the priestly life, which for a Roman Catholic priest is a call to the celibate life. Today, there is a much greater emphasis in seminaries about how to lead a healthy, celibate life – not about repression of sexuality, but a recognition of yourself as a sexual being and directing that energy and power into your ministry. We seek to give ourselves to the Church, the Bride of Christ.