Sex has many misconceptions

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 8, 2002

What to think and do about the scandalous number of pedophilic Roman Catholic priests is obviously simple and totally effective -- as I hear it from far too many foolish people.

Their solution: Let them marry, let them have sex with any consenting person (male or female, young or old) -- in a word, let them stop being priests and become just like anyone else. The problem pedophilic priests suffer is not celibacy, but the same as other ignorant people: a failure to understand the meaning, value, and purpose of sex.

Where to begin describing the ignorance and misunderstanding --with celibacy or with sex. Let's begin with the former so we can conclude with the broader understanding needed by us all.

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Celibacy for religious professionals (whether priests, nuns, or brothers and whether Roman or other Catholic, whether Catholic at all) was not conceived for abnegation (self-denial) or flagellation (self-punishment), although it has been widely so perceived. This is not to say, of course, that some religious have not developed this misunderstanding themselves and so practiced celibacy for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way.

Perhaps this misconception may be involved in the aberrations of at least some of these offending priests. They may have become celibate for negative and inhibiting rather than positive and productive reasons. The doctrine is that celibacy is an enabling commitment that frees the individual from preoccupation with filial responsibilities so as to be totally dedicated to the larger family of the parish or congregation. Personal sacrifice though it may be, thousands of religious for thousands of years have practiced celibacy in joy and with a sense of fulfillment.

They have no better example than the Apostle Paul. He told the church at Corinth he saw value in celibacy, at least for his particular mission. But he qualified: "I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." (1 Corinthians 7:1-7).

Those who misunderstand have acquired the assumption that because sex is natural it is necessary. They have been deceived by Freudian mythology acerbated by Hollywood exploitation that sex is self-gratification. They have abandoned the ageless concept of sexual intercourse as the unique exchange of singular love. People cannot "make love," which is only a euphemism, but we must express marital unity by a physical union that is as pleasurable spiritually as it is physically.

The experience -- and it must be an experience to be genuine -- is the more enriched when a child grows from this love and you nurture that child, who is the personification of your love united, to fullness of his own personhood.

If a person chooses not to have marital commitment, he or she has declined the kind of love that alone merits sexual intercourse. Opting out of marital commitment can be for the purpose of religious dedication (as with priests and nuns), to spare a spouse the risks or demands of certain occupations, the recognition that one does not have to offer what marriage requires, or just out of good sense that no one is available who is worth marrying.

The solution to pedophilia -- and all the many sexual aberrations -- is for us all to understand the absolute qualification of singular, marital love and that sex is its expression and communication.