Letters Celibacy of Catholic priests

Points of information

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b2619 (Published 29 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2619
  1. Paul W Keeley, consultant palliative physician1
  1. 1Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow G4 0SF
  1. Paul.Keeley{at}ggc.scot.nhs.uk

    Sexual abuse by clergy was condemned by the Council of Elvira in 306 (the first recorded case of such a condemnation), but this was over 700 years before mandatory clerical celibacy. This rather undermines Delamothe’s argument about priestly celibacy1: sexual abuse of young people by those in authority has been around for a long time, well before any requirement to be celibate.

    Sexual abuse by other groups—other religious leaders from denominations where celibacy is not a requirement, teachers, social workers, health professionals—all show a breach of trust and predatory behaviour. Yet in each of these, again, celibacy would seem to be a red herring.

    I realise the title of the piece was a reference to St Paul’s injunction, but if Delamothe is seriously advocating marriage as an antidote, this may be missing the target: 90% of the sexual abuse reported was by male perpetrators on pubescent and teenage boys. Sexual orientation may be relevant in this case and marriage may be irrelevant.

    There are some interesting points of departure for speculations such as those made by Delamothe. A few starters are the route taken out of poverty by people who joined the religious orders in Ireland and their likely unsuitability for managing damaged children; the cycle of abuse whereby abusers were likely to have been abused themselves; the influence of Jansenism on the Church in Ireland; the class system in religious orders; the concentration of clerical and religious abuse in Anglophone countries with a large Irish diaspora (rather than other predomininantly Catholic countries).


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2619


    • Competing interests: PWK is a Roman Catholic.


    View Abstract

    Sign in

    Log in through your institution

    Free trial

    Register for a free trial to thebmj.com to receive unlimited access to all content on thebmj.com for 14 days.
    Sign up for a free trial