Celibacy and Sexual Deviance by Priests

Many psychologists have suggested that clergy who take a vow of celibacy are more likely to engage in sexual deviance than clergy who are allowed to marry. Many others argue that this is completely untrue. This research paper aims to examine these points-of-view to either prove or disprove the relationship between celibacy and sexual deviances by priests.

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In today’s society, the Catholic Church is confronted with two important issues regarding sexuality. The first is the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests, which is a highly publicized issue that it damaging the reputation of the Catholic Church in the United States. The second is the question of whether priest should take a vow of celibacy and remain unmarried.

In order to fully address this hypothesis, it is important to address these questions but not regard them as two aspects of one problem.

While the number of priests who have abused children is relatively low, the scandalous nature of the acts has made them highly visible. (Jenkins)The Catholic Church, which demands high standards of behavior from priests, has responded to the recent scandals by pointing out that there is no evidence that people who are celibate are more likely to abuse children. The majority of child sexual abuse, according to church representatives, takes place in the home and is perpetrated by people who are married.

Besides pedophilia, the Catholic Church has been dealing with other forms of sexual offenses by priests such as consensual sex, sex with male and female minors through enticement, and priests who sired children. (Berry) These would most probably constitute the lesser problem for the Church community, as they are far less publicized in the media and society. However, all of these acts have increased pressure on the Catholic Church to reconsider celibacy as a requirement.

Through extensive research on celibacy, religion and sexual deviation, this research paper has gathered a sufficient amount of evidence to prove that clergy members who vow celibacy are not more likely than those who do not vow celibacy to commit acts of sexual deviation.


In the Western Catholic Church, celibacy became universally practiced in the fourth century, beginning with St. Augustine’s adoption of the monastic discipline for every one of his priests. (Burkett) In addition to the many practical reasons for this discipline, including the belief that it would discourage nepotism, the celibate lifestyle allowed priests to be more independent and available.

This ideal also called priests to live out the same witness as their brothers in monastic life. The Church hasn’t changed its directives for celibacy, because over the centuries, it has realized the practical and spiritual value of the practice. Indeed, even in the Eastern Catholic Church, which includes a married clergy, the bishops are still chosen only from unmarried priests.

According to the Catholic Church, Christ revealed the true value and meaning of celibacy. Catholic priests have imitated Christ in their total gift of self to God and others through celibacy. (Coldrey) Although Christ raised marriage to the level of a sacrament that reveals the love and life of the Trinity, He was also a living witness to the life of the world to come. The Catholic Church holds that celibacy properly understood and lived frees a person to love and serve others as Christ did.

The practice of celibacy is an ancient tradition of the Catholic Church. However, the fact that the church has married priests indicates that this could change. Throughout the world, married clergy who came from other traditions have been ordained as Catholic priests. If the tradition of compulsory celibacy is preventing men from choosing the priesthood, many religious groups would say that the tradition should be reviewed.

Celibacy’s main value is that it is the example of the way Jesus Christ himself lived. Jesus was celibate and poor, so the Catholic Church holds that this is the way a priest should conduct his life. (Burkett)

Issue of Celibacy

The issue of celibacy is brought up every time a new sexual deviance case is brought against a clergyman. Many people believe that if priests were allowed to marry, there would be less of a problem with deviant behavior. (Isely)

The idea behind celibacy is that priests voluntarily choose to remain single so that they may give themselves more fully to the work of God. However, many argue that there is a world of difference between that voluntary celibacy for the glory of God and the enforced celibacy of Romanism.

Myths on Celibacy

In order to fully understand the connection or lack of a connection between celibacy and sexual deviance, it is important to work past stereotypes and myths. According to Crisis Magazine, recent studies have been conducted to debunk some of the popular myths regarding Christianity. (Hudson) Below are the basic myths addressed in this report:

Myth #1 — Catholic priests are more likely to become pedophiles than any other group of men. According to the report, this is a simply false statement. There is no existing evidence that this is true. Using and abusing children for sexual gratification of adults is an epidemic in all classes, professions, religions, and ethnic communities around the world.

This fact is supported by studies child pornography, incest, and child prostitution. Pedophilia among priests is relatively rare, as it affects only 0.3% of the entire population of clergy. This figure, which is cited in the book Pedophiles and Priests, is from the most comprehensive study to date, which found that merely one out of 2,252 priests considered over a thirty-year time frame was afflicted by pedophilia.

Myth #2 — The celibate state of the priesthood leads to pedophilia. This myth is proved false by supporting studies that show that celibacy bears no causal relation to any type of deviant sexual addiction including pedophilia. The report indicates that married men are just as likely as celibate priests to sexually abuse children. In fact, the majority of sexual abusers are regressed heterosexual men who sexually abuse girls. Women are also found to be among those sexual abusers.

Myth #3 — Married clergy would make pedophilia and other forms of sexual misconduct cease to exist. The report states that since neither being Catholic nor being celibate predisposes a person to develop pedophilia, a married clergy wouldn’t solve the problem. It has been proven that healthy heterosexual men do not develop erotic attractions to children as a result of abstinence.


While it is true that no major evidence exists that celibacy leads to sexual deviation, there is a risk that some who choose celibate priesthood may not have dealt properly with his own sexuality. When trying to solve the problem of child abuse, the question of celibacy might be a dangerous distraction, leading to a false solution. If there is a solution, this research paper aims to find it.

This research paper will cover a variety of topics, including arguments for and against celibacy, the history of celibacy, recent case studies of priests and sexual deviance, and more. Through thorough research, this paper aims to uncover evidence that links celibacy to sexual deviance, or prove that there is none.


This research papers uses a variety of methods to present a valid argument regarding celibacy and sexual deviance. The paper will analyze the results of various surveys, sexual program evaluations, case studies, research papers, and historical sources to present a thorough argument for and against the connection between sexual deviances and celibacy.

The data will be collected from a variety of sources, including university libraries, the Internet and law journals. As additional sources for collecting data, the research paper will uncover details from strictly scripted anonymous interviews. Since I did not expect to be able to find many subjects who met our criteria who were willing to speak, I felt that this method would yield the most information from the few that I found.

The Argument Against the Connection

Many psychologists, historians and religious experts share the opinion that that there is nothing specifically related to celibacy about the sexual abuse of children or other sexually deviant behavior. (Berry) According to various studies and reports, many denominations and religious groups report abuse cases and some of the worst involve clergy members who are not celibate.

According to Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, who has been studying issues such as child pornography and clergy abuse for many years, there is no evidence that clergy who take an oath of celibacy are more likely to engage in sexual deviance than clergy who are permitted to marry. (Jenkins)

My research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination – or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported,” writes Jenkins.

In addition, Jenkins says that there is no evidence that Catholic priests have a higher rate of sexual deviance than schoolteachers, residential counselors, social workers, or scout masters. His findings are as follows:

Just to find some solid numbers, how many Catholic clergy are involved in misconduct? We actually have some good information on this issue, since in the early 1990s the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago undertook a bold and thorough self-study. The survey examined every priest who had served in the archdiocese over the previous 40 years, some 2,200 individuals, and responded to every internal complaint ever made against these men. The standard of evidence applied was not legal proof that would stand up in a court of law, but just consensus that a particular charge was probably justified. By this low standard, the survey found that about 40 priests, about 1.8 per cent of the whole, were probably guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers. Put another way, no evidence existed against 98 per cent of parish clergy, the overwhelming majority of the group. Since other organizations dealing with children have not undertaken such comprehensive studies, we have no idea whether the Catholic figure is better or worse than the rate for schoolteachers, residential counselors, social workers, or scout masters.” (Jenkins)

Argument for the Connection

Many psychologists and religious scholars say that some evidence points to the fact that the serious and widespread problem of sexual deviance within the priesthood is caused, at least in some part, by the Church’s clerical celibacy requirement. (Berry) These specialists have urged Catholic leaders to reexamine and modify their teachings about sex.

In “The Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris, homosexual behavior is reported as “seen in situations where the ideal sexual object (a member of the opposite sex) is unavailable.” Morris argues that if males or females are forbidden sexual access to their opposite members, they will find sexual outlets in other ways.

Psychologists link these findings to Catholic priests and celibacy, saying that priests are required to remain celibate and taught to abhor sexual relationships with women. (Berry) Therefore, many might be more inclined to seek other outlets for their sexuality, including sexual deviances, like homosexuality or pedophilia.

Dr. Jay Feierman, a psychiatrist who has treated hundreds of pedophilic priests at a Catholic treatment center for abusive priests, believes that celibacy is an unnatural state and could result in deviant behavior. “If you tell a man that he’s not allowed to have particular friends, he’s not allowed to be affectionate, he’s not allowed to be in love, he’s not allowed to be a sexual being, you shouldn’t be surprised at anything that happens.”

In view of evidence like this, it seems logical to conclude that, if priests were permitted a normal outlet for their sexuality; they would be less inclined to seek an outlet through deviant behavior.

SIGNIFICANCE recent estimate reveals that there are currently approximately one thousand legal actions against priests alleged to have sexually abused young children. However, heads of religious orders are overlooking the issue as much as they can.

The Pope has stated that these incidents are heinous crimes against humanity and serious sins, but has not done anything about them. (Jenkins) Many Catholics assumed that religious leaders would immediately dismiss the culprits from priesthood, but instead, nothing happened. In fact, there have been several cases brought up recently that suggest that religious leaders have intentionally covered up evidence of sexual deviance in an attempt to protect the Catholic Church.

Because of the current structure of the Catholic Church, in which all authority emanates from the Vatican, only the pope is authorized to defrock a member from the priesthood. The pope’s current view involving the church’s priests is similar to that of a marriage vow, which means they take each other for better or worse.

However, as a result of the increase in sexual misconduct charges against its priests, the pope has appointed a committee to study ways within the church’s canon that might allow for priests who are found guilty of child molestation to be dismissed. Still, little has been done to punish or reprimand the guilty clergy, other than medical treatment.

Priests who have been accused of sexual deviance are often sent to treatment centers, in which medical professional aim to make the priest acknowledge that he does have a sexual problem; accept responsibility for his sexual behavior; and understands the sequence of thoughts, feelings, events, circumstances or triggers that make up the pattern that precedes his sexually offensive behaviors.

The treatment of clergy sexual offenders is long and costly. In today’s economic climate, there is increasing pressure within the Church to justify such high levels of expenditure, out of a limited church treasury, when treatment will seldom enable priests to return to ministry.


The Catholic Church has been recently hit with more allegations of clergy sexual abuse than any other faith or denomination, but clergy sexual abuse has afflicted virtually every religious denomination. In recent years priests, rabbis, ministers, and gurus have all been charged with molesting children.

Many church critics immediately seize upon the most obvious difference between Catholic priests and other clergy: Priests are supposed to be celibate. Critics argue that the requirement for celibacy draws sexual deviants into the priesthood, and gives priests no acceptable alternatives for their sexual desires.

The significance of this paper is that it will show that there is no substantial evidence so far that Catholic priests or any other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination or even non-clergy.


The facilities available for this research project include computer labs, libraries, and bookstores.


Berry, Jason. Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. Doubleday, 1992.

Burkett, Elinor, and Frank Bruni. A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church. Viking, 1993.

Hudson, Dean. Ten Myths About Priestly Pedophilia. Crisis, July, 2001.

Isely, P. Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: A Historical and Contemporary Review. Pastoral Psychology, 1997.

Yallop, R. A secret struggle of the Catholic church. The Age, 1994.

Bockle and Pohier, eds. “Sexuality in Contemporary Catholicism,” Seabury Press, 1976

Coldrey, B.M. The Sexual Abuse of Children as a Public Issue. Studies,1996.

Wilkinson, E.K. People, Priests and Pedophilia, International Research Foundation, 1994.

Jenkins, Philip.

Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis. Oxford University, 2001.