An article by Bishop de Korte in Nederlands Dagblad has – once more – greatly upset certain Dutch bloggers. “He wants to get rid of celibacy for priest!” they clamoured. Granted, it doesn’t take much for some people to get upset, and certainly not when it is Bishop de Korte who says or writes something, but I think that it is good to see what he actually wrote.
I did not translate the entire article because parts of it are taken from the pastoral letter that the bishop wrote earlier. Below are the sections in which he discusses celibacy.
Balance of power
In the media the assertion has frequently been made that celibacy is almost automatically the cause of the abuse. A life lived in abstinence must frustrate people. When sexual energy can’t be channeled normally there is a risk of derailment. But many experts have rejected the causal connection between celibacy and child abuse. Sadly, sexual abuse of minors happens in all layers of society. In sports, scouting, health care, education and, not least, within families. Experts claim that it is not celibacy but the strongly hierarchical balance of power within a fairly closed environment that is the reason for the abuse.
But did celibacy play no part whatsoever in the abuse? I think we must face this question honestly. It seems to me to be at least a good question for the committee. In that respect it is good to keep an eye on the historical dimension. Until far into the 1960s there was a strong anti-physical attitude in Catholic circles. For many sexuality was a necessary evil and prudishness was widely spread. In that environment many clerics made the vows of celibacy without an intense formation. It was mainly something of the head and hardly of the heart. It must be feared, therefore, that people with a suppressed pedosexual orientation have worked in boarding school. That is how a trail of pain and sorrow could be traced. Physical and sexual abuse have wounded children and young people for life. After many years of silence many victims only now dare to speak out.
When it comes to experiencing sexuality, the Netherlands in 2010 is totally different. The prudishness of the past has been replaced by openness and even libertinism. It has become completely opposite of what it was in the past. Candidates for the priesthood and religious life choose celibacy in a totally different context. For years I was rector of the seminary in Utrecht. In that time I have guided young and older men towards celibate priesthood. In modern seminaries, students can reflect intensely on celibacy for years and so discover if they have the charism to live in abstinence. A happy and healthy celibacy requires a good social network of friends and family. At the same time Christian celibacy can only be understood from a friendship with Christ and the total commitment to the Kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 19:12). Loneliness and darkness of the soul are therefore the biggest threats for a well-lived celibate life.
It’s not a long text, and neither is it difficult. To conclude from it that Bishop de Korte is against celibacy for priests is ridiculous. He emphasises the need for good formation, chiefly in light of the enormous change in sexual morality (or lack thereof) in the Netherlands when compared to 30, 40, 50 years ago. And I think he is right to say that the key lies with good formation. If priests are required to live celibate, they must be able to and well prepared for it. In modern society celibacy is the polar opposite of what is considered normal. And since candidates for the priesthood are part of that society, their choice for celibacy must be a conscious choice made by head and heart.