Sydney archbishop: Despite reports, no link between celibacy, abuse

by Catholic News Service

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said there is no link between celibacy and child sexual abuse after the body charged with responding to a national inquiry on behalf of Australia's bishops appeared to link the two.

The Truth Justice and Healing Council made the apparent link in its activity report, released Friday, detailing its actions in response to the Australian government's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which began Jan. 13, 2013.

In an opinion piece for The Australian newspaper Monday, Fisher wrote that while abuse in the church was "sickening" and "shameful," the great majority of cases occurred in non-institutional settings, particularly in the family.

"We must avoid glib explanations or simplistic solutions," Fisher wrote in the piece. "As I have said before, there must be no more excuses, no more cover-ups.

"Nor am I interested in evasively pointing the finger at others. Catholic leaders have more than enough to do to clean up our own houses without throwing stones at others.

"But no one is served, least of all the survivors, by creating mythologies about child abuse," he said.

Some abusers had hidden behind celibacy or clergy life to exploit the vulnerable in the same way that others had hidden behind marriage or professions such as teaching or scouting, the archbishop said.

"Most Catholics recognize that celibacy among priests and religious [nuns and brothers] has been a great grace for the church, occasioning real dedication, generosity and spiritual fruitfulness.

"Some question whether this discipline should continue to be required of all priests. That conversation continues," he said, adding, "But linking celibacy and pedophilia does justice to neither and may be a dangerous distraction."

In a section titled "Culture and clericalism," the Truth Justice and Healing Council report, which generated the initial media coverage, stated that "obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances."

Fisher wrote that the reference simply pointed to a "wondering about the relationship" between the vow of celibacy and child sexual abuse on the part of victims' groups and Catholics more generally.

However, the section was widely interpreted in the mainstream media, and among several Catholic commentators, as a deliberate linking of the two.

"In summarizing honestly what some have been saying, the council showed the determination of the church to get to the truth of the pedophilia problem," Fisher wrote. "But it did not amount to the church in Australia repudiating two millennia of honoring celibacy."

Fisher also pointed to Australian government statistics showing 5,800 substantiated reports of child sexual abuse in 2011-12 alone.

By contrast, the royal commission reported that it had heard of 595 cases of clergy abuse over a much longer period, including abuse committed by married clergy from other denominations.

The most recent Australian government data on perpetrators of child sexual abuse dates from 2005.

In the 12 months up to August 2005, 30.2 percent of perpetrators were male relatives other than the victim's father, followed by family friends (16.3 percent), acquaintances/neighbors (15.6 percent), "other known person(s)" (15.3 percent), fathers/stepfathers (13.5 percent), and strangers (11.1 percent).

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