Men within the Catholic Church that desire to become priests have to both be unmarried and celibate. Celibacy is the practice of abstaining from marriage and sexual behaviors. However, there have been centuries of accounts of priests not keeping their vow to the church of remaining celibate. Most of the reports involve children that the priests had sexual encounters with. Some of the priests continue the abuse by going in to other careers such as counseling and teaching, in which no one would suspect them of being a sex offender.


  1. Celibacy of Priests
  • Homosexuality in the Catholic Faith
  • Sexual Abuse in the Church
  • What is the Church trying to do: Pope Francis’s Role in Attempting to Solve the Issue
  • Other Resources

1.      Celibacy of Priests

Celibacy is an act of self-sacrifice for a Catholic priest. A priest forgoes a spouse, children and sexual fulfillment for his relationship with God and his worshippers. In the Catholics Church’s Code of Canon Law, celibacy is a special gift of God which allows a priest to follow closely to Christ [1]. When a priest enters the service of God, the church itself becomes his purpose. If a priest were to have a family, some believe a conflict would exist. Therefore, the Vatican feels it’s easier to have unattached men in the church who have few distractions from their purpose.

The earliest written reference to celibacy came in 305AD at the Spanish Council of Elvira. A group of clergymen met to discuss matters of the church. They discussed the forbiddance of sexual relations with wives and not having children. But it wasn’t until 1123 and 1139 when the Catholic Church at the First and Second Lateran councils forbade marriage. However, it took centuries for the practice of celibacy to grow [1]. It ultimately became the standard in Western Catholic church. Celibacy is a discipline of the church not a divine truth revealed from God. With changes in the world, the Church is finding it more difficult to hire priests. Their numbers are swiftly declining. Some priests don’t wish to choose between a life with God and having a family. Time will tell if it becomes more prevalent to have both.

2.      Homosexuality in Catholic Faith

Prior to the 12th century, it was probable for priests to write openly about same-sex desire and physical and emotional ties to other men. Early philosophers believed that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of the evil of same-sex acts. But today, theologians typically agree that the wickedness that God punished was due to arrogance and lack of charity and hospitality, not any sex act. Ancient believers were more concerned about excesses of behavior that might separate a person from God than the act itself. John Chrysostom, a Christian commentator criticized homosexual acts [2]. He believed it dishonored social norms and gender hierarchies. He felt that if a same-sex act took place, one of the participants would have to take on a feminine role which went against men being dominant. By the end of the 12th century, the atmosphere of tolerance began to change. The Third Lateran Council of 1179 held in Rome outlawed sodomy. Clergy that practiced it would either be disqualified or had to enter a monastery to perform penance. Even though same sex acts were condemned, they were rarely enforced. It wasn’t until the 15th century when the church began to prosecute homosexual acts. Currently, the church teaches that desiring the same sex is not sinful – it is the act that is sinful. There are estimated 30-40 percent of United States priests that are gay [2]. They are required to be celibate. Pope France I has asked them to be “perfectly responsible” to avoid scandal. And at the same time, he discourages other gay men from entering the priesthood.

3.      Sexual Abuse in the Church

Sexual abuse accusations dates back to the 16th century. However, in the 1980s, this topic was given significant attention in the media. New stories began to emerge in the 1990s, and by the early 2000s the revelations are at an all time high. In the past few decades, the Catholic Church has been hit with multiple child sexual abuse accusations [3]. Among the most recent cases have been Cardinal George Pell and Theodore McCarrick. George Pell was convicted of assaulting two boys. Theodore McCarrick, the most senior Catholic figure to be dismissed from priesthood, was also accused of sexual abuse. Instead of these priests being held accountable, the Church tries to protect their reputation. These sex offenders move to other locations where they are able to continue their abuse [4]. It seems that the largest population of people targeted by priests are young boys. Some may blame celibacy or a gay subculture in the clergy for the corruption of the Church. However, this allows for the individuals that are committing these crimes to get away, without any ownership for what they really are. These priests are rapists, pedophiles, and molesters. A lot of the Priests don’t file as sex offenders, and are able to work in areas where people wouldn’t expect a sex offender; such as schools and daycares.

4. What is the Church Trying to do: Pope Francis’s Role in Attempting to Solve the Issue 

Pope Francis issued a new law that requires priests and nuns to report any cases of sexual assault to church officials. This is a new effort that attempts to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable for its misdeeds in not bringing past acts to attention. The law defines the crimes that must be reported as: performing sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person; forcing an adult “by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts,” and the production, possession or distribution of child pornography [5]. This law provides “whistle- blower” protection for those that come forward, and requires churches around the world to have a system in place that is confidential [5]. The law outlines procedures for conducting investigations when the accused individual is a bishop, cardinal or religious superior. Thatmeans priests and nuns are required to inform church authorities when they learn or have “well-founded motives to believe” that a cleric or sister has engaged in sexual abuse of a minor, sexual misconduct with an adult, possession of child pornography [5]. However, it does not require the priests and nuns to report the cases of sexual abuse to the police. The Vatican has argued that reporting to the police could potentially endanger the church in locations where Catholics are persecuted.

5.      Other Resources


Lauren White is a Senior majoring in Exercise Science and minoring in Psychology. Her goal is to become a Physical Therapist and work in pediatrics. She loves to cook (vegan food that is) and share her love of animals. She has a fascination for learning new languages and plans to travel the world. She is currently involved with Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and the Exercise Science Society. Some of her hobbies include skateboarding, shopping, running, and meditating.