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Research Papers on Celibacy and the Catholic Church

With priest abuse cases in the Catholic Church being revealed frequently, the issue of celibacy in the Catholic Church is a frequent topic for religion research papers. Paper Masters suggests that students explore celibacy for priests and determine if the practice is out of date and if the Catholic Church needs to change its policy for priests. This is a relevant and timely topic for any research paper on Christianity or Catholicism.

The issue of celibacy within the Catholic Church has been central to its priesthood and controversial. When writing a research paper on celibacy and the Catholic Church, you will want to examine several aspects of celibacy within Catholic Church's priesthood, including:

Be sure to demonstrate that celibacy for priests has created many problems for priests and the Church, while providing very little benefit. Celibacy and the Catholic ChurchAt the same time, allowing Catholic priests to marry would reduce corruption within the church, and alleviate many of the problems that are prevalent in the media today. Marriage for priests will benefit Catholicism and help the Church survive into the twenty-first century.

Celibacy and Priesthood

Catholic priests did not always practice celibacy. The Apostle Peter, who founded the Roman church, was a married man with children, like many of the early priests popes and bishops who followed. The Church began to pass legislation on celibacy in the fourth century, however several priests and bishops were already married, and continued to marry, for several centuries. Because so many cleric were already married, much of the Church's legislation involved rules for priests and bishops refraining from intercourse with their wives at certain times, such as before Holy Communion. In the twelfth century, the marriage of priests and bishops became invalid.

The early arguments for priests' celibacy typically took two forms. Some believed that priests who continued engaging in sexual activities "pray for others with unclean minds as well as unclean bodies," while others believed that because Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin, only virgins should offer the Eucharist, or communion, on the altar. Celibacy gained support as a sort of antitrust measure that would end the practice of bishops passing along their considerable wealth and power to their sons in the Middle Ages. In 1054, Pope Leo's delegate to Byzantium condemned the Eastern Churches for allowing priests to marry, and in 1130 Pope Innocent II asserted, "Since priests are supposed to be God's temples, vessels of the Lord and sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit…it offends their dignity to lie in the conjugal bed and live in impurity". Celibacy officially became mandatory for all Roman Catholic clergy in 1139. 

Another historic argument for celibacy among priests has been the ideal of the ascetic. This emphasis came from the Orient, according to some scholars. Like Buddha and sects of monks who found enlightenment through the denial of certain earthly pleasures, the celibacy of priests sets them apart from the common person. However, unlike the Dalai Llama and other ascetics who also refrain from other comforts, such as alcohol, tobacco games and movies, most priests live comfortable lifestyles.

There is an important anti-sexual element that is common to each of the historic arguments in favor of celibacy. There is the idea that sex is "unclean" or behavior that is mentally and physically negative. For example, there seems to be a common belief among the priesthood that by refraining from sex a person is somehow closer to God. Even the concept of the Immaculate Conception implies that a virgin birth is preferred to a traditional birth. This view is interesting because it proposes that God does not want his followers to reproduce and multiply, and it also contends that sexual activities, which are essential to survival, is dirty and offensive. In many respects, these beliefs have placed the Catholic priesthood at odds with the society that it serves.

Does Celibacy Cause Sexual Abuse?

One reason this issue is more important is the scandals over sexual abuse by priests that have gained international media attention. Although many people believe that the Catholic Church may be better served by married priests who would not be inclined to deviant sexual behavior, most studies indicate that celibates are no more likely to be a pedophile than someone who is married or single.

Specific cases of sexual abuse allegations have been widespread over the years, but were currently made public in the media. The number of these allegations, combined with the Catholic Church's apparent attempts to cover them up over years, while priests continued to sexually abuse children, has shocked many people. For example, the Bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach resigned after it was learned that he once fondled a teenage boy who came to him for counseling. In another case, several lawsuits in Boston and elsewhere showed that sexual abuse had been covered up by church officials for years.

Many have pointed to the celibacy requirement as a key reason for these crimes. Reverend James J. Gill, a Jesuit priest and psychiatrist who founded the Christian Institute for the Study of Human Sexuality in Chicago, states,  "There are a lot of people who, deep down, believe that celibacy is an impossible state in which to live". However, as mentioned above, specialists agree that celibacy isn't a direct cause of sexual abuse. On the other hand, some experts believe that "the appearance of a chaste life can be a cloak for potential abusers".

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