What Authority do Catholic Bishops Have to Comment on Sex?
Catholic priests have a vow of celibacy. So what makes them think they can tell other people how to have sex?
Well, all these guys have heard confessions, so they have multiple firsthand accounts of what goes on in bedrooms, not to mention there are plenty of quasi-confessions available in media (like Chris Rock’s comedy about sex). I don’t think it’s exactly a leap of the imagination to assume that sometimes people use each other, including spouses: plenty of people have come out and said they’ve done that, and some of these priests may have had past relationships of some kind themselves. The “you have to have been there” argument assumes that some things cannot be communicated, and as a writer I’m skeptical about how widely we can use it. One thing that’s been debunked in the last couple decades in pro sports is that you have to be a former player to be a good coach. If I’ve never been the President of the United States, does that mean I can’t criticize Bush or Obama?
Besides, priests are not just giving their personal opinions which they figured out over the course of their own lifetimes. They are giving the church position on the issue. The church has been developing its theology for two thousand years, and priests were married for the first thousand, including the first pope, St. Peter. The church ultimately decided the job was too demanding for priests to handle the responsibility of raising a family at the same time, hence celibacy, but somehow, I don’t think sex has fundamentally changed since then.
Obviously, family and friends are a wonderful resource and have much to contribute as relationship advisers, but so does a neutral third party with counseling experience (isn’t “marriage counselor” a profession of its own?), moral authority (especially if everyone in one’s family has the same flawed values), and according to the faith, the capacity to forgive sins on behalf of Christ.
Also, priests also have a sacred vow to confidentiality. Gossip is rife within some families, and gossip among friends can really blow up. In both cases, it can compound damage to the relationship. (During Chinese New Year, housewives offer sweet food so he’ll say sweet things to the kitchen god about what goes in in the house or sticky food so he won’t be able to open his mouth at all.)
That doesn’t mean that if a priest heard about abuse from an abuser in the confessional, he wouldn’t do anything about it. A person who isn’t sincerely contrite won’t be forgiven, and for something that serious, it means deciding on concrete steps to make up for what happened and assure it won’t happen again. People who confess crimes to priests would be expected to turn themselves in if that’s the best way to make up for what they’ve done.
I certainly agree that experience is helpful to giving advice. My quibble is whether it’s necessary. Disagreement with my position is very reasonable; I’ve merely written out this argument because I’m not sure it’s adequately understood.