A senior archbishop is blaming historic seminary formation for failing to train priests to cope with celibacy and has admitted he came "close" to falling in love with a woman who is still a close friend.
"We were never trained for celibacy. You are cut out from the world," Abp. Diarmuid Martin, the former primate of Ireland and emeritus archbishop of Dublin, told Ireland's state broadcaster, RTÉ, in a new television series titled The Meaning of Life.
"It's this idea of an extraordinarily narrow, dogmatic understanding of bringing principles and not looking at the broad circumstances in which a situation is taking place and the struggles that people have to face," Martin said.
"It was one of the problems with the Church in Ireland. We learned the rules before we learned who Jesus Christ was," the archbishop emeritus observed.
"The Church has got so caught up in the dogmatics — absolute rights and wrongs — that it has lost the context," Martin stressed. "If the Church appears only as a rule book, then they have lost Christianity. That isn't what Christianity is about."
The archbishop confessed that he was "totally immature" at the age of 17 when he joined Clonliffe Seminary in 1962 at the start of the Second Vatican Council.
In his candid interview, Abp. Martin also labels as "bad theology" Pope John Paul II's ban on contraception during an AIDS crisis.
Falling in Love
"The idea of a priest being married or being in love would never be talked [about]," Martin said. "Priests are not concrete blocks; they do have emotions. They do have a need for affection. It can be very lonely, and you can get very frustrated in that."
"I would have met one, two people that I certainly could have become a life partner to," the archbishop revealed when asked if he ever came close to falling in love with or becoming romantically involved with a woman.
Martin confirmed that "it was and is a mature relationship," and he remained in contact with one of the women who taught him how to use WhatsApp, even though "we live a long way away."
The seminary in Clonliffe was "miserable," "dreadful" and "seemed to
be totally removed from reality," he said. Seminarians were not allowed
to talk to their former friends, even when they met them.
"So [if you fell in love], you had to decide what do you want to do with your life? Where do you want to go? Falling in love may happen, but you don't want to do it just to satisfy yourself," Martin explained.
"If I wanted a child, I would have wanted a child with somebody, and that would be the important thing, and you build on that," he added.
When asked about the scale of the clerical sex abuse of minors in Ireland, the archbishop emeritus admitted that some predator priests may have singlehandedly serially abused over a hundred children.
The prelate denied that celibacy was a cause of the crisis. However, since they were not married, they were considered better for not being married, and their celibacy "gave them a boost in terms of access to children," Martin explained.
Meanwhile, academic studies conducted by historians and sociologists in recent years reveal an abysmal failure of a majority of priests in the Middle Ages to abide by the discipline of celibacy.
Ruth Mazo Karras, in her research book titled Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England, published by Oxford University Press, found that a significant segment of the prostitute population in England catered specifically to the clergy.
Municipalities in France frequently passed laws banning priests from entering city brothels, indicating that clergy were frequent customers, notes Michelle Armstrong-Partida in her paper titled "Priestly Marriage: The Tradition of Clerical Concubinage in the Spanish Church."
"Historians have long been aware that the legislation of the Second Lateran Council in 1139 and the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 that prohibited marriage for subdeacons and higher clergy did not prevent clerics from establishing households with women and producing children," writes Partida.
In her paper titled "Priestly Wives: The Role and Acceptance of Clerics' Concubines in the Parishes of Late Medieval Catalunya," she notes that out of 661 clerics accused of clerical incontinence in the Girona diocese from 1314 to 1346, 495 (75%) kept concubines, and 166 (25%) were engaged in casual sex.
"The total number of clergy accused of concubinage in the four dioceses of Catalunya during the first half of the fourteenth century amounts to 2,027 (84%) out of 2,400 charged with incontinence in 3,705 parish visitations," she observes.
"The sexual activities of clergy represented in these visitations are just the tip of the iceberg," the researcher concludes. Scholars have arrived at similar figures in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and even Malta.
In a book coauthored with Cdl. Robert Sarah, Pope Benedict XVI defended priestly celibacy, noting that it "has great significance as an abandonment of an earthly realm," and for priests staying on the path to God, "celibacy becomes really essential."