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Catholic Culture Overview

When celibacy is the problem

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 10, 2003

John Gwillin, a priest of the Melbourne Archdiocese, pleaded guilty Monday to five counts of indecent assault and four counts of gross indecency. The Australian Herald Sun reports:

The court heard Gwillim, who was the priest at St Peter's church in Keilor East between 1979 and 1999, approached the schoolboy in the city while he was waiting for a train in late 1979. Telling him he was a teacher or private tutor, he offered him a lift home. He pulled aside on a quiet street and after asking the boy to be "nice" to him, directed him to perform oral sex.

So how does Fr. Gwillim account for his "mistake"? It was the Church's fault:

Prosecutor Michael Tinney said Gwillim told police after his arrest in July last year: "If we did away with celibacy this would all go away. It was the sort of thing where there was a lovely slice of cake, and I bloody well ate it. I suppose there was some sort of ego trip in it -- it was something, which had never happened to me before."

Says the burglar, "If there weren't property laws, I wouldn't have turned to thieving." Gwillim is right that illegal activities will cease when they cease to be illegal, and broken promises will vanish once no promises are made, but few people will be reassured by the fact. Nor is his notion of causality convincing. Some agree with the suggestion made in the New York Times that "abstinence makes the Church grow fondlers," but Maggie Gallagher puts paid to that argument: "The same old church critics are using these scandals to target clerical celibacy as the problem and married priests as the solution. Right. As if wives are the answer to the sexual urges of men who get their kicks from adolescent boys." Gwillim concedes her point, at least tacitly. The "lovely slice of cake" that enticed the good padre was not mature women but teenage males, and as he says "I bloody well ate it."

The view of marriage implicit in Gwillim's remarks (i.e., 24hr access to a sexual dessert cart) is pretty shocking, but the reason gay priests are almost unanimously in favor of relaxing the celibacy requirement is that they want to see the Church cave, especially in the arena of sexual discipline. Partly they relish anything in the nature of a defeat to the notion of human nobility: if the Vatican relents on celibacy on the grounds that "we can't keep the kids away from the candy," it means conceding that we all remain children forever. Partly too they realize that if sexual abstinence is too much to demand of those who serve a deity, then the deity in question can't be all that important. Both diminishments are key to their sexual politics.

Gwillim's fellow priest Fr. Bob Maguire spoke in his defense, contending that Gwillim was a "wounded healer" and that his lapse into indecent assault was "an occupational hazard." I doubt Gwillim's victims and their parents are much consoled by this knowledge, nor that they have drawn closer to the Catholic Church as a consequence.

Maguire himself is a piece of work, director of an agency to help street kids (naturally) named Open Family Australia, on whose website he modestly describes himself as "an outspoken advocate of the disadvantaged since the 1960s when he first began working among the poor and dispossessed in his parish." It doesn't do to contemplate the "occupational hazards" that come with that job, nor the wounded healers that ply their trade among the slices of cake, anathematizing their diets as they do so.

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