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We never thought we'd hear the Catholic church admit to this.

catholic priests and child abuse
“Obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances,” the report says.

The Catholic church has released another report into child abuse claims — but this one says something we’d never expect.

“We’ve got to ask the question about whether celibacy was an added and an unbearable strain for some.”

Trigger warning: This post deals with child sexual abuse and may be triggering for some readers.

There have been a lot of reasons to question the Catholic church’s approach to child sex abuse allegations lately — but today, a surprisingly progressive move by a church council is being welcomed by critics.

A landmark report released today by the Catholic church has linked the vow of celibacy taken by Catholic priests with child abuse — marking the first time the church has made this link, The Australian reports.

The Activity Report — by the Australian church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which is coordinating the church’s response to the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse — addresses key concerns that came to light after its engagement with people affected by the abuse of thousands of children by priests.

The SBS reports that under a section on culture and “clericalism” (the abuse of priests’ powers over others), the Activity Report examines how this might have played a part in contributing to abuse.

“Obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances,” the report concedes.

It suggests that “ongoing training and development, including pyscho-sexual development, is necessary for priests and religious (figures in the church)”, The Australian reports.

catholic priests and child abuse
The report’s admission stands in stark contrast to a recent US study that declared celibacy could not be blamed for the epidemic of abuse.
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The report also criticises a culture “geared to power over others”, and calls for “greater clarity around the role of the Vatican and its involvement with the way in which church authorities in Australia responded to abuse allegations.”

These admissions stand in stark contrast to a recent US study that declared celibacy could not be blamed for the epidemic of abuse.

Catholicism is unique in demanding its religious leaders take a vow of celibacy, which includes abandoning sex entirely — and CEO of the Council, Francis Sullivan, said questions must be asked around how the church ensures individuals who have chosen celibacy remain healthy without “acting out of a dysfunctional sense of self”.

“We’ve got to ask the question about whether celibacy was an added and an unbearable strain for some,” he told The Australian.

Mr Sullivan agreed church leaders might find the reference to the possible link between celibacy and abuse challenging, but emphasised that the council was asked to act and advise independently and “we have done that”, the SBS reports.

Sullivan said there now needs to be an open and honest discussion about the future of celibacy.

Australia’s Catholic leaders have previously acknowledged and apologised for the church’s history with child abuse — but some abuse survivors have expressed disappointment about the church’s response to the abuse.

Most recently, comments about child sex abuse by controversial conservative Catholic cardinal George Pell were branded “outrageous” by some survivors.

Pell made headlines for comparing the church to a trucking company during an appearance at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

If a truck driver molested a woman “it would not be appropriate, because it’s contrary to the policy, for the ownership, leadership of that company to be held responsible,” he said, speaking via video-link from the Vatican.

“Similarly, with the church and the head of any other organisation,” he said.

“If every precaution has been taken, no warning has been given, it is, I think, not appropriate for legal culpability to be foisted on the authority figure.

“If in fact the authority figure has been remiss through bad preparation (or) bad procedures or been warned and done nothing or (done something) insufficient, then certainly the church official would be responsible.”

Those comments were described as “appalling” and “outrageous” by Dr Cathy Kezelman from Adults Surviving Child Abuse, while Nicky Davis from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests told the ABC the analogy left the audience “open mouthed in shock”.

If this post brings up issues for you around sexual or emotional abuse, please call Bravehearts on 1800 272 831. If you are concerned about the welfare of a child you can get advice from The Child Abuse Prevention hotline on 1800 688 009 or visit http://www.childabuseprevention.com.au/.

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