Decades after I graduated from a Catholic, all-boys high school in Brooklyn, I received a letter notifying me that Brother Kyrin Powers, the principal during my years there, had been accused of molesting students. Online, I found several posts by students expanding on Powers’ predations. “The things he did to me and other students were horrendous,” one wrote. “I’m sure he is burning in hell.” (Powers had escaped earthly justice, in the unlikely event that there was to be any, by dying.) During my high school years, I had no inkling of any abuses, but even to my adolescent eye, many of the celibate Xaverian brothers who ran the place seemed either vaguely unhappy or openly angry about their constricted lives. A few had obvious drinking problems. Several quit the order. Before class one day, one brother flew into a spittle-flecked rage when he saw a group of grinning boys looking out the window at a pretty girl. “What are you, animals?” he shouted, and stormed from the room.
As Catholics struggle to save their church from the clergy (see Main Stories), the issue of celibacy can no longer be ignored. The celibacy requirement, imposed in 1139 A.D., has drawn men into the priesthood who are seeking to flee their sexual attractions; it twists the normal human need for touch and intimacy into something dark, furtive, and predatory. “When no form of sex is allowed,” said Andrew Sullivan this week in NYMag.com, “all forms of sex can seem equally immoral.” That moral confusion among priests has created tens of thousands of victims around the world, whose faith brought them lifelong emotional wounds. Enough, surely, is enough. If the church is to reclaim its lost moral authority, it will have to tear down its secretive, all-male hierarchy. If the church is to be saved, it will let priests marry, and it will welcome women into the priesthood and the Vatican. The alternative is increasing irrelevance.