IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Deborah Norville Tonight' for July 7

Guests: Antony Thomas, Sister Chris Schenk, Sister Johanna Paruch, Father Guy Vaccaro, Michael Rezendes, Eugene Kennedy


DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  Celibacy in the church.  For centuries, it‘s been the way of life for Catholic clergy.  No sex allowed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think as far back as I was 4 years old, I wanted God to be my only lover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and just live with it (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if you want to be a priest, that‘s—that‘s the package.


NORVILLE:  But it‘s a heavy package some priests cannot deal with.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Guilty of indecent assault and battery on a child...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The Roman Catholic priest has been jailed for three-and-a-half years...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was really hoping, I guess, that I could just put it all behind me, that I could just forego my sexuality.


NORVILLE:  Is celibacy driving priests and nuns away from the church or, in some case, to commit unspeakable crimes?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) told me, If you ever tell anyone, your family, you‘re going to go to hell, God‘s going to hate you.


NORVILLE:  Now one of the year‘s most controversial films that many in the church have condemned.  Is there a link between celibacy and the crisis in the church?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you can control a person‘s sexuality, you can control them.


NORVILLE:  Tonight, religious celibacy.  Is it time for the Catholic church to put this centuries-old tradition to bed?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It didn‘t work, and it‘s not working now.


ANNOUNCER:  From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.

NORVILLE:  And good evening.  Is celibacy at least partially to blame for the sex abuse scandal enveloping the Roman Catholic church?  A controversial new documentary contends that it is, and it is drawing fire from the church, which says it assaults its teachings on sexuality.  And the sex abuse scandal continues to take its toll on the church.  The archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, yesterday became the first to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to the mountains of claims by victims of sexually abusive priests.  More on that in just a moment.

But first, is there a link between mandated celibacy and sexual abuse?  And why is celibacy even required for the clergy?  We begin with Antony Thomas, the producer, director and narrator of the film “Celibacy.”

What was it that prompted you to make this film, in the first place?

ANTONY THOMAS, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR “CELIBACY”:  Well, there‘s been a lot of media coverage over the last decade of abuse and alleged abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy, but none of these programs I saw, none of these accounts, were really asking the why celibate—the why questions.  Is there a connection between enforced celibacy as exists among priests and this form of behavior?  Why celibacy?  What effect does it have on the people who accept celibacy?  And all these questions.  And I wanted to make a film that really explored those deeper questions.

NORVILLE:  Before we get into some of the specifics, how does the Roman Catholic faith differ from other religions in terms of celibacy?  Because it‘s not unique just to Catholicism.

THOMAS:  Celibacy is highly regarded in the Eastern faiths, in Buddhism, in Hinduism.  There‘s a strong celibate condition—tradition right throughout Christianity.  But where the Catholic church is unique is in demanding that those who wish to serve God, as it were, full time must be celibate.

NORVILLE:  And you really...

THOMAS:  In all other areas...

NORVILLE:  ... have to say the Roman Catholic church because...


NORVILLE:  ... in the Eastern Orthodoxy, there are married priests.

THOMAS:  Oh, yes.  Yes.

NORVILLE:  And it is not an enforced...

THOMAS:  You‘re expected to be married if you‘re a priest in the parish.  You either make that choice or you become a monk and choose celibacy.  Two paths are open to you to serve God.

NORVILLE:  The big question that was asked time and again as the pedophile scandal unfolded in the Catholic priest (SIC) was, Was this something that happened because of the nature of celibacy, that celibacy itself was just so untenable, it drove priests to do unthinkable things with young children.

THOMAS:  That‘s what we explore in the film, but...

NORVILLE:  Do you think it does?

THOMAS:  I personally do it does—think it does.  But on the other hand, the—the whole pedophilia business is only the tip of the iceberg.  It, of course, has attracted so much public attention because it‘s illegal, because it‘s repugnant.  But the relationships, both abusive and long-term relationships, that priests form, both homosexual and heterosexual, are a far, far bigger proportion than those cases of pedophilia.

NORVILLE:  I want to go to a clip from the movie which deals with just that, in which one priest that you spoke to talks about the effects that he can speak to of enforced celibacy in the Roman Catholic church.


THOMAS (voice-over):  It‘s not easy to get inside an institution that places such a premium on obedience and loyalty, but there are devout priests who believe that the only way out of the crisis is to provide frank answers to these questions, however painful that may be.

REV. DOUGLAS DANDURAND, PH.D., ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST:  I‘ve known priests who‘ll use pornography, and they justify that, you know, It‘s in the privacy of my own room.  I‘m not hurting anyone.  I know priests who are in committed relationships, if you will, whether it‘s heterosexual or homosexual, and somehow are able to justify that and carry that out and maintain an active priesthood.


NORVILLE:  If a priest is using pornography, if a priest is engaged in any kind of sexual activity, if I read my research right, according to the Roman Catholic church, he or she—he is committing...

THOMAS:  A mortal sin.

NORVILLE:  ... a mortal sin.

THOMAS:  That‘s correct.  Yes.  You‘re required not just to have no sexual acts but to have no sexual thoughts, which, of course, is impossible.

NORVILLE:  And how are—this was one priest‘s story, talking about the people that he knows.  How—how are—in general—and how big was your survey of—of priests in this country?

THOMAS:  Well, I mean, this—this particular priest has done a very,

very in-depth survey of 40, 45 (ph) priests, who, of course, are all

anonymous, in his dissertation.  But we were speaking to priests in many,

many countries.  I can‘t give you the total number.  And you know, let‘s be

·         let‘s be clear here.  No statistics are really valid.  The Catholic church has never allowed people to do a longitudinal study or anything like that.  It‘s never been—but if you look at some of the numbers, you know, 400 legal actions on child abuse in one Irish diocese, over 600 in Boston, you know, these—these are quite scary numbers.

NORVILLE:  But it‘s not just child abuse.

THOMAS:  Correct.

NORVILLE:  It‘s also the whole issue of the promise of celibacy and the burden that that creates for—at the time these young men, who have to do this.  and there‘s a clip I‘d like to show now of a young man who‘s just entering the priesthood who‘s not quite sure that the vow he‘s made is one he‘ll be able to keep.


VICTOR, IRISH SEMINARIAN:  It‘s a very big decision, and it‘s the biggest, I feel, I will have to make in my life.  So there is worry there.  I‘m only 23 years of age, and what I‘m committing to is a—hopefully, is a life-long commitment.

MICHAEL, IRISH SEMINARIAN:  As humans, we are going to fail.  I mean, it‘s one of the certainties, I suppose, that we have.  But again and again, we are called to try and live as best we can.


NORVILLE:  How many of the priests that you spoke to who were seminarians or just having left the seminary truly believed they would be able to keep the commitment?  Because one study that was done that didn‘t come from the Catholic church but from a federation of priests showed that as many as 50 percent of priests believe that celibacy should be optional.

THOMAS:  Yes.  No, I agree.  I agree.  I‘m going to take a slight detour there...


THOMAS:  ... in reference to that—to that clip and the other.  I just am in huge admiration of the people I met who were willing to speak so frankly, so openly.  And I think that indicates—I think that indicates so much.  But the respect for people I have who‘ve appeared in this film is enormous.  I mean, there are three young men talking to me openly.  There‘s an honesty there.  There‘s a worry there.  And those people need some kind of protection and support.

NORVILLE:  Do they feel they‘re getting the guidance they need from the hierarchy of the church?

THOMAS:  Not at all.  Not at all.

NORVILLE:  So they truly feel alone.

THOMAS:  They truly feel alone, yes.

NORVILLE:  And what about the many priests—and we know there are many priests -- - who have secret lives outside the parish, fathers who are fathers in not just the liturgical sense but in the biological sense, too, outside the official auspices of the church?

THOMAS:  Yes.  I agree.  I mean, put it this way.  If you have rules that you feel are just—we have an inner morality—we can call it holy spirit, if you like.  We have an inner sense of right and wrong.  And just laws, just rules, we will follow as best we can.  But when those rules are unjust, people will break them.

NORVILLE:  There‘s a huge debate within the Roman Catholic church in this country about whether priests should be allowed to marry...


NORVILLE:  ... to give up the vow of celibacy, the promise of celibacy, really, because it‘s not a formal vow, and take wives and continue to minister to the flock...


NORVILLE:  ... and serve the Eucharist.  And you met a couple who found that that was something that was so important to them that they actually left the ministry.  And I think this is incredibly compelling, what they have to say.

THOMAS:  It‘s a wonderful couple.

NORVILLE:  Here they are.


RALPH PINTO, FORMER PARISH PRIEST:  I allowed myself to fall in love, and then I says, Oh, my God.  What does that mean now, that you‘ve fallen in love?  And he said, You have to make some decisions here.  And that was the most difficult time of my life.  Some of my friend said, Well, why don‘t you just, you know, have a relationship with Linda, work it out of your system and—you know, because you love being a priest.  Why would you ever think of leaving?

LINDA PINTO, FORMER FRANCISCAN NUN:  Unfortunately, I think that‘s a prevailing feeling and has led to a number of the scandals that the church suffers from and the people of God suffer from today, that women are expendable, we are commodities to help relieve the sexual stress of priests who are demanded to be celibate and can‘t be.


NORVILLE:  How often do priests and sisters leave their orders and their parishes because they can‘t keep the vow?

THOMAS:  Well, one figure we have is that 300,000 nuns have left holy orders since the early 1960s, 200,000 priests, a lot of those to marry—not all of them.


THOMAS:  Those are really scary numbers.  I mean, that‘s a very, very high proportion.

NORVILLE:  And right now, there‘s more than 3,000 parishes in this country of the 19,000-plus who simply have no minister.

THOMAS:  That‘s correct.

NORVILLE:  There is no one to serve the Eucharist.  Where does that leave the members of the flock...

THOMAS:  That‘s correct.

NORVILLE:  ... who cannot get holy communion served to them because there‘s nobody authorized to do it?

THOMAS:  No, it—it‘s a problem.

NORVILLE:  And at the end of it all, it seems that control is a very big part of this.  But I‘m not sure who‘s controlling whom or what‘s controlling what.

THOMAS:  Well, I think if you deny people a chance to live intimate lives, to form close relationships, I think—I think that‘s a very controlling thing to do.  You know, it happened in Maoist China in the 1960s and ‘70s.  And I think that—that element of power and control is certainly one of the motives.

NORVILLE:  As—as one of the persons we saw earlier spoke to very well.  Here he is.


DANDURAND:  I feel controlled behaviorally.  I feel controlled in level and type of relationship.  I feel controlled economically.  I feel controlled even in my own thought processes.  I mean, you know, a part of this interview, you know, I‘m very conscious of my own—my own fears here because I feel like I‘m—as though I‘m—I‘m speaking to someone I shouldn‘t be speaking to.

NORVILLE:  And what do you think will become of this man when this film is public?

THOMAS:  Well, I hope...

NORVILLE:  Will there be repercussions?

THOMAS:  I hope not.  I hope his courage and his honesty is—is recognized and—and appreciated and a discussion will follow.  He‘s a remarkable man.  I mean, he‘s a totally, totally honest man of God, and people like that should be supported.

NORVILLE:  Needless to say, the U.S. Conference of Bishops is not really thrilled about this.


NORVILLE:  And their Office of Film and Broadcasting issued this statement about it, saying, quote, “It is full of unsubstantiated anecdotal assertions and attempts to claim that a repeat of the recent sex scandal could be avoided if the Vatican lifted its ban on a married clergy.  Of course, no mention is made of the fact that married and single men of all faiths and no faith can be pedophiles without having the excuse of religious celibacy” -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

THOMAS:  I mean, that‘s just—that‘s just idiotic.  I mean, the film‘s not saying that all pedophiles are priests.  But you know, they talk about anecdotal assertions.  These are the personal experiences of people talking to me on camera who debated long and hard whether they should do this.  These aren‘t little anecdotes.

NORVILLE:  And in a court of law, isn‘t evidence from a witness an anecdotal assertion?  And we do accept it there.

THOMAS:  This is testimony.  And I call a statement like that—it‘s a sort of gray propaganda.  You just sort of throw a veil over everything.  But you know, there‘s no mention—where‘s the inaccuracies?  What date is wrong?  What fact is wrong?  What assertion is unlikely?  They never say this, the same as they handled the pedophile scandal.  It‘s to throw dust in the air but not look at things straight.

NORVILLE:  Obviously, nothing is going to change on celibacy while the current pope remains pontiff.

THOMAS:  Probably not, no.

NORVILLE:  But John Paul II is an old man, and it‘s unlikely he will be there for a great deal of time in the future.  Do you predict change under a new pontiff?

THOMAS:  I couldn‘t say.  I couldn‘t say.  I mean, everyone thought in the 1960s, the time of the second Vatican council, that there would be change.  People—young people who joined the priesthood at that time believed the celibacy mandate would be—would be removed.  It hasn‘t happened.  It‘s impossible...

NORVILLE:  And yet there are plenty of examples in the Catholic church in which groundswell support for something did make a difference.


NORVILLE:  Girls can now serve as altar girls.


NORVILLE:  Meatless Fridays disappeared, and mass is now said in the vernacular.


NORVILLE:  I guess it could happen?

THOMAS:  It could, and I pray it does happen.

NORVILLE:  All right.  Antony Thomas, it‘s a fascinating film, and I thank you for coming on to talk to us about it.

THOMAS:  Thank you so much.

NORVILLE:  The documentary “Celibacy” is airing throughout the month of July on HBO and HBO II.

ANNOUNCER:  Up next...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sex was bad.  Sex was dirty.  Except in marriage. 

So stay away from it.


ANNOUNCER:  They‘re taught to follow church dictum without question. 

So why are many priests and nuns losing faith over the issue of celibacy?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):  Will you maintain your humility and your virginity?


ANNOUNCER:  Should the Catholic church offer its clergy the option of sex?  The right to choose when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.


NORVILLE:  The Roman Catholic church is the only major religion to make celibacy mandatory for its clergy.  Other religions revere and often urge celibacy, but they don‘t make it mandatory.  The Catholic requirement seems to be connected with the virtue of chastity.  The Bible says that Jesus never married, but the biblical reference to the Apostle Peter‘s mother-in-law indicates that not all of Jesus‘ followers did the same.  In fact, 39 popes in the early Roman Catholic church were married or were the sons of other popes in the early years of the church.  In fact, it wasn‘t until 1139, at the second Liturn (ph) Council, that the Catholic church made celibacy mandatory for priests and nuns.

Joining me now to talk more about this is Father Guy Vaccaro.  He and 17 other priests from Joliet, Indiana, wrote a letter to the U.S.  Conference of Bishops asking for a public dialogue on celibacy.  He is resigning from the priesthood after 25 years because of this issue.

Also joining me is Sister Chris Schenk.  She‘s with Future Church.  That‘s a coalition of Catholics who seek the full participation of all baptized Catholics, including women and lay people, in the life of the church.  She thinks that there is room in the church for both celibate and non-celibate members.

Also with us tonight is Sister Mary Johanna Paruch.  She‘s an assistant theology professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  She thinks that the practice of celibacy should remain mandatory.

And I thank you all for being with me.  I‘m going to just throw this out.  How big of a burden is the question of celibacy, when it comes to the priesthood?  Father, I‘ll start with you first because you felt it so keenly.

FATHER GUY VACCARO, RESIGNING FROM THE PRIESTHOOD:  Thank you, Deborah.  I would say a significant burden.  You know, I certainly don‘t want to play down the value and the importance of celibacy.  There‘s no doubt in my mind that in my years in the priesthood, in the seminary, there have been many very, very effective priests who I really think are blessed with the gift of celibacy.  I think my concern is more with those of us who have not received that gift or that charism, attempt to serve in spite of that deficiency and find it very difficult and painful.  So I would say it‘s a considerable burden for those who do not have the gift or the grace of celibacy.

NORVILLE:  Explain to me how you know if you‘ve got the gift.

VACCARO:  Well, I see men who have the gift living a very healthy life, very strong in their ministry to others, very effective, grace-filled, life-giving, without an exclusive permanent relationship.  When I see that in another man, after a period of many years, I say that man truly has been blessed by God with the gift of celibacy.

NORVILLE:  And in your own life, you felt that lack of companionship keenly?

VACCARO:  Oh, definitely.  Yes.  I think, you know, I‘m kind of slow learner.  Took me a long time to realize what I had suspected when I was in seminary, and that is that that‘s a grace that I really haven‘t received.  I‘ve been a priest now for almost 26 years, and it‘s been a long struggle, but I think I‘ve come to the conclusion with great peace, great faith, lots of prayer and dialogue with others, that that‘s just not my gift, and I can‘t continue to be healthy in ministry without the benefit of that relationship.

NORVILLE:  Sister Mary Johanna, same question to you.  Is—how big of a burden is this for some?


Well, I think to use the word “burden” for celibacy is the wrong—wrong term.  I understand that there are priests in the ministry who feel burdened by it, but we have to look at celibacy as a gift from God.  And if he‘s called men to priesthood in the Latin rite of the Catholic church, then he wants them to live celibate lives, and he guarantees that he‘s going to give the grace for people to live that out, for priests to live that out.  And no, it‘s not always easy.

But I think that what I‘ve missed in watching the clip from—from the HBO special and then hearing other conversation is that nothing is really said about anyone‘s personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that the priesthood is not just for service for other people, but first of all, it‘s an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  And if anything blocks that kind of relationship that we have, either in my own life as a chaste religious or for a priest living a celibate life, then that‘s going to affect us trying to live that relationship with him.  Other things can get in the way of our love for him.  And if we look at the language of the church before the council and especially after the second Vatican council, we see that it is a gift given to the priests, and it is to give them an undivided heart, a heart for God alone.  And then from that, then they can serve his people.

NORVILLE:  Let me bring Sister Chris in.  You, I know, can appreciate both points of view that have just been expressed, but I gather your concern is the impact that it‘s having on the church and the ability of the church to be there to minister to people who need—who need to receive the sacraments, and so on.

SISTER CHRIS SCHENK, SUPPORTS OPTIONAL CELIBACY:  Yes.  That‘s right, Deborah.  Our primary concern is the Eucharist, the centrality of the mass to Catholic life and identity.  Worldwide, over half of all parishes in the world no longer have a resident priest.  In the United States, we‘re looking at a 40 percent decline in the number of priests from 1965 levels by the year 2005 to—as—and an increase of Catholics of 60 percent.  So more and more, Catholic parishes all over the United States are closing and clustering because we don‘t have enough priests.

We‘re working on a national campaign for optional celibacy.  We‘re petitioning the International Synod on the Eucharist, which will be happening in the Vatican in 2005.  On the Future Church Web site, you can find these kinds of petitions.  We work with our national partners, Call to Action.  So far, we‘ve collected about...

NORVILLE:  But why shouldn‘t—why shouldn‘t the church hold its ground on this?  I mean, you know, there‘s that old saying, If you don‘t stand for something, you‘ll fall for anything.  Why shouldn‘t the church, because this is historically been a part of its teaching for over a thousand years, at this point...

SCHENK:  Right.

NORVILLE:  ... stick with this?

SCHENK:  I think the church should stick with it, but not mandatory. 

We have—we‘re calling for both a return to our early tradition of having both a married priesthood and a celibate priesthood in the church.  St.  Peter was married.  St. Paul was celibate.  The early church flourished.  We think this should be a both and (ph) church.  I think our governance structures can benefit from having perspectives from all the vocations that God sends.  It‘s our experience that men are—married men are experiencing a call to priesthood.  We have married priests right now in the Latin rite in the United States, over 100.  I hate to think of missing Father Vaccaro from the priesthood, when he‘s clearly got so many gifts.

NORVILLE:  But Father Vaccaro, you‘re not going to be able—when you leave the priesthood, you will no longer be able to be in charge of a parish, to stand there and give the sacraments, to, you know, initiate baptisms, say the last rites.  You‘ll be—you‘ll be forbidden from providing that service, that ministry?

VACCARO:  That‘s right.  That‘s right.  And that‘s, obviously, a powerful decision for the church to make when...

NORVILLE:  It must be a powerful decision for you to make, too, though...

VACCARO:  Oh, it is.

NORVILLE:  ... having given over two decades of your life.

VACCARO:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  It‘s been a long time coming.  It‘s been the result, as I said, of much prayer, dialogue, support from family, friends, certainly fellow priests, spiritual reading.  It‘s been a very difficult one.  And for the church to take that step and prohibit someone, in my case, with my not having that particular gift of celibacy, I think is a big step, and it‘s one with which I certainly do not agree.

NORVILLE:  let me—let me ask you, have you strayed from your vow of celibacy?

VACCARO:  Celibacy—the issue we‘re discussing here is single for the sake of the kingdom.  I‘m not married.  I remain single.

NORVILLE:  All right.  So...

VACCARO:  And that‘s the issue, and that‘s—I think the issue here also is to bring all of what Sister Johanna and the other guest there is saying...

NORVILLE:  Sister Chris.

VACCARO:  ... Sister Chris—into a public forum.  We‘re doing this on MSNBC, but we‘re not doing this in a public forum with the U.S. Catholic Conference.  I think a lot of us would like to be able to look to our bishops and see another St. Paul.

NORVILLE:  I know a number of cardinals have actually petitioned...

VACCARO:  They have.  They have.

NORVILLE:  ... the pope to have that discussion.


NORVILLE:  And Sister Johanna, he‘s remained firm.  Can you see any middle ground where this discussion could take place and everyone within the church feel satisfied at the outcome?

PARUCH:  Well, I don‘t think that the Catholic church is a church that has ever gone for a middle ground.  I think that the Catholic church is a church that has tried—with all the faults and all the sins of people within the church, has always tried to try to live a radical Christianity.  And the call for celibacy, while it could change, I don‘t think it will, and neither do I think that a middle ground will be reached because...

NORVILLE:  All right.

PARUCH:  ... we just fall when we‘re in the—in the middle.  It becomes nothing.

NORVILLE:  And gets mushy.  We‘re going to take a short break.  When we come back, more on the issue of celibacy in the Roman Catholic church with our guests right after this.


NORVILLE:  Continuing our look at celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church, 71 percent of Catholics in this country believe that celibacy should be an optional rule, that the mandatory celibacy should change. 

Sister Johanna, help us understand a little bit about the history of celibacy, why what was relevant many years ago in the Catholic Church continues to be so today in a brief history lesson. 

PARUCH:  Brief; 2,000 years history of the church, it‘s not that brief.

But what we see, I think we always, always, always have to look at Jesus Christ first.  And we see the poor and obedient and chaste Christ.  And I think, as the church developed and we have facts and figures that, of course, Peter was married and we have Jesus‘ cure of his mother-in-law.

But we see a deeper understanding that, somehow, we have to come closer and closer to Jesus with this undivided heart that I spoke of before.  And so the first 1,000 years of the church, we see a desire for celibacy.  We see a great practice of celibacy.  And, unfortunately, we only hear the people who were not able to live that or didn‘t feel called to that.  And then, when we have the Lateran Council, as you mentioned, and then the Council of Trent, we see that the church is firmly convicted that in the Latin rite of the church, to have a holy priesthood, we have to have a celibate priesthood. 

And I think the history of the church since the Second Vatican Council is the same of the history of the world.  It‘s a time of turmoil.  It‘s a time of sexual revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  It‘s a time of sexual confusion.  We‘re not so sure who we are anymore as men and women.  All of those things, of course, are going to affect the priesthood. 

But I have to say that, in my own religious community, since the ‘60s,

we‘ve always had vocations to religious life.  And at Franciscan

University, where I teach presently, we have about, maybe 80 young men in

our program of young men who are really sincerely discerning priesthood,

and they‘ve come to terms with celibacy.  And the only way they can do that

·         and this has to be done in the church.  And we see the terrible sins and crimes that have been committed because of it.

And pedophilia is not just the only one, but also the homosexual relationships that priests have had. 

NORVILLE:  Well, let me just jump in right there, because it seems to me what‘s been putting the church in the news in the last several months is really two things, or a couple of years, is the sexual abuse scandal with the pedophile priests.  And the Catholic Bishops Conference has looked at that, says 4 percent of the priests were involved with that. 

But there‘s also this issue of the shortage of priests. 

And, Sister Chris, you were speaking to that.  What do you think the root cause is?  Is it only celibacy?  Is it the fact that the idea of a vocation is just not as sexy as it used to be back in the old days? 

SCHENK:  Yes, I think that‘s part of it. 

There are many causes, I think one of which being the Vatican II understanding of church as a people of God and that all are called to holiness, so nobody has the corner on the market anymore by being a priest or a nun.  I think the other big factor is, certainly in the United States, changes since Catholicism became part of the mainstream reality.

Catholics were introduced into the mainstream after the presidency of John Kennedy.  I think also birth control has played a major factor.  Most families now only have one or two or three children.  Most parents, by a study by the Bishops Conference just released last year, about 60 percent of parents either disagree or strongly disagree as to whether they would encourage their child to become a priest or a nun. 


SCHENK:  I loved being a nun.  I should say that right now.


NORVILLE:  Well, we know you do.  But because they‘ve got smaller families, you‘re saying, you don‘t have five boys in the family, so you maybe go suggest that two of them turn into priests. 

SCHENK:  Right.  It‘s harder for parents to encourage children to become priests and nuns.  And I think that was a lot of where original vocations came from.  But I really agree with Sister Johanna in terms of the reality of the celibate witness.  It‘s a beautiful spiritual path and I think it‘s one that the church cherishes.  It‘s just not the only one, or it doesn‘t have a corner on the market compared to any of the other vocational paths. 

NORVILLE:  Father Guy, you and a number of your associates and pastors wrote a letter to the bishops asking for dialogue.  What conversation would be most productive for the church as it looks ahead to the shortage of priests and the lack of men coming and accepting the vocation that you are giving up next week? 

VACCARO:  That‘s a good question. 

You know, the question I‘d like to see discussed is based on what Sister Chris said, asking the mothers, the Catholic mothers in this country, why is it they‘re not encouraging their sons to be priests as they did a generation and two generations ago?

If you looked at the studies done and priests were asked, what was the really critical influence in your life leading you to choose this vocation years ago, not presently, but years ago, it was the mother.  Now, that‘s not happening today.  And a question I would like to see the bishops ask the mothers is, why is it you‘re not encouraging your sons to be priests today the way you did a generation or two ago?

But we‘re not asking them the question.  And we‘re certainly not listening to any answer that they might be giving.  And I think that‘s a really important question. 

NORVILLE:  All right, Father Guy Vaccaro, thank you so much for being with us.  We wish you well in your future endeavors. 

VACCARO:  You‘re welcome.  Thank you for having me.  Thank you. 

NORVILLE:  Sister Chris Schenk, Sister Mary Johanna Paruch, thank you as well for your time. 

SCHENK:  Thank you. 

NORVILLE:  As you all know, it was “The Boston Globe” newspaper that first broke the story of the sex abuse scandal in the church.  When we come back, I‘ll be joined by a member of “The Globe”‘s investigative team with some more light on the ongoing scandal.  We‘ll talk about this latest premise that perhaps celibacy could be the cause of the crisis. 


NORVILLE:  Could celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church be to blame for the sex abuse scandal?  That‘s a question that‘s causing an uproar.  More in a moment.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The pot of gold is pretty much empty right now. 

We have limited reserves, and we could never sustain a judgment like that. 


NORVILLE:  That was the archbishop of the Portland, Oregon, Archdiocese talking about the decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  They were being sued for $130 million by a man who says the church failed to remove a priest accused of abusing more than 50 boys.  This follows previous payouts in the tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits to settle other abuse claims. 

It‘s been about two and a half years since “The Boston Globe” newspaper first broke the story about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.  And it revealed that the church had spent more than $1 billion, with a B, dollars in hush money to cover up the abuse over several decades.  Could mandatory celibacy have played a role in the scandal? 

Joining our discussion now is Michael Rezendes.  He‘s a member of “The

Boston Globe” investigative staff which won a Pulitzer Prize for its

coverage.  He‘s also one of the authors of the book called

“Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church.”  Also with us this

everything is Eugene Kennedy.  He left the priesthood to be married 27

years ago.  He‘s professor emeritus in the psychology department at Loyola

University in Chicago.  He‘s also the author of “The Unhealed Wound:

The Church and Human Sexuality.”

First, Mr. Rezendes, let me ask you about the decision by the archdiocese in Oregon to declare Chapter 11.  Is this something that could happen in other archdioceses around the country, because there are plenty of lawsuits still pending out there?


For instance, the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, has said it‘s contemplating filing bankruptcy.  So have several other dioceses.  It‘s one way for diocese to manage its finances, to pay victims of clergy sexual abuse. 

But another issue here that I think has to be addressed is whether or not a diocese contemplates bankruptcy to avoid going ahead with the discovery process in the lawsuits and turn over documents regarding clergy sex abuse. 

NORVILLE:  Given the skepticism that a lot of people have had over the way the church has been so reluctant to share information, isn‘t that a fairly likely sentiment that some people are going to make? 

REZENDES:  Well, yes.  I think some people have already made it in the case of Portland.  Whether or not it‘s true is another matter, of course, but I do think it‘s a very serious matter, because getting the documents out of the diocese regarding how sexually abusive priests were handled by supervisors is very important in understanding the overall crisis. 

NORVILLE:  You and the rest of the team there at “The Globe” had to just roll up your shirt sleeves and really do a lot of digging to get to the information.  You know what was in the files that you were able to look at.  Based on what you personally have seen, do you believe there‘s a connection, as is suggested by this HBO movie, between celibacy and the sexual abuse scandals in the church? 

REZENDES:  Well, there are two very distinct matters here.  And your question relates directly to a connection. 

Is there a connection?  Sure.  There appears to be some connection.  But to say there‘s a connection is not to say that celibacy is a cause of clergy sex abuse.  The national review board that was appointed by the church to look into this matter found out that in fact there was a connection because they found that many priests came into the clergy without an understanding of celibacy, what it meant to be celibate, what the challenges were. 

That doesn‘t necessarily mean that celibacy is a cause of clergy sex abuse.  It might suggest changing how seminaries teach celibacy.  On the other hand, you know, there‘s a credible school that says that celibacy is a cause.  Now, what the national review board said is that the matter needs further study.  And I think the relevant question is not today whether celibacy causes clergy sex abuse, because, as a matter of fact, there is not enough data to say one way or the other. 


REZENDES:  So the question, I think, is whether the church is going to follow the recommendations of its own review board and study the matter and have an open discussion of it. 

NORVILLE:  Dr. Kennedy, you‘ve spent many years of your career looking into this and other related issues.  What‘s your own personal opinion about that? 

EUGENE KENNEDY, FORMER PRIEST:  Well, first of all, I think it would be helpful to realize that celibacy is a discipline.  It is something that was made a universal law of the church in order to prevent clergy from handing on their estates and other riches through familial lines. 

It does not in that light have quite the exalted history that some think it might have.  Chastity is a separate notion.  It has a long history in the church.  And I would agree with the reporter from “The Boston Globe” that we do not have enough data to say that celibacy is the cause of this problem.  We have data from studies we did years ago that show that men who are immature have a great deal of trouble functioning in the priesthood and a great deal of trouble maintaining their vow of celibacy.

But they also have a great deal of trouble understanding their human sexuality, a problem they share, by the way, with a great many American men. 

NORVILLE:  Because they came into the priesthood emotionally immature in that particular area. 

We‘re going to take a short break.  We‘re going to be back with more with this fascinating discussion with Eugene Kennedy and Michael Rezendes in just a moment. 


NORVILLE:  More now on mandatory celibacy for Roman Catholic priests. 

Dr. Kennedy, you were saying that you had done a study some years ago that pointed to the immaturity of many of the young men going into the priesthood.  Has it changed today?  Has the church begun doing a better job of making sure young men who feel a calling understand what that aspect of the ministry is all about? 

KENNEDY:  Well, I believe that the explosion of the pedophile crisis shows that there has been some lack in that regard, although many have tried to do a better job on psychological testing, one of the things that the national review board has in fact recommended. 

What we really do need is a careful look at celibacy, at human sexuality in general.  The church shares in the great agonizing appraisal of human nature that is going on throughout the world.  It isn‘t only the church, people in the church who are having difficulty understanding sexuality and their identity.  It is a great difficulty shared by many people. 

I think that we do not have enough data indeed to make a pronouncement that celibacy has caused this crisis.  We do have enough data to understand that human beings need a great deal more understanding, and assistance in understanding and achieving their wholeness, integrating their sexuality and their personality.  That goes for priests.  It goes for policemen.  It goes for people on television as well. 

Just listen to “Sex and the City” and you hear endless travail about the boys who are not grownup enough for marriage.  There are many wonderful priests who are healthy, committed celibates but they brought their health with them into the priesthood, and they depend upon that.  That is the first and fundamental and really only qualification for a ministry. 

Can you make healthy relationships with other human beings?  Do you know how to love people?  This isn‘t a question of whether they should be allowed to have sex or not.  It‘s a question of whether they know how to love people or not. 

NORVILLE:  So you‘re saying people are coming into the ministry looking for an identity as a priest, where they ought to maybe have their own identity figured out and then enter the priesthood to be a minister. 

KENNEDY:  Yes.  As Andrew Greeley said to me last week when we were having lunch, it is a great failure for people to think they will find an identity in the priesthood.  You have to bring that with you.  And that should be ascertained beforehand, as it should indeed for people entering marriage. 

NORVILLE:  Michael Rezendes, let‘s go back to the national review board and what‘s likely to happen next as far as the church as a whole.  There‘s been the request for dialogue about the celibacy issue.  So far, the Council of Bishops has said, we‘re not having that discussion.  What do you predict is likely to happen? 

REZENDES:  Well, I hope that the seminaries are reformed to teach celibacy and human sexuality more thoroughly, as the church has suggested. 

I think it‘s too bad that it appears the church is unlikely to follow the recommendations of the review board, which said that further study of both celibacy and homosexuality in the clergy is needed.  But the pope effectively seemed to take this off the table as a matter of discussion in connection with the clergy sex abuse crisis in 2002 when he said that celibacy was a very important gift from the priesthood to God. 

NORVILLE:  Yes, but when we look at the statistics—and let‘s throw the graphic up there so we can see -- 27 percent of American parishes don‘t have a priest.  Right now, you‘ve got more ministers that are 90 years or over than under 30 years of age.  There‘s a real problem just in terms of getting access to priests. 

What‘s going to happen, Michael, to some of these things like the Rent-A-Priest organization, which is sort of this grassroots thing of priests who have left the clergy to give the sacraments to parishioners who don‘t have access any other way? 

REZENDES:  Yes, I‘m surprised that I personally don‘t detect a greater sense of urgency on the part of the church, because the number of priests in relation to the number of Catholics is diminishing pretty dramatically.

And, at least anecdotally, there seems to be no doubt that celibacy is part of the reason.  Many, many priests have left the clergy to marry.  And it‘s conceivable that the American church will look very different than it does today if something isn‘t changed. 

NORVILLE:  Dr. Kennedy, in the last couple seconds we‘ve got, what do you predict will happen to the church if this is not an issue that is discussed at the highest levels? 

KENNEDY:  Well, I think that what we have seen in the past is what we will see in the future, a faltering, stumbling along, adjusting to this, making pragmatic decisions. 

The church is ultimately pragmatic, however.  That is how it has survived through history.  And it will take a good pragmatic look at this and understand that what their review board has recommended, to take a deeper look at this, and what the wisdom of the people who have been on this program also says, because that‘s too important to ignore.  That is really what we would expect that an intelligent and prudent man would do. 

NORVILLE:  All right, we‘ll let that be the last word. 

Eugene Kennedy, Michael Rezendes, thank you very much for your time tonight. 


NORVILLE:  When we come back, you think you‘d like to go to outer space?  We‘ve got the story of two men who just couldn‘t wait to do just that. 


NORVILLE:  We love to hear from you.  Send us ideas and comments to us at  We have posted some of your e-mails on our Web page.  That‘s, which is where you can also sign up for our newsletter. 

That‘s our program for tonight.  Thanks for watching.  I‘m Deborah Norville.

Tomorrow night, civilians in space with their own ticket to ride.  In an exclusive interview, I will talk with test pilot Mike Melvill.  Last month, he became the first person to fly a privately built craft into space.  He said looking back at Earth from outer space was practically a religious experience.  We will also talk with Dennis Tito, the first civilian to pay his own way into space.  He spent more than a week on board the International Space Station. 

That‘s it.  See you tomorrow.


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.