Fri | Apr 19, 2019

Michael Abrahams | The Catholic Church’s warped views on human sexuality

Published:Monday | September 3, 2018 | 1:02 AM

Recently, a grand jury in Pennsylvania found that more than 300 Roman Catholic clergy abused 1,000-plus children over a 70-year period. Child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church are like a recurring decimal. They just keep happening over and over and over again with no end in sight.

There is a call by many, including a significant proportion of the laity, to abolish the celibacy vows taken by priests, and nuns as well, in order to stem the abuse.

But it is not as simple as that. The fact that priests are not allowed to marry, and take vows of celibacy, makes the Roman Catholic Church an ideal place for child molesters to hide. No one will question their marital status, and they will be in positions of authority with access to children. But permitting priests to marry is only part of the solution. Being allowed to join another in holy matrimony does not prevent child abuse; many child molesters are married.

At the root of the church’s lax attitude towards child abuse may be the institution’s warped views on human sexuality. Their dogmas and doctrines reveal a stunning ignorance of human sexual behaviour.

For example, it is unnatural for a human being, especially a man, to remain celibate for life. For the church to expect its more than 400,000 priests globally to remain celibate is unrealistic. Sure, there are people who are asexual, and have no desire for sex, but for the vast majority, sex is a need that requires fulfilment.

So, when sexual urges reach Catholic priests, they can masturbate to ease the tension. At least they are not having sex with anyone. Right? Wrong!

According to church doctrine, masturbation is not just a sin, but a ‘mortal sin’, one that makes it “impossible to follow Christ”. Some Catholics have even argued that masturbation is worse than rape, because when rape occurs, a person is hurt, but masturbation “spills seed” on the ground, thus offending God, which is a more egregious offence. (I swear I am not making this up.)

The truth is that masturbation is a natural act, but the church vilifies it, and seriously expects its priests to live for the rest of their lives without a single ejaculation. Like, seriously?

The Catholic Church is also rabidly anti-abortion, to the point where several pregnant women whose lives were at risk and who could have been saved by having their pregnancies terminated, have died because of strict abortion laws in countries heavily influenced by Roman Catholic doctrines.

One of the best ways to avoid pregnancy, and hence reduce the incidence of abortion, is the efficient use of contraception. It is a no-brainer, really. So, being anti-abortion, the Catholic Church would readily embrace this. Right? Wrong again! Catholic doctrine forbids the use of contraceptives.

As far back as 1588, Pope Sixtus V, in his papal bull (or is it bull****?) ‘Effraenatam’, ordered all church and civil penalties for homicide to be brought against those who practised contraception. In his 1930 pronouncement on birth control, ‘Casti Connubii’, Pope Pius XI declared that contraception was inherently evil and anyone practising it “violates the law of God and nature” and was “stained by a great and mortal flaw”.

Condoms, diaphragms, the rhythm method and even coitus interruptus (the withdrawal method) were forbidden. In 1951, Pius XI’s successor, Pius XII, approved the rhythm method for couples who had “morally valid reasons for avoiding procreation.” Then, in 1968, Paul VI issued ‘Humanae Vitae’, prohibiting all forms of artificial birth control.

The church also forbids divorce. If a Catholic decides to be bold enough and get divorced, the church will have nothing to do with them remarrying. As far as the church is concerned, if they get remarried elsewhere and engage in sexual intercourse, they would be committing adultery. Since the church frowns on adultery, it expects divorced persons to live the remainder of their lives in celibacy, restricting the shouting out of “Oh God!” to praise and worship only, as they are forbidden from even “laying hands” on themselves.

These views are not benign. Forbidding contraception and abortion places lives at risk, as pregnancies in women with certain medical conditions can cause the illnesses to worsen and severe morbidity and even death to occur. Banning barrier methods also places persons at risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections.

Discouraging divorce may force people to remain in toxic relationships that can endanger their mental and physical health. Preventing remarriage after divorce can condemn the faithful to lives of loneliness and depression, and rigid stances on activities such as masturbation can contribute to sexual dysfunction and unhappy marriages.

The manner in which the organisation ‘punishes’ clergy who abuse and enable the sexual abuse of children, by ordering them to live lives of “prayer and penance”while continuing to allow them access to children, damages countless lives. When someone has an affinity for sexually abusing minors, praying is ineffective in changing them. The practice of moving villains such as these from parish to parish only facilitates the abuse of more youngsters and destruction of their lives.

Unless the Vatican undergoes a serious revolution regarding its views on human sexuality, people will continue to be hurt.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.