WASHINGTON (June 15, 2004) -- A review of an upcoming HBO program on celibacy says the show "uses a stacked-deck approach to investigate the socio-religious roots of abstinence among various faith traditions, with a focused emphasis on Roman Catholicism, and its alleged link to the Church's sexual abuse scandal."
"Celibacy," a new documentary by Antony Thomas, will be aired on HBO June 28. The documentary was reviewed in advance by the Office of Film and Broadcasting (OFB), Department of Communications, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
"Full of unsubstantiated, anecdotal assertions, the documentary starts off on a seemingly unbiased note by acknowledging that Christianity is not unique in its practice of celibacy and examining parallels in both the Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions," the review states.
"But what starts off as a comparative study of religious attitudes towards institutional chastity quickly becomes a polemic against the Catholic Church's entire sexual ethos, which attempts to claim that a repeat of the recent sex scandal could be avoided if the Vatican lifted its ban on a married clergy," the review says. "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 as an explanation."
"While the film accurately dates mandatory celibacy in the Roman rite to 1139, a supposedly unbiased expert misleadingly asserts that the final decision was one based solely on questions concerning the inheritance of church property," the review continues. "At no point does the documentary take seriously that following the example of the celibate Christ is a motive for priestly celibacy. Primacy is always given to motives other than spiritual."
It is not a matter of protesting the film because it presents an unflattering picture of Christianity, the review asserts. "The real problem is that HBO's documentary singles out for assault one religious faith's moral teachings regarding human sexuality. It is presented in a largely unbalanced way, with fact deferring to mere opinion in many cases. While trotting out the hoary chestnuts about the Church's thinking that sex is, at best, a necessary evil, it ignores anything positive in Catholic theology about sexuality, including the fact that it is an essential element in the sacrament of Matrimony."
"Two pieces of evidence cited against celibacy are the departure of tens of thousands of men from the priesthood and religious life in previous decades and the fewer vocations to the ministry today. However, never grappled with is the overall decline in all lifelong commitments, manifested during those same decades by soaring divorce rates. Ignored is the wealth of vocations to the priesthood and religious life outside Western Europe and North America, and secular polls which demonstrate that most priests are happy with their lives."
The OFB review also faults the documentary for failing to put in the record any of the Church's explanations of the importance of celibacy, such as Pope Paul VI's 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. "And while those who would reduce man to a ball of biological urges may criticize such idealism as being contrary to nature, the encyclical eloquently reminds us that, 'Man, created in God's image and likeness, is not just flesh and blood, the sexual instinct is not all that he has; man also has, and pre-eminently, understanding, choice, freedom.' Viewed apart from the mystery of Christ, celibacy could seem 'unreasonable and unfounded,' as even the encyclical recognizes."
"The Church does not deny that certain members of the clergy have committed heinous crimes resulting in immeasurable harm by their betraying the trust of those they were sent to serve," says the OFB review. "But the show's oversimplified prognosis, which recommends ending celibacy as a panacea to the ills facing the Church is hardly convincing."
The Office for Film and Broadcasting, based in New York, provides reviews and ratings--of movies, TV shows and videos--that include the Church's moral perspective. The reviews are offered through Catholic News Service (CNS) for its client publications. OFB staff member David DiCerto wrote the review of "Celibacy."