The latest revelations of child molestation by 300-plus Catholic priests in Pennsylvania parishes is the latest shocking and sad commentary on a beloved institution in desperate need of reform. A major reform would be to allow priests to marry - a reform steadfastly rebuffed by popes over the centuries.
While Catholic scholars vary on the subject, it is generally believed celibacy became a common practice among priests as early as the fourth and fifth centuries, in the same historical period that the seat of the church was established in Rome at the site where St. Peter was buried. But the practice of priests marrying was not banned until about the eleventh century. Here again scholars disagree on just when the Catholic Church formally imposed the ban.
Historical perspective aside, with the current state of the Church and the ranks of priests so thin that many parishes are without a permanent pastor, it may be time to consider allowing priests to marry. Young men are traditionally recruited to this celibate life at a time when they are at the height of their sexual potency. Nature dictates celibacy is for the old - not the young. (To which many red-blooded men might cry, speak for yourself, although I can't do that because I'm female.)
While allowing Catholic priests to marry would hopefully solve psychological needs, such a reform could create another problem for the Church at a time of declining participation. That would be the cost to support a man with the additional burden of a spouse and children. Protestant sects have managed to pay such costs since the Reformation began in 1517. Allowing priests to marry was a principle tenant of the Reformation.
Supporting a priest with a spouse and family would impose a greater financial burden on parishioners, but it could save Catholic dioceses the more prohibitive costs of lawsuits. You can already hear lawyers circling over Pennsylvania. Legal settlements imposed by courts have bankrupted some American dioceses. More than a thousand victims of child molestation were identified by prosecutors in Pennsylvania. For the majority of these victims the civil courts offer the only redress for the crimes they suffered as children since the statute of limitations for child molestation has elapsed.