On entitlement and celibacy

23 May


A sense of entitlement is listed as one of the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which seems so obvious you probably don’t need to go to the DSM-5 or the Mayo Clinic webpage to find that out.

Over the last couple of years there’s been debate as to whether or not celibacy requirements in the Catholic church contribute to the sexual abuse by priests of children in their charge. Personally, I think that theory is ridiculous and a red herring.  There are plenty of child sex offenders who are not Catholic priests and not celibate.

(How utterly awful it is to continually acknowledge the prevalence of this crime.)

It takes a particular type of psycho sexual mindset to cause a man or woman, (though male offenders far exceed female) to seek sexual gratification from the body of a child, and many offenders engage in adult sexual relationships as well as preying on children.

What is common to all of them, I’d argue, is a sense of entitlement. Child sex abusers feel entitled to gratify their desires, regardless of the effects on the life of their victim. This sense of entitlement is not, of course, peculiar to child sex offenders: anyone who acts upon another as if he or she is a means to an end is exercising a sense of entitlement that allows them to disregard the effects of their actions, and focus solely on their own gratification.

The Catholic church is unlikely to admit that it attracts narcissistic personalities, given that its  purpose and mission is service. That human paradox is of a depth and complexity greater even than the fantasies of god, faith, belief and transubstantiation.

A sense of entitlement takes many forms, feeling chosen by god is just one of them, but they all have in common a feeling of superiority, perhaps an overcompensation for deeper feelings of inferiority, if you want to use the psychoanalytic rather than the moral framework to deconstruct the narcissist.

Whatever the perils of enforced celibacy, and I imagine they are many, it is reductionist and simplistic to claim that priests sexually abuse children because of those vows. It takes a particular kind of attachment to secrecy, danger, duplicity, power, self-gratification, self-delusion and compartmentalisation, as well as the ability to care not one jot for the life of the child you abuse to construct the personality of the child sex abuser, not the vow of celibacy. It may well be easier for the church to look to celibacy as a cause, rather than admit that the psycho sexual dysfunction of so many who join its ranks precedes any vows of celibacy they may take.

The sense of entitlement is a scourge.  Not only as it manifests in those who abuse children, but wherever it rears its head, in all situations where people are used as a means to another’s end. Politicians can be leading entitlement practitioners, indeed, a sense of entitlement is almost entirely normalised in Western culture, to the extent that it is virtually invisible.

Whether everyone with a sense of entitlement is also a narcissist is up for discussion, though it would appear to be the most significant symptom of that disorder.

Is narcissism a necessary component of capitalism? Is patriarchy inherently narcissistic? Is the Christian god a narcissist? Do helicopter parents create narcissistic children? Are you entitled to exploit me to get what you think you need? Are we entitled to destroy the planet in order to get what we think we need to have?

If we can manage nothing else at least we have to ask the questions, because the sense of entitlement is, one way and another, perhaps currently the most destructive of human characteristics. It is not one we are born with, we are encultured into the attitude to a greater or lesser degree, damaging the sense of common vulnerability and humanity that might otherwise ameliorate narcissistic impulses.

This is what the Catholic church needs to investigate. Celibacy may well bring all kinds of challenges, but the sexual abuse of children is a deeper, greater darkness that cannot be explained away by the church denying adults a mature sexual life.

26 Responses to “On entitlement and celibacy”

  1. Karyn May 23, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    Wow. You’re good.
    Curious, from start to finish, what’s the average time you take to compose an average post? I noticed you do not post everyday so I’m make the assumption that you put some effort into your writing…not just off-the-cuff.
    I enjoy reading your posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson May 23, 2015 at 11:08 am #

      There is no average time. It takes as long or as short a time as it takes!


  2. Anonymous May 23, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    Dr. Jennifer Wilson, your invaluable insight, intelligence & vast experience & compassion in both these areas is would be so valuable on the advisory panels for both The Royal Commissions into Institutionalised Child Abuse & The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. AnnieM May 23, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    I used to think celebacy a possible cause but I think you have one right to the nub of the matter. A sense of entitlement (narcissicsm) is possibly a consequence of individualism brought about by the view of the last 30 years of individual responsiblity (i.e. there’s no such thing as society, as Thatcher is purported to have said). Our community responsibilities have been eroded over the years to such an extent that often we don’t see these things as affecting us.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Mayan May 23, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

      Her full quote was:

      ‘”I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.” ‘

      Is it not narcissism to believe that you have a right to the labours of others?

      Liked by 1 person

      • townsvilleblog May 23, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

        Mayan, your ranting reminds me of an old tory doctor in Townsville who remains unhinged by what communism did to him in Hungary 60 years ago, pitiful that you cannot join with the rest of your countrymen in appreciating what the Labor Party via the unions have bought to Australian life. We were until 2 years ago, one of the most egalitarian nations on Earth. Sadly, now, the rich are getting richer by the second and the poor are getting poorer at the same rate. Grow up and join the human race.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mayan May 23, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

          Correlation is not causation.

          Liked by 1 person

      • doug quixote May 23, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

        Yes, superficially plausible. And derived from the ideas she acquired from Hayek, that there is no such thing as an economy (which implies cooperation and mutual support) and his coining of the term “catallaxy” meaning each man for himself, following his own self interest in disregard of anyone else.

        Thatcher, Reagan and their fellow travellers managed to set back the great causes of liberty, equality and fraternity by fifty years.

        We still have to put up with the aftermath.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. hudsongodfrey May 23, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

    I’m right with you on the entitlement come narcissism element. In fact I only edited words to that effect out of comments I made on your previous related posting in favour of brevity.

    In order to fully comprehend the extent of what goes on within religious institutions like the Catholic Church and school system you need to explain the propensity to offend along with the absence of restraining influences that exist elsewhere in society.

    I strongly suspect that celibacy selects for young entrants to seminaries who, brought up on a guilty diet of catechism that demonises their sexual propensities, are more inclined to repress that most stigmatised aspect of themselves by entering into celibate cloisters.

    I think religion has a problem with doctrines of abstinence that serially fail to work. Being enshrined in immutable dogmas there is such a monumental unwillingness to admit failure that concealment being the preferred option would seem to become an enabler for narcissistic, and often sociopathic, abusers to treat the protection it affords them as a kind of entitlement. That is to say an extra layer of entitlement on top of whatever allows the purveyor of a faith he clearly doesn’t believe applies to him to continue to ply his trade.

    One way of looking at this that may provide an insight comes via one the US presidential candidates, you can guess on which side, making a very poor argument oft repeated among religious conservatives in the US, that homosexuality is a choice because prisoners are known to engage in same sex coitus. Clearly he completely failed to notice that the element of choice to interact with members of the opposite gender is entirely absent in that environment. You simply can’t get a dumber argument than to imply choice from lack of opportunity.

    Perhaps then what we can say about paedophile priests might involve that failure of celibacy to somehow miraculously disburse their sexual urges and an abundance of opportunity to exploit and violate those who won’t stand up to them within an environment where their crimes are held to be between them and their god ignoring any recourse or restitution victims may be owed.

    That’s the form of entitlement here!

    So, it is precisely because we do so massively struggle to comprehend paedophilia in a way that allows us to intercept it, that we have for the sake of victims to tackle the externalities by removing entitlement and I think debunking celibacy as well for the failure that both have enabled to prevail in some quarters for way too long.

    And that recourse and restitution for the victims…. It’s still outstanding and it is absolutely necessary.


  5. Diane Pearton May 23, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

    I don’t think that celibacy is a cause, except that the very concept shows how screwy the Catholic church is in it’s attitude to sex. Who, how, why would anyone ever conceive of such a sad sad sad way to live?

    I agree that it is narcissism, chauvinism and the historical exercise of entitlement that has enabled crimes to be committed and protected, repeatedly and throughout this sick institution.

    Inherent in this cancerous institution, as causal and resultant of it’s awful culture is it’s misogyny. Can any religion, society or community remain healthy when it insists that fifty per cent of it’s population is not, and never will be, never can be, as good as the other fifty per cent?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 24, 2015 at 7:14 am #

      In answer to your last question,Di, no.
      But a healthy society is the last thing on their minds. Only their own power matters.


  6. doug quixote May 23, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

    It so happens that people who are attracted to small children will gravitate into jobs and professions where they can gain access to and authority over small children, or young teens if that is what they desire.

    Thus scout masters, teachers, priests, youth workers, swimming and gymnastics coaches . . . the list goes on, may be involved in getting access to their victims. Obviously not all members of these often caring professions are suspect; probably the vast majority are dedicated to helping, educating and advancing their charges. But figures from the Roman Catholic Church itself nominate 2% of the priesthood as paedophiles. (Pope Francis) That means that of the 412,000 RC priests in the world, 8,200 of them are paedophiles.

    Eight thousand of them.

    A common defence raised by those seeking to defend their institutions or those they favour has been “that happens in families too!” but the defence is no satisfactory answer as to why the institution closes ranks, defends its employees or members.

    The Royal Commission has a long way still to run.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hudsongodfrey May 24, 2015 at 12:46 am #

      What do they say in all the time about means, motive and opportunity?

      Between Celibacy and Entitlement the former may provide motive but the latter tends to provide either or both of means and opportunity. Generally it is thought that taking any one away impedes the commission of a crime.

      Shocking to think of those numbers you quoted, and I was already shocked last week to hear some of the latest reports from the RC. Every kid in the school abused, and every priest in another school an abuser. It has come very far from being a few isolated cases then.

      Liked by 1 person

      • doug quixote May 24, 2015 at 10:45 am #

        It does not shock me. The figures I quoted are conservative; just what they will admit to. Other estimates say, perhaps wishfully, “less than 5%” of adults have such desires.


    • Jennifer Wilson May 24, 2015 at 7:16 am #

      DQ, These same institutions often claim they are as “one big family” so they can’t have it both ways.


      • doug quixote May 24, 2015 at 10:40 am #

        And families will often close ranks. I probably don’t need to tell you, in particular, that mothers, brothers grandparents and others will join forces in denying abuse and suppressing the victim.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson May 24, 2015 at 11:32 am #

          Yes, this is a dynamic that I’m familiar with yet continues to baffle me.


          • doug quixote May 24, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

            To admit that a member of your family is a sexual pervert, a child abuser and therefore a criminal is a very confronting matter.

            Otherwise-responsible adults will go into denial and seek to suppress the news. Shutting up the victim is critical. In the past in wealthy families, the perpetrator would often be sent overseas; the victim be told to shut up, it will damage your reputation. (“No, not ours, yours! No-one will want to marry a girl who is damaged goods.”)

            Liked by 2 people

            • hudsongodfrey May 24, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

              This is why I think it is so important to refocus our priorities towards helping victims, because we find it too easy to firstly take permission to hate offenders, then lock them up if we can after which we just wash our hands of the whole problem and walk away.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Jennifer Wilson May 25, 2015 at 6:46 am #

                I agree, HG. There’s too few resources directed towards the victim, too little thought. It’s in the too hard basket.


            • Jennifer Wilson May 25, 2015 at 6:44 am #

              This attitude of denial & punishment seems ingrained, not only towards sexual abuse victims but towards victims in general.


  7. Jim Fitz May 24, 2015 at 8:06 am #

    There could well be other elements along-side male narcissism.
    The patriarchal belief that men must have sex and that without sex we are not men. Us men grow-up telling each other, in millions of ways, that we need sex for definition and gratification, ergo a subsequent sense of entitlement.
    it may also be possible that an element of deviancy is present. Whether it is aligned with having unfair power over others (another patriarchal influence) or the idea that getting away with a deviant act carries some thrill.
    All of these concepts seem to be tied together and driven by patriarchal beliefs. These beliefs enslave men and women into a narrow part of the human behavioural spectrum.

    Liked by 1 person

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