To this day, the Vatican also resists reexamining the church canon imposing celibacy on Catholic clerics. Indeed, Pope Benedict has been a leading defender of this rule that seeks to suppress a normal part of human life, sexual activity, and thus may encourage its resurfacing in destructive ways.
Though clerical celibacy is now widely regarded as an integral part of the Catholic faith, it never appeared as a mandate from Jesus or from early Christian leaders who were married men. Jesus also grew up in a Jewish tradition in which rabbis were expected to marry, and there is no explicit Biblical claim that Jesus himself was celibate.
However, the issue of celibacy soon emerged as a religious concern for the young religion, with some zealots forsaking sex as a sign of their devotion to Christ. In the First Century, Nicolas, one of the early Seven Deacons, then sought to demonstrate his own religious commitment by renouncing conjugal intercourse with his wife, according to the writing of a Fourth Century Church bishop Epiphanius.
Nicolas later decided that celibacy had too many drawbacks, so while maintaining his vow against sex in marriage he began partaking in promiscuous sex, including some acts that Epiphanius condemned as unnatural. Though historians have doubts about these ancient accounts, Nicolas is sometimes considered the leader of a sect called "Nicolaitism."
A millennium after Nicolas, during the Middle Ages, the then wealthy and powerful Roman Catholic Church was facing embarrassing property claims from offspring of Catholic clerics. Thus, the Gregorian Reform targeted the sexual libertinism of "Nicolaitism." The First Lateran Council in 1123 banned marriage contracts for clerics as well as the use of concubines, a practice that had produced illegitimate children.
"We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, subdeacons, and monks to have concubines or to contract marriage," the Council ruled.
However, celibacy remained a controversial issue within the Catholic Church and emerged as a major point of contention in the Sixteenth-Century Protestant Reformation, which blamed celibacy for widespread sexual misconduct by clerics.
Protestant reformers cited New Testament scripture stating that clerics should be the husband of a single wife and declaring that early apostles were permitted a Christian wife. After breaking with Rome, Martin Luther and other leading reformers married.
Yet, the Vatican pressed on with its insistence on clerical celibacy, despite the accumulating evidence that the tenet was surrounded by hypocrisy and continued sexual misconduct.
Given this history and the more recent revelations of priests raping altar boys and other children entrusted to their care, another question must arise: Did some Vatican leaders come to tolerate this behavior as a perverse necessity for continuing the rules of celibacy, as an outlet for the sex drive that would not produce offspring and thus claimants on the Church's property?
The Vatican is after all not only a religious institution, but a vast political and business enterprise, complete with secretive banks and alliances with powerful world leaders. During the Cold War, the Vatican was a key collaborator in discrediting Third World left-leaning movements that sought social justice on behalf of peasants and workers.
In Latin America, the Church hierarchy historically collaborated with the ruling oligarchies to maintain order. The Church urged peasants to look for their reward in the afterlife. At other times, Church leaders worked hand-in-glove with the CIA in anti-communist counterinsurgencies.
During the 1960s, however, the Second Vatican Council pushed the Church toward more modern and liberal ideas, inspiring some idealistic priests and nuns to adopt the thinking of "liberation theology," i.e. putting the Church politically on the side of the poor.
After the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978 and the ascension of a far more conservative prelate, John Paul II the Vatican began turning its back on the "liberation theologists" who were increasingly targeted by right-wing security forces for torture, rape and murder.
The Reagan administration rewarded the Vatican for its return to intense anti-communism by granting the Holy See full diplomatic status in 1984.