Former priest sheds light on celibacy and child sex abuse

SOME members of the Catholic clergy believe sex with children is not breaking celibacy vows, a former Melbourne priest claimed this week.

Giving evidence in the Victorian inquiry into how the church handles claims of child sex abuse, Phillip O'Donnell, who left the church to marry in the 90s, said celibacy was a "millstone" for many priests.

He said there was no seminary training to prepare priests for celibacy and that the tolerance for imperfection in celibacy may have "led to a lessening of outrage at sex with children".

The Herald Sun reported that when asked whether priests believed sex with women was the only "real sex" (breaking vows) and homosexual and child sex was not, Mr O'Donnell replied "sometimes".

He wouldn't be drawn on what percentage of the current clergy were sexually active but said he did not believe celibacy laws would change as many priests were gay and did not want to admit it.

Another priest said there was a band of Catholic bishops and priests who were secretly in favour of modernising celibacy rules, but would not divulge their names.

Teachers, principals and priests have already given evidence in the inquiry.

Whistleblowers - former principal Graham Sleeman and teacher Carmal Rafferty - have told of how they lost their jobs and were ostracised by the Catholic education system because they attempted to protect students from a predatory priest who has since died.

The inquiry is expected to continue for several months.

A royal commission into the way institutions have handled claims of child sex abuse will begin this year.