But before we range across that sadly familiar terrain, let's give a moment's thought to loneliness. And longing. And this: the pledge of celibacy that the church requires of its servants is an often cruel and corrosive thing. It runs counter to human nature. It asks too much.

Just so we're clear: I'm not excusing priests who have sexually abused minors, or even talking principally about them. The British clergyman, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, isn't charged with any such crime. He's charged with failing to obey the moral absolutes he pronounces. And if true, the allegations represent more than yet another peek behind a false curtain of fraudulent righteousness. They're a suggestion of celibacy's foolishness, even its recklessness: of the way it warps the culture of the priesthood; of the unreasonable standard it sets.

Last week, just before the allegations came to light, O'Brien raised questions about the wisdom of the church's tradition of consigning clerics to a single, unmarried, ostensibly sexless life. He told the BBC that the next Pope should consider dropping the celibacy rule, on account of how isolated clergymen can be.