As if The Jersey Shore wasn’t bad enough, here comes another reality show about polygamous Italians who cheat, argue and lie: the papal conclave.

With Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation taking effect today, the countdown to the March election has already begun. It’s an ancient ceremony nuanced by history and tradition with the sealing of the Sistine Chapel, the burning of the ballots and the release of white smoke to signal the election of a new pontiff.

Yet while the media in years past has focused on the spectacle of the event, its focus this year has been diverted by another spectacle entirely.

For starters, Benedict’s resignation is virtually without precedent. Nothing remotely similar has happened in over 600 years of church history. And as the 85-year-old theologian makes his groundbreaking exit from office, he’s not alone.

On Monday, British Cardinal Keith O’Brien also resigned from his post amidst allegations of inappropriate conduct with his priests. The news punctuated an ongoing firestorm of criticism directed at Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been accused of sheltering priests responsible for rape and child molestation. All of this is capped by the Italian media’s insinuation that Benedict’s resignation has a lot less to do with old age and frailty (reasons he provided) and a lot more to do with an impending avalanche of dirty Vatican laundry.

While these final allegations may be little more than run-of-the-mill tabloid pulp, the clergy’s long and egregious history of abuse is undeniable. Benedict’s resignation may not be insidious, but it is at the very least circumspect. The most important question, it seems — and one the global media has deemed either too complicated or too uninteresting to ask — is not what abuse has taken place, but why?

Why is the church corrupt? Why are self-proclaimed men of God taking honeymoons with 10 and 12-year-old boys? Why are the very people trained and dedicated to steering us clear of sin waist-deep in damnation themselves?

Like most things, this issue boils down to sex. In order to prove their devotion to God, these guys have given up sex — for life! That’s like saying you’re going to give up eating for Lent. You might not do it at the dinner table, but pretty soon you’ll be sneaking down to the pantry at 3 a.m. and making use of those loose floorboards under your bed.

Think about it. The Catholic Church has done to its clergymen what most pet owners do to their dogs. Ever wondered why your Russell Terrier can’t seem to stop mashing his groin against the couch cushion? When you take away his ability to naturally procreate, he’s going to start humping things he probably shouldn’t.

Of course, that’s the whole point of celibacy — to experience and then refute temptation. Just because a few distinguished members of the archdiocese played dress-up with the kid’s choir doesn’t mean they all do, and it doesn’t mean celibacy is always the cause of this behavior. A perv is a perv, right?

Well, in some cases, yes. But things are rarely so black-and-white. Undoubtedly there are those among us who have been pedophiles from day one. Remember that kid in kindergarten who was always getting in trouble for pulling his pants down in the schoolyard? Chances are good that the only difference between now and then is his age.

As far as the Vatican is concerned, that leaves the rest of us — the straight-edged, spiritual and wholly heteronormative majority. And while I’d like to believe every person I meet outside a jail cell doesn’t belong in one, my instincts tell me otherwise.

There is a third and often unrealized group of individuals who, under adequate amounts of pressure and stress, undergo a sort of child-molesting metamorphosis. These are folks just like you and I in every other way save for their potential to commit egregious and perverse crimes.

Cardinal O’Brien and Cardinal Mahony’s cohorts fall into this category. Chastity, a powerful tool for some, has proven itself to them an insurmountable challenge. Molestation isn’t an objective for these people; to their frenzied, sex-deprived brains, it’s their only means of recourse.

I’m not suggesting that molestation and rape are morally justifiable. But until we quit pretending that we can’t understand why these things happen, we’re more or less powerless to stop them. It’s not too difficult to see how extreme deprivation of any bodily function leads to warped and illicit behavior. Imagine starving a monkey for thirty years and then throwing him into a barrel of bananas — odds are good he’s not going to care which ones are ripe.

In sum, the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church could only be expected. The doctrine of celibacy is a dangerous game that toys with the most deep-seated aspects of human nature. The human sex drive is an animalistic and selfish urge that for some, when repressed, manifests itself in perverse and horrific ways.

That’s not Satan talking. That’s common sense.

Mark Strong is understanding by nature but provocative by trade. That’s “Politically Incorrect” for you.

Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.