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SPRING 2005
Vol 39 No 3


Editorial
ENGAGING WITH CHANGE

Richard Lennan
STILL RELEVANT? Vatican II Forty Years On

Tony Paganoni CS
ETHNIC MINISTRY IN AUSTRALIA: History, Present Realities and Future Options

Frank Fletcher MSC
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE HEART: The EJ Cuskelly Memorial Lecture 2005

Brian San
GOD SHOUTS TO US IN OUR PAIN

Rev Dr Lawrence Cross, Australian Catholic University
TOPICAL COMMENT - TERRORISTS, MARTYRS AND SUICIDES: Consulting the Early Church

John Falzon
STATS AND STONES: Vinnies’ report from the trenches on the poverty wars

Danny Kinnane
MERTON: A Modern Perspective

Janiene Wilson
REVIEW: Jane Anderson, Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendships
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Kevin Mark
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS



 

Review: Jane Anderson, Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendships

JANIENE WILSON

Jane Anderson, Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendships. John Garratt Publishing, 2005, ISBN: 1920721177 R.R.P: $34.95

Priests in Love is not merely another attack upon an already beleaguered clergy. It is, rather, a book in the tradition of the contemporary challenge to mandatory celibacy for Latin rite clergy. Other authors in this tradition, Richard Sipe and Donald Cozzens, have applauded it, as is evidenced from their comments on the cover. The work is unique in that the author offers Australian Catholic clergy the opportunity to speak in very personal terms about their intimate romantic and sexual relationships, and the emotional and moral dilemmas that ensue. The book is a qualitative study of the hidden phenomenon of priests' relationships. It is sobering reading.

The work has two notable strengths.

The first is the considerable amount of original material. Fifty priests have been interviewed. Each priest is permitted to speak in the first person and their personal dilemmas are, thereby, stark and accessible. There is a kind of relentlessness in the telling, one by one, of these accounts of personal pain, loneliness and guilt. Even the reader who is most sympathetic with the current ecclesial status quo cannot fail to be halted by such a pile of first-hand evidence.

I was particularly moved by the accounts of compromise, of those priests who failed to resolve their situations healthily, and continued to 'practice a particular version of celibacy, one that upholds the public appearance of singleness, whilst in his private life, he considers himself a part of a loving and committed relationship' (p.86).

One is left with the impression that, for all the effort of the Vatican to bulwark the discipline of celibacy, it is a practice fraught with difficulties which must compromise both the integrity of priest and partner, and hence, the efficacy of priestly ministry.

One is also left with the conviction that something must be done, beyond the idealised rhetoric that usually accompanies official statements about priestly celibacy.

The second strength is the author's commentary, accompanying these mini- autobiographies. It is never salacious, but pulls no punches in serving up to the reader the implications of these stories. For instance, quoting from the document I Will Give You Shepherds, issued by John Paul II in 1993, the author writes:

…the pope asserts that a priest is require to love and be loved with 'an affective maturity which is prudent, able to renounce anything that is a threat to (his celibacy).

However, anything can include a priest's love for his friend, and the friend as well. The pope reduces a priest's friend to an object, while his affection for his friend is discredited and dismissed as a distraction to his love of God (p.73).

I have worked with clergy for over twenty years, ten of those as the psychologist at the Sydney Archdiocesan Seminary. The personal stories are vivid reminders to me of the human cost paid by so many priests, who continue to try to honour the canonical obligation of celibacy, but who have reached a point in their own lives, where they have realised that celibacy as an ideal and a reality are two different things, and that the desire for exclusive human intimacy is not only desirable but necessary.

Priests in Love presents candid human evidence that the problems surrounding the current practice of mandatory celibacy need to be addressed with the best insights that both the human sciences and the theological tradition can offer.

An interesting companion piece to this work is the recently published. A Passion for Priests by Clare Jenkins (Headline, London. 1995). This work uses a similar format to Anderson's book to examine the experiences of those hidden partners who share not only priests' lives but their dilemmas with mandatory celibacy, as well.

—Janiene Wilson