Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 17, 2003
Sexuality issues spur church soul-searching
Authors suggest how Church can move from notoriety to healing
Beyond The Scandals: A Guide to Healthy Sexuality for Clergy, by Len Sperry. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, Minn. 2003. 186 pages. Papercover.
Sex, Priestly Ministry and The Church, by Len Sperry. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, Minn. 2003. 186 pages. Papercover.
Married to The Church (Updated Edition), by Raymond Hedin. University of Indiana Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, Ind. 2003. 266 pages. Papercover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
"Truly effective ministry leaders have the capacity for envisioning a better future and preventing past mistakes."
- Len Sperry
Len Sperry is a professor of psychiatry, whose previous books have probed spirituality and sexual dysfunction. In Sex, Priestly Ministry and the Church he claims there is still relatively little known about sexuality and the priesthood. But the stakes are now far too high to base weighty decisions on limited knowledge. This book is a concise, timely source of needed clinical information which will help any reader understand the current controversies and make reasoned, responsible decisions.
Sperry focuses on the meanings of the abuse scandals and on institutional factors unwittingly contributing to it. He proposes the necessity of systemic and structural change.
Part one walks us through the entire process of human psychosexual development; offers a working vocabulary of 51 essential definitions and provides extensive information on intimacy and celibacy.
Part two describes the causes of priestly sexual misconduct and abuse involving children, adolescents and adults. He offers case histories depicting several distinct dysfunctional sexual trajectories.
Part three deals with a number of other key issues such as selecting suitable candidates for ministry; homosexuality; the removal of priests from active service and the prevention of sexual misconduct.
Sperry is hopeful that, from this, a revitalized priesthood and new Church model will emerge.
"Truly effective ministry leaders have the capacity for envisioning a better future and preventing past mistakes," he says. "They can continue in a crisis management mode, or they can choose to act with visionary leadership and implement the various suggested preventive measures."
Married to the Church, by Raymond Hedin was originally published in 1995 and now appears in an updated edition. "If you want to understand priests in our culture, the author states, "this is a good place to start."
The book does not deal directly with issues of sexual abuse, even though the new edition contains re-interviews to learn the reaction of formerly interviewed priests to the scandal and its impact on their lives. Precisely because Hedin aims at the larger picture, this book provides a useful context for understanding this crucial issue.
Originally, this was a study of the midlife struggles of seminarians attending St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee during the unsettled '60s. Primarily, the book provides an encounter, for those who are not priests, with humans who are in the priesthood.
These have always been men of ideals and moral conviction. Many continue to live lives of self-giving and compassion. Yet their world has changed profoundly, since, in the springtime of their youth, they felt called by God to a special vocation and acted upon that conviction by becoming priests. In the decades that have ensued, however, they have not been protected from vocational crisis within and beyond the institutional Church.
The recent abuse revelations have been deeply troubling for many of these men as they have sought, in their more mature years, to come to terms with personal loneliness, celibacy, financial security, diminished personal self esteem and professional status.
"Priests," Hedin concludes, "long considered the ultimate 'other' by believers and skeptics alike . . . are a good deal like the rest of us." The cultural assumption that priests are fundamentally 'other' damages us as much as it damages them.
Why do seemingly upright spiritual leaders violate professional boundaries? Perhaps that question needs to be addressed, ultimately, to us all.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe sums up a much too common phenomenon rather succinctly when he suggests: "They lose their prayer life . . . (and) their deep spiritual disciplines."
(Wayne Holst is a parish educator who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)
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