Barry Gault’s article “Society Men” (April 22) raises thoughtful questions. Does Catholic priesthood, as it is actually lived today, promote certain kinds of extended adolescence or boyishness among its members? “A man can stop being a child without becoming a husband and father, but it isn’t easy.” Gault then raises the intriguing metaquestion of whether that extended boyishness, resulting from “the Catholic clergy’s incomplete personal entanglement in the perplexing challenges of full adulthood,” might have positive as well as negative effects on their character. Among its negative effects, Gault seems to count pedophilia, which I find a dubious linkage—but then, I guess he is the shrink.
As a former priest, now married into an extended family heavy with Lutheran ministers, I have had many occasions to ponder the boyishness of Catholic clergy compared to the Lutheran ministers I see—and how that boyishness might be both good and bad. Most of the Lutheran ministers I know (all decent and well-intentioned men, God bless them) seem to accept uncritically all the givens of conventional middle-class life in America, in a strikingly untroubled way. They send their sons to war and join the Rotary with nary a second thought. Does this mean that they have grown up or that they have sold out? Where does this untroubled acceptance of “how the world works” come from? From being a Lutheran, or from being married and accountable to an often-arbitrary parish board? Like that of the tenured academic, does the lifetime job security and marginality (or is it just weirdness?) of the Catholic cleric give him the moral imagination and prophetic freedom of the cultural outsider? Or the childish cluelessness and irresponsibility of someone who has never had to make payroll (as a “normal grown man” might complain)?
I think a celibate, tenured priesthood does tend to make priests like children. Psychic prices are paid. But what generally passes for growing up has its prices too.
Jesuits I Have Known
As a graduate of St. Peter’s Prep in 1948, Georgetown University’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1952, and Georgetown Law School in 1954, I loved Barry Gault’s article “Society Men.” It flooded me with memories. Like Gault, I believe that my high school was the best of Jesuit schools. Its faculty contained some remarkable men. Looking back, the most famous was Daniel Berrigan, then a scholastic, as Jesuit seminarians were called. He taught German and I took French, so I never had him, but I did have some remarkable Jesuits for teachers.
Fr. Ray York, who taught me Latin and English in my senior year, and who moderated the school newspaper, was a genius. He was a man of perpetual motion. To illustrate the invasion of Troy he grabbed a window pole for a spear and leaped onto his desk. Because we did not get the rhythm of the Aeneid quickly enough, he had us stand and sing the words to the tune of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” It works: “When I see the stars and the stripes...” “Arma virumque cano.” His father worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers. They were in the World Series one year. Fr. York came to class wearing a sweater. Soon he announced he was too hot and was going to an office next door to take off his sweater. He came back and a few minutes later told us he was cold. He disappeared again and returned with his sweater. This went on several more times. We all knew—and he knew we knew—that he was going next door to listen to the game. A born teacher, he held everyone’s attention all the time. I was not a born linguist, but I learned Latin under him.
Fr. Frank Shalloe, after whom a building at the school is named, was the student counselor. He also taught geometry. I think he knew every one of the nine hundred students by name. He was interested in every student. It’s a cliché, but he was a living saint. For me, he was a lifelong friend.
Charlie J. Steele
I found the article by Barry Gault on his Jesuit education illuminating and insightful in many aspects, but problematic in others, particularly his overall conclusions about priests based on those he knew as a student in the 1950s. Certainly there are emotionally unhealthy (and even abusive) priests, just as there are emotionally unhealthy (and even abusive) married men and fathers. But does celibacy, for example, really prevent someone from leading a “full” life? That might have surprised St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa of Ávila, and, for that matter, Jesus of Nazareth. Most unfortunately, Gault concludes his piece by passing on a remark he heard from “several” women: “Priests are like children.” Men are children, he explains, but priests are “more so.” Even in the midst of the sexual-abuse crisis, and even in the face of evidence of emotionally unhealthy, psychologically maladjusted, and criminally behaving priests, it’s wrong to lump all priests together. Imagine someone writing, “Women are children. Sisters and nuns even more so.” Stereotypes are insidious, no matter what the group.
James Martin, SJ
New York, N.Y.
Dr. Gault begins his article with an amusing story about the mistress of King Ludwig I who taught her dog to bite Jes-uits. He ends that story with the comment that “nowadays there are scarcely any Jes-uits left worth biting.” Apparently the only good Jesuits are dead Jesuits. And this is only the first biting generalization (pun intended) that he makes about Jes-uits. It undermines the credibility of his analysis.
A dear friend of mine, the late Phil Pusateri, SJ, attended Fairfield University as a young man. One night he helped to take a drunk Jesuit back to the Jesuit’s room and put him to bed.
He took a very different lesson from this encounter with a Jesuit’s serious foibles than did Dr. Gault at Holy Cross. It was the beginning of Phil’s vocation. He realized that Jesuits were only human after all, so maybe even he could aspire to become a Jesuit. This compassionate man taught for years at BC High in Boston and later became the rector of the Jesuit community there.
Jesuits officially define themselves as “loved sinners.” Some Jesuits have committed terrible sins. Some are saints. But we are all sinners. The undeserved love of God drives our vocation and makes for compassion.
At the end of his reflections, Gault protests that he is not trying to set his dogs on anybody. But since he does not consider Jesuits worth biting anyway, his protest seems irrelevant. I believe he underestimates the depth of his rancor. That could be one reason he cannot understand his happiness while at Marquette.
Frederic Maples, SJ
What They Taught
Barry Gault has produced an honest, personal reflection on his Jesuit education from high school through college. In the end, he affirms his particularly happy experience at Marquette High School, yet he knows not why. He cannot seem to find a reason. Could it be that much of the teaching he encountered in high school came from Jesuits who wanted to teach well because of their pride in, and love for, the students? I believe that “willing the good of another” is not only a good Thomistic definition of love but also a manifestation of authentic commitment. Many of us who have taught in Catholic high school have desired to see our students succeed, and we gave generously of our time to see that vision come to fruition.
John F. Russell, O Carm
Respect Your Readers
I was very disappointed that Commonweal saw fit to print Barry Gault’s article about the Jesuits. As a Jesuit and as the president of Marquette University High School, of which Gault is an alumnus, I am offended by the article and the stereotypes it presents. It overlooks the fact that most Marquette University High School alumni have great respect for their Jesuit teachers here and have found inspiration and guidance from them, and that many great Jesuit teachers have blessed Marquette University High School for the past 153 years to the present day.
First and most basically, I am disappointed that Commonweal, which usually holds to high journalistic and intellectual standards, saw fit to print the tired old argument that clerical celibacy leads to psychosexual immaturity, which, according to the baseless logic of this line of reasoning, led to the clergy sexual-abuse crisis in the church. This argument, often associated with left-leaning Catholics, is as discredited and without foundation as the argument often put forth by right-leaning Catholics that homosexuality is the source of the problem. Given my study of the data in my seven years as director of vocations for the Upper Midwest Jesuits, there is no evidence that either is the case.
Since when is marriage the cure-all for life’s problems? Are there no immature married men? Are there no mature celibate men and women? What about the great celibate saints of the church, not to mention Buddhist monks such as the Dalai Lama and other celibates from non-Christian traditions? For that matter, what about Jesus Christ? From scriptural evidence, church tradition, and doctrine, Jesus never married. Was he psychosexually immature? Was he an abuser?
And who does not know many vibrant, holy, celibate men and women who serve as diocesan and religious priests, brothers, and sisters? Who does not know healthy, holy, single laymen and laywomen who serve nobly in the church and elsewhere?
We in the church believe that celibacy is a calling that God gives to certain individuals. It is not for everyone, but for some it is a unique call to holiness and a beautiful way to dedicate one’s life to God and the service of others. The church does a much more careful job now than it used to in screening men and women for seminaries and religious communities to make sure that those admitted are healthy and have a genuine call from God to be a religious and/or priest. This is not to say that there have not always been healthy members of dioceses and orders, but it is to say that we are now more careful in the screening process with the hopeful outcome that unhealthy people will not be admitted to religious life or priesthood.
Are there immature, unhealthy celibates? Of course there are, just as there are unhealthy, immature people in every state of life. Are there celibates who have abused others? Unfortunately yes, just as people from all states of life have sadly done so to the detriment of society and with great harm to many individuals, communities, and families. Celibacy is not the cause for these unfortunate realities, however. We have to look harder for the real reasons, which will include a close look at seminary formation among other things, so that we can prevent future abuse. The church has begun to do so.
But, please, dear editors, have the respect for your readers not to perpetuate old baseless stereotypes. Commonweal is, or I thought it was, better than that.
Warren Sazama, SJ
Living the Vows
I realize that Barry Gault, wrestling with what he calls “a painful paradox,” is asking anguished questions in the latter part of his essay, rather than stating firm conclusions. However, the implications of those questions may be misleading on at least two fronts: first, the familiar suggestion that celibacy makes sexual abuse more likely; and second, the notion that living the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience tends to preclude the encounter with reality required for human maturity.
Although I am no advocate of mandatory celibacy for diocesan clergy, I am convinced of its value for those who are called to it. Statistics on abuse are hard to come by, both because of the predisposition Gault notes to cover up scandal, as well as the lack of centralization among many Protestant churches; but what data I have seen seems to indicate that sexual abuse of minors is as frequent among noncelibate Protestant clergy as it is among Catholic priests. (The Baptist Web site EthicsDaily.com is one of several valuable resources on the topic.) Needless to say, this should be no source of congratulation for Catholics, because even one case of abuse is too many.
As for the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Gault asks, “However admirable in the purity of their moral rigor, might not these principles forfend some of the most difficult challenges of full adulthood?” On the contrary, far from removing one from a confrontation with those “three great forces” of the adult world—wealth, sex, and power—living the vows obliges one to come to terms with them, if the vows are to be lived in a holy manner. To consider only the first of these forces: the complacent greed of an unscrupulous CEO is not so far removed from the petty possessiveness of a sister guarding her space or her few belongings. Neither has confronted adequately the mighty pull of material treasure.
So if Gault’s professors were immature, it was not because of the vows they made—though I readily admit that a superficial understanding of religious vows can indeed foster immaturity, just as a superficial understanding of marriage vows can do the same thing.
Rose Hoover, RC
The Author Replies
Since naive idealism so often conduces to subsequent bitterness, Fr. Maples may be correct about the depth of my rancor, but the first paragraph of Fr. Sazama’s letter could not have been written by someone who had actually read “Society Men,” my detailed and obviously heartfelt tribute to the splendid Jesuit teachers at Marquette High School. I explained that they consecrated themselves to providing “an education my mother and I could [otherwise] never have afforded.” In doing so they achieved the sort of exemplary and hugely productive lives celibacy not only permits, but facilitates. Fr. Martin needn’t adduce the example of St. Teresa of Ávila to someone who knew Fr. William Connell, SJ. His students felt the love of which Fr. Russell speaks. We recall it after almost sixty years; several of his former students have written to me.
Bill Schrempp readily grasps my idea that priestly celibacy may prolong boyish traits that provide inspiriting uplift (Charlie Steele offers delightful examples) but can also be a handicap. He extends the argument interestingly to the married state. It too has both desirable and unwelcome consequences: endless grudging compromise, repeated materialist surrenders. I concur. Who wouldn’t concur?!
I do not believe that celibacy causes sexual deviance. My clinical experience suggests the causation runs the other way. Many years ago a number of seminarians and young priests who consulted me confided that they had been drawn to celibacy as a sort of refuge from—a solution to—the disturbing nature of their unwelcome desires. I think that if such cases were rare, the “much more careful job of screening” Sazama mentions would not have been found necessary.
I find Sr. Hoover’s letter especially thought-provoking. She has not misunderstood me. She argues that the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience do not, as I claim, forfend adulthood’s challenges, and explains on the basis of her own experience. She has lived these vows, and I have not.
Since my point about celibacy is not as clear to everyone as to Schrempp and Steele, let me give it one more shot. The church insists that none of its priests marry. None. Whatever lessons marriage alone can teach simply aren’t brought into the room when bishops convene. Has this pervasive inexperience no adverse consequence? Does the institution pay no price?