National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  November 7, 2003

Clerics and crisis

By Len Sperry
Liturgical Press, 186 pages, $16.95
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. This book is a concise, timely source of needed clinical information that will help any reader understand the current controversies.

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 of the book 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. Sperry 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.

~ ~ ~
By Raymond Hedin
Indiana University Press, 266 pages, $19.95

Hedin’s book was originally published in 1995 and now appears in an updated edition. 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 the abuse issue.

Originally, this was a study of the midlife struggles of seminarians who attended St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, during the unsettled 1960s. Primarily, the book provides an encounter, for those who are not priests, with humans who happen to be in the priesthood.

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 the laity as much as it damages them.

~ ~ ~
By G. Lloyd Rediger
Fortress Press, 230 pages, $18

The crisis is serious. Twenty years ago when the first clergy scandals made headline news, many wondered whether this issue was pervasive or simply a case of a few abnormal priests, ministers and rabbis. Now we know that 25 percent of clergy were or are currently involved in sexual misconduct of some sort. The search is on for a way to explain why leaders in all religious communities, both male and female, violate moral standards in significant numbers.

In discussing how the ecumenical church can move beyond sexual notoriety to healing and health, Rediger, a respected Presbyterian Church (USA) pastoral counselor and writer, provides background and context to the scandal. He introduces a variety of case studies. These expose the dark side of sexual abusers and naive, defensive hierarchies that neglected victim-survivors and dismayed people in the pews. Finally, he explores and celebrates healthy sexuality and its possibilities.

-- Wayne A. Holst

National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2003

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: