Thursday, April 12, 2007

After Ascetism: Sex, Prayer, and Deviant Priests

The above named book takes a look at why the sex abuse scandal happened and what has led up to the moral decline among our clergy. The authors argue that it is largley due to a decline in ascetism, and to a rise in the pervasive "therapeutic mentality." Here's a quote from the introduction:

What changed between the first and second halves of the twentieth century were not the management policies on sex abuse and secrecy at all costs-- these remained a constant throughout—nor do we have evidence to show that the personality features of seminarians or priests changed in any fundamental way that would account for the nature and the magnitude of the crisis-- in its early stages at least. Rather, the core change over the course of the twentieth century was one of purpose or allegiance-- leaving behind ascetical discipline, having disdain for religious tradition, and adopting the therapeutic mentality, a popular belief that fulfillment of the human person springs from emotional desire in a quest for self-definition, or self-actualization, without regard to an objective philosophical, religious or moral truth. Further, the therapeutic mentality views sin as a social concern and discourages loyalty to religious authority; it is profoundly anti-ascetical.

It makes sense to me, especially seeing how society in general views any sort of self-denial as twisted and harmful, it's no surprise that some of this thinking has seeped into the Church. I've been surprised before at hearing some Catholics say, for example, that they think the celibate priesthood is really asking for the impossible, or something along those lines. I wonder, then, how did they do it for so long? Why is it suddenly impossible now? It seems it's likely just because we have bought into the therepeutic mentality, that all desires are natural and good and therefore should be satisfied, and to deny oneself longterm is basically impossible, and any attempt to do so is sure to end in mental health problems or at the very least unhappiness and unnecessary guilt, yadda yadda.

Looks like an interesting book, I may have to add it to my ever increasing to-read list! Here it is on Amazon for anyone interested.


Peter said...

I'll look out for that one Stephanie. Have you read Philip Jenkins book ont his topic? I think it is the best scholarly coverage of the broad range of factors contributing to the crisis.

You inspired me to pop a reference to it up on my blog. :)

Stephanie said...

No I haven't, thanks for the reference =)

Anonymous said...

Well, as a former seminarian, I remember getting more flack from the Catholic cradle roll than from Protestants. It sort of spoiled the good feeling of really giving it up. I would still say that the Church could easily place a temporal suspension on the celbacy requirement for married men. However, like the Orthodox maintain once a spouse dies or one becomes separated or divorced the man remains celebate for the remainder of his life. Sure there could be dispensation for a priest with young children that need a mother growing up.

However, I still hold to the tradition of celebacy as prefered discipline.

Interestingly during this weeks Sunday Night Live Fr. Benedict Groechel mentions a new book on his show - can't remember. But the show repeats throughout the week. I also think he mentioned if on Journey Home.


Anonymous said...

What anonymous just said illustrate the reason why I think that getting rid or celibacy (even if temporary) is very bad idea. The last thing we need in the Church is more exception for special cases. Allowing married priests won't give us better priest and won't solve the priest shortage either. Married priests would only complicate the situation.
Just the fact that so many people inside and outside of the Church think that rule should be changed tells me that it shouldn't ;-)

Stephanie said...

I tend to agree with you!