Jane ANDERSON, Priests in Love: Roman Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friends. New York: Continuum, 2005. pp. 224. $24.95 HC. ISBN 0-8264-1702-7.
Reviewed by James R. KELLY, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 11209

Neither the methodology nor the writing is winning here, but the author is. Jane Adams, a mother of four, has worked for decades in Catholic parish life in what she describes as a remote, black-hole area of Australia and has recently received her PhD in anthropology. In her postscript she tell us that during her long years of church service she met, "one after the other," good priests confronting the hardships of isolation and long distances who reached the limits of their humanity and crumbled. Her study on Catholic priests vowed to celibacy but living in intimate—more about that term towards the end—relationships with women and sometimes men displays not merely the empathy required for field-work but sympathy; and not only sympathy but advocacy. Priest in Love includes the addresses and websites of groups, such as The International Federation of Married Catholic Priests, Good Tidings and Dignity, promoting changes in the Church's understanding of sexual orthodoxy in the requirement of celibacy for ordained ministry; in her postscript she steps out from her analysis and invites us to join such groups asking if "(p)erhaps you too experience the same desire for our church to be healthier and happier?" and provides us with the pope's address. The scholar within will find trouble with her sampling, her quick dismissal of scandalized parishioners —"ultraconservative," "gossips"—and her reduction of the tradition of celibacy to a magisterium solely driven by a power politics fueled by psychological needs for control. She portrays Pope John Paul II as the major impediment to an inevitable "process of contemporising the priesthood".

Anderson derived her sample of 50 priests from an advertisement in a Catholic newspaper. She does not investigate whether the self-selectivity of her sample affected her results, nor does she include a contrasting group of faithful celibates. It is not always clear whether the interview is in person and whether she has conducted field work in his parish. No protocol is provided. She gives very little attention to priests' intimate friends and their griefs. Her presentation method is to cite a priest on the chapter's theme (there are seven, dealing with such topics as celibate sacrifices, moral dilemmas, identity, and patriarchy) and then to offer a commentary which often simply replaces the vernacular we have read with a more formal and abstract academic prose.

For example, after describing their painful and unsuccessful efforts at celibacy the priests, over-coming a life-shattering spiritual anomie, invariably proceed to find that their new found intimacy (often intimacies) has restored their human development and that gospel values have replaced destructive ecclesiastical norms. Anderson re-describes these accounts as "renegotiations of their original commitment to celibacy, which they now understand as being contingent rather than absolute and eternal." Priests with friends "challenge the ecclesiastical monopoly of celibacy by reframing their experience." She explains that "In effect, these priests have set aside an ethic of perfection with an ethic of holism." She makes passing references to Freud and Adler.

The priests describe their self-release from vows as an anticipation of the future of a more inclusive Catholic ordained ministry and say they simultaneously experience a deepening of faith and an efficacy of ministry. Anderson herself frames these official deviances as prophetic. In her commentary she tells us that historically mandated celibacy reflects papal attempts "to preserve the patrimony and the wealth of the church" and is essentially "about the papacy wanting to maintain vested interests."

The author's subtitle, "Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friends," turns out to be a shifter. "Intimate," we learn far into the book, might or might not mean "sexual" and sexual might or might not mean intercourse. Following the caption Handling Tricky Situations, Anderson defines what she means by the term a shifter:

"In viewing the imposition of celibacy as immoral, priests with friends find themselves in the awkward position of having to invent ways to negotiate their relationships. One of the ways in which they manage this task is by using shifters. A shifter is an ingenious trick that enables a priest to express in various ways the conviction that his friendship is moral. At the same time this trick also allows him to ostensibly defer to official expectations." Anderson explains that we should understand the use of "intimacy" as a shifter, that is, in "ways to suit the circumstances" such as talking to a bishop, a confessor, or a parishioner, as an implicit act of church reform. This "using terms relatively" to accommodate sexual friendships "stretches the boundaries of celibacy" and represents "the creative solutions of priests with friends" that "threatens the stability of the papacy's moral universe" but "its role is specifically about the defense of orthodoxy" (all these quotes can be found on a single page—118). She pluckily concludes that this deliberate ambiguity is moral: "(P)riests with friends have not abandoned morality but advance and apply it to enhance their own and other people's lives." We are invited to preview it as "an example of the sensus fidelium at work."

While the author wants the reader to respond with an "amen" this one could muster only a sad silence. Many readers will have read at least a summary of the 2004 John Jay College study "A Report on the Crisis of the Catholic Church in the United States" sponsored by the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, authorized by the United States Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops in the wake of the last round of priest sexual abuse trials. The study reported 10,667 allegations of sexual abuse involving 4,392 priests, representing about 4 percent of the 109,694 priests active between 1950 and 2002. Despite demurs about methodology and uncomplicated advocacy this reader was touched by the author's account of the priests, which include reports of self-castration attempts and suicidal thoughts, his imagination of the sufferings of their partners and, not least, the assumed scandal to faith among parishioners. The ingrained skepticism of the social scientist prompted "tip-of-the-iceberg" forebodings. Better, deeper, more complicated research must surely follow. Simply passing on Shifters makes for poor research, poor human beings, and poor discipleship.


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