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Sex, Celibacy, and Priesthood provides gay, straight, and bisexual Roman Catholic priests a chance to speak in their own voices about their sexual activities and struggles with celibacy.
BOOK REVIEWS BY CATHOLIC LEADERS
Reviewed by James T. BRETZKE, S.J., Boston College School of Theology & Ministry, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
(Bordisso) "argues for alternative models of celibacy for Roman Catholic priests that “recognize both a traditional (sexual abstinence) and a contemporary (sexually active) definition of celibacy,” which should “embrace the reality that a significant number of priests are indeed sexually active” (pp. x-xi). After a brief introductory chapter outlining some of the research on clerical sexual activity conducted by Richard Sipe and Bordisso himself, the bulk of this short work is given over to extended anecdotal reports of a number of priest-respondents to Bordisso’s questionnaire on lived sexual experiences among the clergy. These reports are grouped by sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual) and present a spectrum of frank responses to the difficulties encountered in trying to remain continent. Some men continue the struggle, others have given up, and others have staked out a sort of middle ground of maintaining a committed, though private longer-term relationship with another individual. Echoing Sipe’s well-known position on the problems in structurally maintaining an enforced discipline of clerical celibacy in the Church, Bordisso’s operative thesis seems to be that since there are a significant number of individuals who have struggled and failed to live celibate lives the Church should simply recognize this reality and change her expectations of committed celibacy, which he then outlines in the book’s two very brief concluding chapters (pp. 60-71). Though I highly doubt Bordisso’s proposals are likely to be embraced by the Church, the accounts he does detail of men struggling with celibacy and affectivity would be of help to spiritual directors and those charged with seminary formation to come to more effective theological and psychological resources for supporting priests and seminarians in their vocations."
Donal Godfrey S.J. Chaplain, the University of San Francisco, Author
"Bordisso's book is controversial; yet it truly deserves a wide readership for it presents us with the real issues in a compassionate and engaging way. I hope this book begins and informs the desperately needed conversation on sex, celibacy and priesthood among all who care about the church. It should be read not only by bishop's, formation directors, spiritual directors, those in pastoral care, and priests; but indeed by all who care about the future of our church."
Eugene C. Bianchi, Professor of Religion Emeritus, Emory University
"Bordisso’s reflections on clerical celibacy push us to think about new options for Catholic priests. He presents a dramatic rethinking of celibacy to serve different human tendencies and not the other way around. Bordisso’s main contribution is twofold: his many years as a sensitive counselor listening to priests’ struggles with celibacy combines with his empirical research to let these men, gay and heterosexual, speak in their own voices. Rather than impose a theory of celibacy, he listens to men trying to explain their own lives."
Mary Hunt, Catholic feminist theologian; co-founded the Women's Alliance for Theology Ethics and Ritual (WATER)
"Mandatory celibacy creates a host of problems. This study begins to address them by letting those who live the problems speak for themselves. It is a first step toward shifting the focus from sexuality to duplicity, from hierarchically imposed restrictions to personally embraced commitments. A sobering but useful read for all who want a healthier, holier Catholic community.”
Edwina Gateley, Author, Theologian and International Speaker
"Whether Protestant or Catholic this book is a must read for anyone seeking to restore transparency and integrity among clergy struggling to live a life of fidelity."
Brian McNaught, Sexuality Educator and Author
“Anyone who cares about the survival of priestly ministry needs to acknowledge that sexual abstinence is either a sham or a poor witness to the goodness of sexuality. Those sexually active priests who allow the public to believe they refrain from sexuality activity perpetuate the Church’s lack of credibility. Those priests who abstain from all sexually-satisfying experiences also perpetuate the Church’s lack of credibility. When priests are encouraged to explore their sexuality and to express it in responsible ways, their ministry will be honest and trustworthy. I’m grateful that this book helps us face this reality.”
Rev. Dr. John R. Mabry, OHW, Old Catholic Clergy and Author
"A fascinating study. Bordisso's research sheds important light upon the celibacy debate—specifically by revealing the very sincere and human struggles of those who shared their stories with him—and with us. Bordisso finds no pat answers or panaceas, but encourages us to think creatively and humanely about an issue of crucial importance to the Roman Catholic Church at this time. It is unthinkable to many that we should shed the light of the Good News of Jesus on the sex lives of priests. But not to Bordisso. Thanks be to God. Read this book not because the author will tell you what to think, but because he insists that you think."
John Francis Maguire, Attorney-at-Law
"This book presents a serious look at the issues surrounding sexuality in the priesthood. It is a matter that has brought great controversy to the Roman Catholic Church and its body of believers. Bordisso examines the empirical evidence surrounding celibacy in the Church in a sensitive but objective manner.
In his analysis, he is led to the question of celibacy and its place in the Church. His book discusses the meaning of celibacy in accordance with Church doctrine and Canonical law. He examines current perspectives on celibacy. With the Catholic Church, having been involved in litigation over the sex abuse scandals, this eye-opening book might serve to assist both the prosecution and the defense. In the midst of the continuing difficulties the Church has faced over this issue, this book is as timely as it is informative for further dialogue by all."
A Few Excerpts
(Warning: Language is explicit)
Father Phil: I am about to depart from active ministry after 15 years—mostly rocky ones—of diocesan priesthood … I have a love of two years. I have been active and public in the gay community for the past 3–4 years … It seems that one can have sex [and] keep a closet lover or “fuck buddy” privately. The cardinal sin is to be associated with the community itself—even if it is with the local community gay center and AIDS problem.
The local presbyterate is likened to a “limp dick”—listless men with their opinions firmly concealed, acting like chameleons whenever the Cardinal even passes gas.
Do I seem cynical? … It seems that the days of the men are gone. “Queens” rule the palace. I have nothing against drag queens but when they are all around the Cardinal, do their routines at the cathedral, and mince through the Masses, wearing their omnipresent cassocks; I realize I do not belong to this group.
Celibacy seems to be an empty excuse for selfishness and greed. All the confreres seem to be concerned about is the condominium at the beach, and time-sharing, so that they can be free to “trick.”
I look forward to serving in some capacity in the future, somewhere in a catechetical capacity in an environment where I am not known. This archdiocese is “spiritually sterile,” and I want no future relationship with it. [Gay non celibate priest]
Father Francis: I have found that I cannot function as a loving and caring human being without the intimacy that arises within a genital-sexual relationship. I believe that I am an effective, compassionate, and dedicated priest. Those to whom I minister would have no problem with my being a married priest. I would like very much to share my life and my ministry in a committed public relationship. The present discipline of the Church, however, will not sanction that …
I have been in a relationship with a married woman for over 12 years … We have a child together … However, we decided to refocus our relationship so that our intimacy now does not include a genital-sexual expression. I also share an intimate relationship with another priest. That relationship has become genital-sexual. Our friendship has continued to deepen over a period of 6 years. Although I enjoy the genital/sexual intimacy that we share, I would much prefer to share that intimacy with the woman I love. Through the genital-sexual relationships that I have shared, I believe I have become a more tender, vulnerable, and compassionate person. I would like nothing more than to share publicly my source of support and nourishment. [Bisexual non celibate priest]