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Father James Martin

Father James Martin has written a new memoir about his spiritual journey from the corporate world to the priesthood. His book is In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience (paperback, Sheed & Ward). Martin is associate editor of America, the national Catholic magazine and is the winner of three Catholic Press Association Awards. Hes also the author of This Our Exile: A Spiritual Journey with the Refugees of East Africa.


Other segments from the episode on May 29, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 30, 2002: Interview with James Martin; Interview with Eugene Kennedy; Review of Ida Haendels' new CD.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Father James Martin discusses his memoir entitled "In
Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty,
Chastity and Obedience"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have raised many questions
about the priesthood. For example, could we prevent this type of problem if
priests were allowed to marry? My guest Father James Martin recently wrote an
Op-Ed piece in The New York Times titled Choosing Celibacy in which he
discussed the reasons for this tradition and its value in the life of a
priest. Father Martin is a Jesuit priest and associate editor of America, a
national Catholic magazine. He joined the Jesuits after six years in the
corporate world. Two years ago, he published a memoir titled "In Good
Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and

You say that many Americans don't understand celibacy, that they see it, at
best, as misguided and, at worst, as masochistic. And they say what kind of
sick person would willingly give up sex? What is the reason for celibacy in
the priesthood as you understand it?

Father JAMES MARTIN (Author, "In Good Company: The Fast Track from the
Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience"): Well, as I understand
it, celibacy is meant to free a person up for unselfish service to God and to
other people. And I always tell people the reason for celibacy is really to
help people love other people, love many other people very deeply. It's not
for everybody. It's not meant to be for everybody. It's not better or worse
than married life or single life. But for some people, it's a wonderful way
of serving God.

GROSS: You became a priest after about six years in the corporate world,
working for GE.

Fr. MARTIN: That's right.

GROSS: You were already an experienced man of the world when you became a
priest. How did you feel then about the prospect of forsaking a sexual life?
You were in a different position than the teen-ager who decides to become a
priest, who hasn't experienced the world as an adult yet.

Fr. MARTIN: Well, that's a good question. You know, honestly I didn't really
consider it too much, and that's a little embarrassing to say, but I went into
the priesthood without much sexual experience and, you know, kind of thought
it would be an easy thing to give up for me. As it turns out it wasn't.
Celibacy is very difficult. I think chastity is probably the most difficult
of the three vows for a Jesuit to live; that's poverty, chastity and
obedience. But to be honest with you, even at age 28, I don't think I really
reflected on the challenges of celibacy and what that would really mean for
me. I saw it as something that would probably be easy to give up. And
looking back on it, I think that was pretty foolish.

GROSS: So what was the most difficult part of it? What do you feel like, in
retrospect, you were naive about?

Fr. MARTIN: I guess the propensity to fall in love even when you are living a
vow of chastity. I think that somehow I thought--you know, I can't believe
sort of looking back how naive I was, but that somehow by just sort of taking
the vow, that would preclude my falling in love and that would preclude my
desiring intimacy. But I think one of the things you learn about chastity is
that one grows into it, and also one learns, you know, the real need that
everybody has for really deep intimacy.

GROSS: Excuse this question, which is probably naive. I should probably
already know the answer to this, but the truth is that I don't. Do you have
to be a virgin when you become a priest or can you just, like, begin a life of
celibacy after you enter in the priesthood?

Fr. MARTIN: The latter. You don't have to be a virgin when you enter. In
fact, most people these days who are entering in their mid-20s and early 30s
are probably not. I mean, I couldn't say, but I think most of my friends who
entered were not. So, yeah, virginity is really different than celibacy. And
I think they'd really--boy, I think vocation would be really down if they only
accepted virgins.

GROSS: But a lot of people probably enter the priesthood as virgins, the
younger people who enter, who have never experienced sexuality at all. Do you
think that a life of celibacy becomes more difficult for them because they
don't even know what it is they've given up and the temptation of that might
be so great because it's something that you've never had?

Fr. MARTIN: I think that's a good question. I'm not sure your question about
younger people entering as virgins--I think, you know, just sort of
anecdotally from people that I speak with, I don't think that's the case. And
also, remember, a lot of the people who are entering these days are entering
at a much older age, particularly in diocesan seminaries. But the other
question about not having had experience, I think it would make it more
difficult. I think, you know, if you did enter without having sexual
experience or, I think more to the point, without being in a very intimate
relationship with another person, I think you always would wonder, you know,
what it is like and what I'm giving up. But frankly it's the same thing with
people, I think, who enter right out of college. I know a lot of people who
entered very early on who wonder, you know, what it would be like to hold a
job, what it would be like to have their own apartment, things like that. So
I think in general people realize these days the more experience people have
in all different parts of life, the better it is for them when they, you know,
eventually become a priest.

GROSS: In the Jewish religion, rabbis are usually expected to have a family.
Ministers, too, I think are usually, you know, expected to have a family. Can
you imagine being a priest and being married?

Fr. MARTIN: Yeah, I can. Quite frankly, I'm for optional celibacy. I think,
you know, it's not for everybody, and I really don't think that it needs to be
a requirement in the church. I think, frankly, the strongest reason for that
is the fact that I know many people who are married, who feel called to
priesthood. But really from the beginning it was never an issue of doctrine.
It was more an issue of sort of church law. And even as far back as the 16th
century, the church said that it would be something that would be easy to
change, unlike, say, you know, the doctrine of the Trinity or something like

GROSS: We're talking about celibacy for priests in the church. My guest is
Father James Martin. He's a Jesuit priest and associate editor of America, a
national Catholic magazine. He's also the author of several books, including
"In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty,
Chastity and Obedience."

There are several theories about how chastity might figure into the current
sex abuse scandal. One theory is that young men who become priests who have
no sexual experience also often don't have much sexual understanding. They
haven't gotten that understanding through experience. The church doesn't
usually teach human sexuality in an effective way. And these men, these young
priests don't know how to deal with their own sexual urges and so those urges
can get expressed in harmful ways.

Fr. MARTIN: Well, I think that may have been the case 40 or 50 years ago, but
honestly, I mean, in the last, say, 10 or 20 years, there's been an enormous
amount of attention given to the education of seminarians and people in
religious formation--that would be members of religious orders like the
Jesuits and Franciscans and Dominicans--to ensure that they have a healthy
understanding of their own sexuality. And, you know, point of fact, I often,
you know, tell my friends who are married that I think priests and Jesuits and
whatnot talk about sexuality much more because we're constantly being sort of
counseled and we go to courses and we, you know, read about it and we study
about it. So I think that might have been the case 40 or 50 years ago, but
certainly these days it would be very difficult for someone to go through a
mainstream seminary or one of the larger religious orders without having to
sort of come face to face with your own sexuality and the challenges that are
really inherent in celibacy.

GROSS: What do you study when you study human sexuality?

Fr. MARTIN: Well, we study human sexuality sort of from a psychological
standpoint. We also study sort of the history of celibacy. I think more to
the point, it's a lot of counseling that goes on with your superiors. It's a
lot of discussions that go on with your spiritual directors; that is, the
person you would talk to about your spiritual life. You know, a lot of us
will go to psychiatrists and psychologists to make sure we understand
everything about our sexuality. So its pretty extensive. I mean, from the
first year of my novitiate as a Jesuit, we talked about chastity and celibacy
and sexuality a lot.

And the other thing is it's not something that happens in a vacuum. I mean, I
speak with--I think this is the case for most young priests--you know, I still
have, obviously, friends that I had before I entered the Jesuits and so I talk
to them about their experiences. I talk to married friends. I talk to single
friends. So I think it's pretty in-depth; at least it was for me. I can't
speak for everybody, but I feel that certainly, you know, the amount of time
that I spent on thinking and praying about sexuality and chastity was a lot,
frankly. I think it was more than we had talked about poverty, let's put it
that way.

GROSS: So you don't think that chastity is one of the major factors in the
current sex abuse scandal in the church. What are your thoughts about why
there has been so much sexual abuse?

Fr. MARTIN: Well, you know, I always say it's not a question of chastity or
not chastity; it's a question of healthy and unhealthy. It's a difficult
question. I think I would point to a couple factors. First of all, it is the
unwillingness of some of the people in the hierarchy to really confront some
of these priests who have these problems. I would say that secondly there is
just an awkwardness and a discomfort when it comes to speaking about sexuality
among the members of the hierarchy who are, you know, in their 60s and 70s and
I think just weren't brought up to talk about those kinds of things. Third of
all, I think that this notion of the hierarchy as always being right and
people being unwilling to kind of challenge that. And fourth, just, you know,
a desire, misguided, as we see, to protect the institutional church.

And when you combine all of those things, and you combine that with some
people who may have had a very unhealthy sexuality that should have been
weeded out of the seminaries and the priesthood earlier, you know, you have
this horrible problem. And then there's also the tendency to, I think, be
overly forgiving towards some priests at the expense of some of the victims.
And once again, all those things thrown together make it, as we can see, or as
we've seen, a very dangerous place.

GROSS: How do you think the sex abuse scandal is affecting Catholics in

Fr. MARTIN: I think they're very demoralized, very sad, confused. It's
really devastating. I think unlike--some people compare it to the crisis that
surrounded the publication of the encyclical on birth control, Humane Vitae,
in 1968, and the sort of reaction to that. But I think the difference is this
hits people, you know, very personally. It's your pastor who you know. It's
a family who you know down the street. So it's a very personal and very
sensitive part of a person's psyche that this is affecting. And I think
that's making it all the more difficult for people. And I also think that,
you know, as I do, they look at the actions of some of the bishops--not all
the bishops, but some of the bishops--and just scratch their heads and say, `I
simply do not understand why a priest who had been sort of a serial abuser was
moved from parish to parish.' And, quite frankly, I don't, either. And, you
know, I'm sad myself. I find it very disturbing.

By the same token I think you have to understand that Catholics do not sort of
place their faith, so to speak, in the hierarchy. I mean, they trust in the
hierarchy. That's a very important part of Catholicism. But their faith is
in Jesus Christ, and their faith is in the Holy Spirit guiding the church. So
I think most Catholics are sophisticated enough to be able to distinguish
between the hierarchy and their faith, thank God.

GROSS: My guest is Father James Martin. He's a Jesuit priest and the
associate editor of the Catholic magazine America. We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Father James Martin, and he is a Jesuit priest. He's also
associate editor of America, which is a national Catholic magazine. He's the
author of several books. His latest is called "In Good Company: The Fast
Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience."

Father Martin, you became a priest after about six years in the corporate
world. Why did you leave the corporate life to become a priest? From GE to
the priesthood is a big lifestyle change.

Fr. MARTIN: Yeah, it was. There is a short answer to that question, and the
answer is I was miserable. Yeah. I was working for GE for six years, and I
remember thinking at the time that the logic of my life was rather circular.
I worked so I could make money so I could buy clothes and food and support
myself and so I could work, which didn't seem to make too much sense. And I
was working more and more. I was working human resources with GE Capital,
which is their financial services arm, and getting more and more disenchanted
with the way that my life was going and was getting very stressed out.

One night I came home and turned on the TV late at night and there was a TV
show on PBS about Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, and I found it fascinating.
He, too, had, although in the 1930s, given up, you know, life in, quote,
unquote, "the world" to enter a Trappist monastery. And that just appealed to
me. And I started reading more about religious life, and one thing led to
another and I entered the Jesuits, quite frankly with very little reflection
as I look back on it, but it worked out.

GROSS: Did you find many men your age?

Fr. MARTIN: Oh, yeah. Most of the people that I entered with were--I entered
when I was 28 years old, and most of the people in the novitiate were peers or
older. One guy entered was a college professor. One guy had been in the Air
Force. Another fellow had been in the priesthood, actually the Diocesan
priesthood, before he entered the Jesuit. So, you know, a lot of different
types of experience, what I think makes for healthy priests, quite frankly,
and priests that can understand the challenges that, you know, people face day
to day.

GROSS: I've seen so many old movies in which the mother cries out of
happiness because her son is becoming a priest and she so much wants one of
her sons to be a priest and she's so proud. You say that when you decided to
become a priest your mother cried, but that's 'cause she was so upset. She
really didn't want you to do it. Why not?

Fr. MARTIN: No, she didn't. I think that's the case for some guys today.
She saw me as, you know, giving up a family, I think, the fact that she
wouldn't have grandchildren, although thank God my sister has had a child a
couple years ago, so that made her happy. Yeah, and also people don't know
priests these days. There are fewer and fewer of us around, and so there's a
lot of mystery about what the life of a priest is really like. I remember my
mother, years later, telling me that she thought she would never see me again,
that, you know, I'd be sort of locked up. And quite frankly my friends were
just as shocked and horrified. A lot of them thought I was crazy, and some of

GROSS: Now you say a lot of them thought that you were running away from

Fr. MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. And, you know, I always tell people I
was running away from some things. I was running away from the corporate
world that I thought was for me very deadening, and I was running towards
something that, you know, I really hoped would give my life more meaning.

Interestingly, most of my friends who were reluctant to sort of accept the
fact that I was entering the priesthood only really understood it when they
met other Jesuits. That was the thing that helped them understand what I was
doing. And now they're all, you know--really, all of my friends from college
and from work are used to it. And, you know, I do a lot of weddings and
baptisms and things like that, which is great. And they keep me sane and they
keep me honest, too. You know, it's very hard to be sort of overly pious and
overly spiritual among, you know, people who saw you get drunk during college.

GROSS: Right. Something you say in your book "In Good Company" really struck
me 'cause I have a feeling it's true of a lot of people, although we don't
necessarily think of it in these terms. You say that your religious education
stopped when you were about 10...

Fr. MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and that's about when you stopped going to church so that your idea
of religion kind of froze from a children's perspective...

Fr. MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and that you grew up equipped with only a child's view of religion
and faith. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Fr. MARTIN: Well, you know, I think these days most Catholics, or many
Catholics, shall we say, they go to CCD, which is sort of Sunday school, and
they might continue that until confirmation. And, you know, if you don't go
to a Catholic high school or a Catholic college, your religious education
pretty much stops. And you are equipped with, as I said in this "In Good
Company" book, this basically, you know, fourth-grade understanding of what is
a sin, what is a sacrament, what does it mean to live a good life, you know,
which is fine when you're in fourth grade. But when you're, you know, in your
20s and 30s it doesn't work very well. I often tell people, you know, it's
like ceasing your education in mathematics at fourth grade and, you know,
being expected to kind of, you know, be in the real world and, you know,
understand things. It just doesn't work.

But I think that's the situation for a lot of Catholics, and I think that's
why, you know, Catholics have such a hard time sometimes grappling with issues
of papal infallibility, of doctrine, of dogma, of, you know, what it means to
be a Catholic because frequently their education as Catholics stops at, you
know, childhood. I find this a lot of times in the confessional, without
revealing any secrets. People will confess something. They'll say, `Well, is
that a sin? Yes or no?' You know, it's this kind of black-and-white
understanding that they may have learned from, you know, Sunday school in
fourth grade, which, you know, doesn't, I think, equip you very well to live
as an adult Catholic.

GROSS: And is there anything that you think you can do to contribute to a
more adult understanding, a more in-depth, complicated understanding of

Fr. MARTIN: Yeah. I've always thought that what the church really needs to
do is--I mean, this sounds really banal--but, you know, more adult education
and inviting people to learn more about their faith and to sort of reflect on
their faith and reflect on moral questions. But it's a very difficult thing
to do, I think, because once someone has that idea of Catholicism in their
mind as this sort of black-and-white, yes-or-no faith that's cemented in them
as a child, when you talk to them about nuance, and when you talk to them
about church teaching and, for example, church history, sometimes they get
upset and they feel that you're trying to, well, excuse things or you're
trying to, you know, deny what they've learned.

So, for example, if let's say we're going to talk about celibacy in a married
priesthood, if someone was taught in the fourth grade that, you know, this is
the way it's always been, when you talk to them about church history and say,
for example, look at the early church, look at St. Peter, they feel like
you're trying to, you know, sort of undermine what they've learned and what
they see as their faith, which they find sometimes very threatening. So it's
very difficult. I think it's a question of kind of inviting people to more
adult reflection through education, books, things like that.

GROSS: You said that when you became a priest you entered the priesthood
really naively. At what point did you really have confidence that you'd made
the right decision?

Fr. MARTIN: Oh, that took a while. As a Jesuit you have about 11 years of
training before ordination, and I think it's sort of a gradual process. The
time that I really knew that I was meant to be a Jesuit, I think, was when I
was working in Africa with refugees. I spent two years helping refugees start
small businesses. And I experienced this wonderful sense of just being in the
right place and in the right time and doing exactly what I should be, which
was the opposite of my experience at work where I felt that I was in the wrong
place. So I remember it came very powerfully one day that you're in the right
place and, yes, this is where you should be. And that was, for me, you know,
a wonderful confirmation of my choice.

GROSS: Well, Father Martin, thank you so much for talking us.

Fr. MARTIN: My pleasure.

GROSS: Father James Martin wrote a memoir titled "In Good Company: The Fast
Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience." This
August his new book will be published titled "Searching for God at Ground
Zero." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music; funding credits)

GROSS: Coming up, leaving the priesthood for married life. We'll talk with
Eugene Kennedy about why he made the decision. He's the author of "The
Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality." And Lloyd Schwartz reviews
the new recording by violinist Ida Haendel.

(Soundbite of music)

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Interview: Eugene Kennedy discusses the issues of celibacy in the
Catholic Church

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Eugene Kennedy, left the priesthood to marry. He believes that
celibacy should be optional, and that priests should be allowed to marry.
He's thought a lot about sexuality and the church, including the current
sexual abuse scandal. Kennedy is the author of "The Unhealed Wound: The
Church and Human Sexuality." He's a psychologist who has counseled many
priests, and he headed the psychological panel of a multi-disciplinary study
of the American priesthood that was commissioned by the country's Catholic
bishops. Kennedy is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University.

You were a priest for 22 years, you've been married for 25?

Professor EUGENE KENNEDY (Loyola University): Right. Think I'm doing better
at one than the other?

GROSS: You left the priesthood in order to marry. How did getting married
win out over staying the priesthood? How did you make that decision?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, when we speak about love in the English language, we
say you fall in love, and that's a very interesting way of putting it, because
you can't inch your way into love, you can't talk your way into it, you have
to fall. You have to let go. And if you are in love with someone, as I was
fortunate enough to fall in love, that, as an experience, caused me to come
into conflict with the priesthood, which required me not to be married. I was
very happy as a priest, and actually in many ways my life didn't change very
much. I was still a professor, still a writer and a lecturer, and while I
regret that choice had to be made, I am not at all unhappy that I made it.

GROSS: When you first became a priest, how did you feel about facing a
celibate life?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I became a priest in an age where there tremendous
social supports for the priesthood that no longer exist. The general American
culture was intact. The Catholic culture within that general American culture
was very close-knit and gave great support to those who entered the seminary
and came back to serve their people in the priesthood in one way or the other.
The change in the general culture, and in the Catholic culture, of course,
have had a big effect on the culture of the priesthood since that time. I
feel that I enjoyed being a priest. I would continue to enjoy being a priest.
But the prospect of marriage was not one that within that culture, and within
the general American culture, seemed nearly as attractive at the time I was in
the seminary as was pursuing the ideal of the priesthood.

GROSS: What's your understanding of the history of celibacy in the Catholic

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, celibacy has been an ideal of various kinds throughout
all of history, and it's certainly been identified in the early days of the
church, especially in certain monastic settings and so forth, or certain very
special forms of life. But the first pope, of course, was married, and that
is not at all outside the tradition of the popes. There are many popes who
have been married, and a whole Eastern Orthodox Church is part of the Catholic
Church, but its priests have been married. So it's a long history that, in
the Roman Church, was changed by the pope known as Hildebrand, who introduced
this is a discipline required of all priests, not so much for acetic reasons,
although it not without its acetic properties, even in secular appraisals of
it, but in order to control the passage by inheritance of lands and prevent
that from happening in the way that priests might hand down what they would
gain during their lifetime to their children, and so have it pass out of the
control of the church itself. That is why it's called a discipline. It is to
control a problem that was economic and sociological rather than to bring some
sort of spiritual additive to the priesthood.

GROSS: When you became a priest, what was your understanding of the reason
that celibacy is demanded of priests?

Prof. KENNEDY: It was proposed in the seminary not as it was found in
history, but as that which made you available to more people than you would be
available to if you were married and had a family to whom you had to return
every evening and whose concerns would naturally preoccupy you during the day.
That is the kind of ideal that Cesar Chavez, the famous farm worker leader
whom I knew, spoke to me about once. He said the farm workers like to have
their priests celibate, he said, `Because then we really had a feeling that
they belonged to us and to our community.'

So there are many aspects of it that are very honored in the way that good
priests live this life, and that was very much the emphasis that it was given,
that it wasn't that you were giving up human relationships; is that you were
giving them up in a certain specific way in order to be able to relate to the
whole family of the community that you would be serving in an intimate way.

GROSS: Did you ever see celibacy as an acetic approach in a way that, say,
fasting is? And many people who've fasted over a long period of time say that
it can help you achieve an almost altered state, an almost mystical state. Is
celibacy connected to that in any way, in your understanding?

Prof. KENNEDY: Celibacy only means that you're unmarried. There is a good
deal of collateral literature that tries to romanticize it into a
theologically extraordinary state, but I believe very few people experience it
in that fashion. Many years later, when I was the chairman of the
psychological panel for the National Conference of Bishops, in a
multidisciplinary study we did of the priesthood, we examined how priests, in
fact, did live their celibate lives. What we discovered was that most American
priests--this was after Vatican II had concluded when they did these
interviews and drew up this report for the bishops. American priests, we
found, observed their celibacy quite well. Those who were healthy men--it
takes a very healthy person to lead a celibate life, however. I will return
to that in a moment.

But even in the healthiest of priests, those who are living very full lives,
those who are very active and would fulfill surely the ideal the Cesar Chavez
had of the priest belonging to the whole community, they adapted themselves to
celibacy, they adjusted to it rather than making it the focus of some sort of
effulgent state of grace. They adjusted to it the way that an early widower
would have to adjust to not being married, or the way that a confirmed
bachelor might after many years. We found that they accepted it, bore such
inconveniences and difficulties as it brought it with. It brought, also,
certain conveniences with it, for that matter.

GROSS: Like what?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I believe it drew a certain amount of respect to them.
They were thought to stand in a neutral corner when they were working
with people. Their sacrifice was somewhat overidealized. But this did bring
them a measure of respect within the community, which brought them not only
tiptats and gratitude, but many signs of social support and welcome in the
homes of people that were very real and very true and therefore very
supportive for them.

GROSS: You would like to see both celibate and married priests?

Prof. KENNEDY: I believe that celibacy has a real role in general life, as I
said before, and certainly in the priesthood. There are wonderful, celibate
priests serving generously who have honored all their commitments all their
lives. They are living under the shadow of this terrible crisis. It's very
demoralizing and a terrible thing for them. I think we should ratify their
choice of celibacy, but I think that in the future it should be something that
they are free to make themselves, if they wish, but it should not be a
discipline that is demanded of people who may not understand enough about
themselves to make that choice at that time. Freely chosen, I believe it can
be a wonderful expression of generous hearts. Enforced on people as a
condition, it can be something that incubates the kinds of problems that we
have seen become so floridly infectious before us in recent months.

GROSS: My guest is Eugene Kennedy. He's a former priest and the author of
the book "The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Eugene Kennedy. He was a priest for 22 years. He left
in order to marry. He's been married for 25 years. He's also the author of
the book "The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality."

You not only headed up this multidisciplinary study of the American
priesthood, you've worked as a clinical psychologist as a layperson, and your
clients have included many priests, some of whom were struggling with sexual

Prof. KENNEDY: Yes.

GROSS: A lot of people are wondering whether celibacy is related, in any way,
to the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church now. With the study that
you did, and with your work as a psychologist, counseling priests, do you see
any connection between celibacy and the sexual abuse problem?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I do not believe that celibacy in itself causes sexual
abuse any more than marriage in itself causes divorce, but marriage is
certainly involved in divorce, and celibacy can be involved, in a certain way,
at least a pseudo celibacy, as a veil, in a way, behind which an
underdeveloped person may, without any sort of stress, any real thought of
ever being married, may move into the priesthood and bring with him the
baggage that he has never opened before he enters the real world and works
with other people. That is the real problem that I believe celibacy may be be
associated with this problem, not so much as a causative agent, but as a veil
behind which these people pass for having resolved the challenges that go with

GROSS: What do you mean by underdeveloped person, and what's an example of a
type of problem, so-called underdeveloped person might have that might lead
them to choose the celibate life perhaps for the wrong reason?

Prof. KENNEDY: By an underdeveloped person, I mean that we found in the
studies that we did, there were certain groups of men that entered the
priesthood who had not completed what was needed for the various growth stages
that we all have to pass through to become adults. They might have looked
adult from the outside, but internally their internal growth did not match
their chronological age. Typically, they had not worked out the challenges
of adolescence and were functioning at a prepubescent level. That meant that
they might have made friends with the same sex, but they had not passed
through that chum stage in order to reach that level where they could make
relationships with the opposite sex. These people are very ill-prepared,
therefore, to deal with the challenges of celibacy because they are so far
back in the growth cycle in understanding themselves and the way they relate
to other people, that the idea of relating to a woman is so far beyond them,
as to be excluded altogether.

These are the kind of people who are particularly vulnerable, therefore, to
having breakdowns marked by sexual misbehavior once they were out in the
priesthood and no longer had the supports of the seminary to prop them up.

GROSS: You've said that in your work as a clinical psychologist that with
many of the priests you were seeing you heard more sadness than sin in their
troubling stories. What do you mean?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I think that in most of these stories, even in some of
the terrible stories we hear today, one of the elements that we have put aside
somewhat is trying to understand how these things could have happened in the
first place. How, as you put it earlier, these people who had taken a vow of
chastity could have acted out as a sexual predator and done such harm to other
individuals. Right now we're in a kind of--as they have a punitive stage in a
trial, we're in a punitive stage in dealing with this problem. People are
trying to find out some way to punish these people adequately. But the
question remains: How did this happen in the first place? That question has
not been asked by the bishops, but it is the question.

The bishops are meeting in Dallas in June, and they are meeting largely to
prescribe punishments for a problem that they have not defined, and that they
have no evidence of understanding. This is a recipe for a tragedy. What we
do not understand is what can harm you. What we do not understand about the
sexual problems in the priesthood is what has harmed us and harmed,
unfortunately, many innocent people, perhaps beyond any numbering of them. I
believe that these churchmen should, in fact, ask this question: How could
this have ever come to be in people supposedly trained for selfless lives?
What is it about the way we recruit them, the way we train them and the way we
assign them? Whatever questions that might bring them closer to the truth
would be the most important questions they have asked. They have avoided
asking this question, but it is still the pressing question. If they do not
get some information about the causes, they should not spend any time trying
to deal with cleaning up the effects.

GROSS: As a psychologist, what kind of questions, what kind of approach do
you think the church could take to screening out candidates for the priesthood
who aren't sexually mature, who can't really handle the celibate life, or who
aren't even prepared for a sexual life?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I think we should junk the whole system that we have.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Prof. KENNEDY: I believe this problem is systemic, that it is so inbred in
the system of recruiting young people in adolescence, or even now, later in
life, and trying to force them into an old-fashioned seminary system, that that
cannot be tinkered with any further. That should be put aside, and we should
return to another way of recruiting people to serve in the priesthood. We
should also have a broader vision of those who may serve in the priesthood.
There certainly should be some consideration given to allowing women to be
priests, for example. When I say junk the whole system, I don't mean that we
should cavalierly put aside sensible things, but there is a certain time in
which you are convinced that this isn't working, and we have to do something

There's something new that I would advocate that is actually something old,
and that is to allow the Christian communities to choose themselves those who
will celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments for them. St.
Augustine, one of the greatest figures of all Christian and world history,
became a priest because his community drafted him, in effect, for the job.
The community of ordinary people is very wise. They can tell who's genuine
and who is not, who has grown and who has not, and who has the demeanor that
they would look for in someone who would be their priest. You have to put
aside all these other artificial distinctions that he must be male, that he
must be unmarried and so forth.

GROSS: I assume that you have served as a psychologist for priests who were
having sexual problems who either were or were potential abusers. What kind
of work could you do with them to either prevent that from happening or to
prevent it from happening any further?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I don't think that these people can be remade; not many
of us can be remade, for that matter. But I believe that there are certain
treatments that can help them observe their own behavior, cognitive and
behavioral therapies, for example, that allow them to monitor themselves and
learn how to control these problems and learn how to find other substitute
activities that will keep the balance within their lives, such that they may
be able to continue to work constructively, perhaps not directly with
children, but in other ways within the priesthood. We're not going to remake
any of these people now, and it may be that for many of them the best thing
would be to try to find a way to allow them to leave the priesthood, perhaps
still work in some way within the church in, as they say in the police
department, desk jobs for those who can no longer effectively work on the
street. There are lots of things that can be done, but there is no idea that
you can remake these people. I don't think any therapists would propose that.

GROSS: You are a former priest who still has a lot of criticisms of the
church. What keeps you in the church?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, the church is, as you'll note in the interviews and in
the polls, even in cities such as Boston, or now Louisville, which have been
terribly stricken by this problem of sexual abuse by its priests, the people
make a distinction between the church as their family, the church as the
source of the sacraments and the church as an organization. And the church as
a family is what most people like very much. They feel it is a family, and
every family has problems. And this family is having big problems right now.
But these ordinary people realize that it isn't the church that is the source
of their spiritual support, the source of the sacraments--that's not the
church that's in crisis. It's the church as an organization, and
specifically, as an hierarchical organization that is in crisis. They have
kept their faith in Catholicism, but they have lost their confidence in the
leaders of the organized church.

That is really what this crisis is all about. It has much less to do with
these poor priests who get into these problems than it has to do with these
bishops who have failed to manage this crisis, who have failed to identify and
address it, who have allowed it to grow, and even with good hearts that many
of them surely have, have found that now their own authority is the real
victim of this difficult time. The bishops who go to Houston have to
understand that the problem they're dealing with is not sexual abuse, it's
their own authority and their own capacity to function as leaders in the
Catholic Church. That is really what is the great crisis through which we are
passing now.

GROSS: Eugene Kennedy is a former priest and the author of "The Unhealed
Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality." He's professor emeritus of
psychology at Loyola University.

Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz reviews music by violinist Ida Haendel. This is

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New video and two-CD set of violinist Ida Haendel

Violinist Ida Haendel is much better known in Europe than here. That might
change with some recent video and CD releases. Our classical music critic,
Lloyd Schwartz, hopes so. He considers Haendel the greatest living violinist.
She was a child prodigy growing up in Poland. Now in her 70s and living in
Florida, Lloyd says she's at the top of her form. She's one of the
performers who was featured in the documentary "The Art of Violin," which was
broadcast on public television.

(Soundbite of violin music)


That was Ida Haendel playing a Brahms "Hungarian Dance" in 1956 on the
documentary "The Art of Violin." American audiences haven't had a chance to
get to know her extraordinary playing as well as audiences in Europe or Latin
America. Lucky for me, she's been playing regularly with the Boston Symphony
since her debut in 1990. Her Sibelius violin concerto with Sir Simon Rattle
was one of the concerto performances against which I measure all others.
Sibelius and Benjamin Britten and her teacher, George Enescu, were among the
composers who loved how she played their work. She was just back in Boston
playing Brooks' "G Minor Concerto" under the direction of Elan Volkov, who is
about half a century her junior. Here's the beginning of the adagio, a love
song of throbbing concentration, softer and slower than it's usually played.
Haendel's violin is like a silken thread, indrawn, intimate, one long-held
breath, and aware of the tears underlying every human emotion.

(Soundbite of "G Minor Concerto")

SCHWARTZ: For years, her recordings have been hard to find here, but that's
changing. VAI has issued a memorable video of Haendel playing the Brahms
violin concerto and Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy." There's not a wasted motion,
none of the usual violinistic writhing or hair tossing. Every gesture serves
the music. Her most recent recording is a two-CD set of works for violin and
piano. On one disk, scintillating pieces by Szymanowski, Bartok and Enescu,
with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. On the other, her Decca recordings from the
1940s. Some of the repertoire overlaps, so you can hear performances of
Bartok's colorful and exuberant Romanian folk dances recorded almost 50 years
apart. For all her hair-raising virtuosity, Haendel seems never to have been
interested in mere self-display. Here's Haendel, first in 1947, with pianist
Ivor Newton, then in 1996 with Ashkenazy.

(Soundbite of violin music)

SCHWARTZ: Haendel must be one of the most articulate musicians around. She
speaks seven languages fluently, including English, Russian and Polish, and
has published an autobiography. On a documentary she herself narrates, she
says that were it not for her being a violinist, she and her family would have
stayed in Poland and have been murdered like all the Jewish people there.
`But by some divine decree,' she says, `it was a salvation for all of us, my
immediate family and myself.'

Ida Haendel's life really depended on her playing, and she still plays the
violin as if it were her salvation.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix and
director of the creative writing program at the University of Massachusetts
Boston. He reviewed violinist Ida Haendel's two-CD set on Decca and video on

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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