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Book: Sex, Priests and Power
Author: A.W. Richard Sipe
Brunner/Mazel, Inc. 1995, pp.193

Excerpt from Introduction:

Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis can be understood as part of a massive contemporary project of revision and reconstruction within Christianity. Many Christians are presently recognizing that some central affirmations of Christian faith have been either ignored or too slenderly developed to merit a place in mainstream Christianity. When one considers the strong affirmations of human bodies implied in the doctrine of creation, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and the resurrection of the body, it seems odd that management of one of the human body’s most intimate functions, sexuality, has not been considered a crucial part of one’s religious identity.

It would be simplistic to blame the inclusion of philosophical ideas in Christianity for this. All the religious and philosophical movements of the centuries in which Christianity was being formed struggled to define the role of the body and sexuality in religious practice. Moreover, it does not solve the problems of the present merely to identify the historical origin of ideas that live and have their effects in the present. Augustine is frequently and unfairly blamed for distorted sexual doctrine because he worried about and addressed, with the conceptual tools available, issues of sex and the body. The relative silence of Christian authors prior to and contemporary with Augustine and their own inadequacies in addressing sexuality have, ironically, guaranteed their immunity from twentieth-century criticism.

Finally, Sipe admires celibacy, not as legislated and institutionalized, but as a personal “quest of spiritual relationship and religious reality based on unflinching self-knowledge and radical truth about one’s innermost desires.” As a sexual orientation, those who have the gift, and have undertaken the hard work of self-knowledge required for productive celibacy, he say, evidence “an interior freedom and integration that unite their individuality and their service.” Those who are gifted with celibacy are, in Sipe’s word, ‘awesome.” And, in his studied opinion, they are rare. The goal and spirit of this book, then, is not the overthrow of an institution that damages people, but scrutiny of a destructive strain within a church that could be so much more powerful for healing and blessing if it were willing to examine and revise its celibate/sexual system. It is a book that exemplifies and advocates what therapeutic programs call “tough love,” the ruthless honesty and relentless analysis that exposes the self-deception of an individual or an institution in order to heal, not to destroy.

Table of Contents:

Symptoms of the Crisis

1. Priests and Children

Scope of the current crisis

History of clergy

Abuse of children

Which priests abuse minors?

2. Crime, Sin, and Sickness


Priest offenders

Legal intervention

Sin: moral dimensions




Treatment modalities

Victim voices

Memories true and false

Church response

3. Discourse: The Sexual Tower of Babel

Need for discourse

Intuitive perception

Celibacy defined

4. Patterns of Celibate/Sexual Adjustment

Those who profess or practice celibacy

Heterosexual relationships and behavior


Sexual experimentation

Homosexual relationships and behaviors


Sexual abuse of minors

The validity of estimates


5. System: Function/Dysfunction

The celibate difference?

The physiology of the system in crisis

Celibate/sexual balance

Private and public function


Power: individual and systematic

Guilt and forgiveness: a dynamic

Women: the function of idealization and denigration

The secret system

6. Priests and Women

Myths about priests and women

Code of sexual ethics for priests

7. Priest and Men

Homosexualities and the clergy

Psychological denial of the homosocial structure

The male matrix

The system of secrecy

Development questions and variations

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)

The Structure of Crisis

8. The Structure beneath the crisis


The superior group



Nature and God’s will

Sexual inconsistency

Necessary violence

9. Priests who suffer: priests who succeed

Suffering servants

Struggling servants

Suffering of experience

Secretly reformed

Exposed in recovery

Image and economy

10. The Christian Experience

Respect for the biological base

The early Christian experience