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  • Stoic Brothers and Feeling Men:Contemporary Clerical Masculinities in the United States
  • John C. Seitz28

Masculinity, a messy arena of desire, gets even messier when claims of holiness and divine mediation get mixed in. All the pressure around saying or performing what a "man" is gets scrambled and supercharged when saying or performing what a "priest-man" is. Because of priests' maleness and because of their historically elevated status in the church, holiness and masculinity had a lot to do with how Roman Catholics lived their lives, what options were open to them, which dimensions of control and meaning they had available to them, and which they did not. My addition to this forum has to do with how holiness and masculinity worked in two instances of clerical sex abuse in the mid-late twentieth century among midwestern white Catholics in the United States. I take up the case of the best-selling self-help Jesuit of the late twentieth century, John J. Powell, SJ (1925–2009) of the Chicago Province. I refer to his encounters with one of his nine known victims, a woman I call Florence Renolds. A favorite priest of the Renolds family in suburban Chicago, Powell began to abuse her in 1966, when he was forty-one and she was thirteen.29 I also address the case [End Page 15] of another Chicago Jesuit, Donald J. McGuire, SJ (1930–2017). McGuire was a notorious abuser of boys and young men. His known victims number ten. Like Powell, his abuse was reported and overlooked by the Jesuits early on in his career. In this essay, I look at responses to accusations brought against McGuire by the parents of an unnamed victim in California, aged sixteen.30

There are many ways priestly masculinity shaped sex abuse and cover-up in these and other settings. I want to start with the importance of discourses and practices aimed at facilitating U.S. priests' bonded masculinity, sometimes referred to as "brotherhood" or "fraternity." This form of masculinity entailed a sense of affinity and connection among priests rooted in their shared acceptance of sacrifices of family, sex, and autonomy. In some cases, those promoting the priestly brotherhood portrayed the sacrifices as valorous; priesthood was a distinct and perilous arena, a territory not for the faint of heart. Heightening narratives of shared sacrifice underscored priests' connection with and sympathy for one another. This framing is not some distant memory. The current ad campaign for priestly vocations at the Archdiocese of New York draws explicitly on these terms. Beneath an image of priests clustered together concelebrating the Mass with the cardinal archbishop, the text establishes the ground for their bond:

Christ asks of some men the sacrifice of their lives in following him as his more intimate companions. From all eternity, certain men are called to the priesthood. It is a call inscribed in their nature and because of this, it is a call that will bring them fulfillment. A good priest is a spiritual hero, a man who sacrifices himself for the people of God.31

Special intimacy with Christ forged special intimacy with one another through shared sacrifice.32 Since priesthood is innate—"from [End Page 16] eternity"—and not simply chosen, priests have been prone to interpret one another's failures, even when criminal or dangerous, as aberrations. When one hero slipped up in the maintenance of the sacrifices entailed in their brotherhood, other priests were there to help him take it in stride. This meant assuring the wayward priest that the mistake did not void his position, but only provided an opportunity to restore it.

Cases of clerical sex abuse and cover up reveal one consequence of these high-stakes claims. A 1994 letter from one prominent Jesuit—John Hardon, SJ (1914–2000) author of the Catholic Catechism of 1992—to another—Donald J. McGuire, SJ—conveys this robust fraternity of the stoic priesthood.33 A known abuser since the 1960s, in the early 1990s McGuire was forced by his provincial, Father Bradley Schaeffer, SJ to undergo counseling at a center for troubled priests as a result of a recent accusation. A friend and sometime-collaborator with McGuire's...