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The Other Side of the Altar

The Other Side of the Altar

2.0 1
by Dinter
In all the coverage of the priestly sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, one story has been left untold: the story of the everyday lives of Catholic priests in America, which remain so little understood as to be a secret, even as one priestly sexual predation after another has come to light.

In The Other Side of the Altar, Paul Dinter tells


In all the coverage of the priestly sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, one story has been left untold: the story of the everyday lives of Catholic priests in America, which remain so little understood as to be a secret, even as one priestly sexual predation after another has come to light.

In The Other Side of the Altar, Paul Dinter tells one priest's story--his own--in such a way as to reveal the lives of a generation of priests that spanned two very different eras. These priests entered the ministry in the 1960s, when Catholic seminaries were full of young men inspired by both the Church's ancient faith and the Second Vatican Council's promises of renewal. But by the early 1970s, the priesthood--and the celibate fraternity it depended upon--proved quite different from what the Council had promised. American society had changed, too, particularly in the area of sexuality. As a result, there emerged a clerical subculture of denial and duplicity, which all but guaranteed that the sexual abuse of children by priests would be routinely covered up by the Church's bishops.

Dinter, now married and raising two stepdaughters, left the priesthood in 1994 over the issue of celibacy, but not before having occasion to reflect on the whole range of priestly struggles with celibacy and sexual life in general--in Rome and rural England, on an Ivy League campus, and in parish rectories of the archdiocese of New York. His candid and affecting account--written from the other side of the altar, so to speak--makes clear that celibacy, sexuality, and power among the clergy have long been intertwined, and suggests how much must change if the Catholic Church hopes to regainthe trust of its people.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Back in the 1950s when Dinter was an altar boy, Catholic priests were generally respected and even revered. By 1993, as he prepared to leave active priesthood, a wave of sexual abuse scandals was engulfing the church. From its low-key title and first chapter, a reader might expect Dinter's memoir, though engagingly written, to be merely a personal account of this time of turmoil. To be sure, one of the book's important themes concerns his search for wholeness and connection through his student days and early years as a parish priest, his 15 years as Catholic chaplain at Columbia University, his sabbatical year in Rome and his eventual decision to resign from the priesthood. A parallel theme is equally important and far more provocative: the story of "how the Catholic priesthood's efforts to control the moral terms of debate regarding the proper role of human sexuality have irrevocably collapsed." Dinter's characterization of the lives of many priests is devastating: intense loneliness, "a variety of self-soothing mechanisms" including solo drinking and sexual acting out, loyalty to the priestly brotherhood rather than to parishioners. Especially damning is the chapter on the Vatican ("The Men's Club on the Tiber"), with its "self-confirmatory culture" and obsession with power. Now happily married with two stepdaughters, Dinter has this advice for church leaders: "Holy fathers! Get back to the drawing board and study nature's God-given designs before you pronounce so firmly about what you do not know and have not even begun to ask women about." (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This timely title combines autobiographical material about one man's experience inside the Catholic priesthood and a social commentary on the contemporary crisis within the faith today. Dinter, a former chaplain at Columbia University and now married, reflects on his formation and 30 years of ministry. He traces his life from boyhood to seminary training and to the priestly fraternity, the Vatican, and eventual marriage. Discussing actual situations and events, he lifts the veil that frequently shelters the presbyterial mystique, giving the reader unique access to the mind and heart of the modern clergy and insight into the motivation of the bishops who govern them. Some of the material is disturbing, as Dinter airs the church's dirty laundry, though most is nostalgic reminiscence. This honest portrayal of one man's struggle with celibacy, sexuality, and power is also a call for systematic change. Recommended for larger public libraries.-John-Leonard Berg, Univ. of Wisconsin Lib., Platteville Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

From the Foreword

This book is a story about the celibate priesthood and about sexuality. It is a story that—it can no longer be denied—is not two stories, but one story: how the priesthood's efforts to control the moral terms of debate regarding the proper role of human sexuality have irrevocably collapsed, calling into question not only the priesthood's credibility, but its own self-understanding.

I have not tried to construct a treeatise against Rome's one-eyed veiw of sexuality and the human condition. Instead, I wish to tell my story and to venture some reflections. If there are a few salacious details about the lives of priests, they are only enough to tell the larger story. I need not rehash the news reports about the ways in which priests wove their webs of deceit to ensnare young innocents or normally insecure teenagers. But I hope to sketch out a more comprehensive portrait of the day-to-day world of the priesthood in which they could do so, then be ignored or passively tolerated, and finally be transferred to new assignments in which they could start up their sick drama once again.

Revaluing sexuality within the spiritual life requires a supreme act of the religious imagination, indeed a religious awakening, that has thus far proved too daunting for most Catholic leaders. I hope to contribute to this awakening by telling the truth, as I know it, about life behind the Roman collar.

Meet the Author

Paul E. Dinter, for many years the Catholic chaplain at Columbia University, now directs an outreach program for homeless people in Manhattan. He lives in Cortlandt Manor, New York.

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Other Side of the Altar 2.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book sounds like an inflated account of a person's life. Much of what Dinter relates he relates second hand. Some of his accounts are questionable, especially his recollections at Columbia University and some of the students he 'counsels' without any formal training or a license. His opinions are partisan at best, with conservative or traditional Catholics his enemies and liberal Catholics his allies. But what's particularly disturbing is his reliance upon hearsay, like when he says an athletic director said that his wife said that a woman said something salacious about him (Dinter actually barred someone from his congregation based upon this dubious info). But such gossip belongs in the pages of Hustler magazine, and not in a book published by Farrar Straus and Giroux. In short, the book is more a way for Dinter to cash in on the current scandals than an insider's view of the Catholic Church.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book for those interested in the formation process of becoming a priest and the before and after changes during Vatican II. I an a new convert to the Catholic Church trying to learn as much as possible about everything relating to the Church and this book helped. Read it! You'll love it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
About the only thing The Other Side of the Altar offers is more Church bashing. Dinter's trials and tribulations as a priest are nothing new. Why does he blame celibacy for his leaving when the Church has had such rules for centuries? Surely, he knew that when he entered the seminary back in the 1960's. But what's very disturbing is his criticisms often based upon hearsay. He gleefully reveals a smarmy story of a bishop he heard only secondhand,and his account of a lawsuit against him while at Columbia University is very problematic. He actually says he threw a woman out of the congregation because someone from the althletic department said that his wife said that the woman said something rather salacious about him. Such gossip belongs in Hustler magazine, and not in a book by a respected press. A little more fact checking on the part of the editors at Farrar Straus and Giroux would have prevented this book from turning into a collection of gossipy tidbits. Such material makes Dinter's account dubious at best.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In reading Paul Dinter's 'The Other Side of the Altar,' I was wondering if there weren't another side to this story. The book is told in first person and reads as if it were whitewashed. At other times, Dinter brings out issues that were apparent in the Church for some time but surprised him as a priest. Some of his stories sound very strange. While at Columbia, he hit a student to get him to admit to a problem and seems to think that was the proper response. He mentions that he tossed a woman out of his congregation because someone told him that he heard someone else say that this woman said something to another party of a sexual nature about her and Dinter. Dinter subsequently tears her character apart in a fashion that sounds remotely like Kobe Bryant to his accuser. What really was going on here remains a mystery. Upon his trip to Rome, he returns to the US to find no real assignment with the NY Archdiocese. In most jobs, that's a big clue that the organization wants you to resign. But Dinter instead took many years thinking over the obvious. What's to be gained from this book? That the priesthood attracts a variery of different (and odd) people and that some will stay while others leave. That's it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Paul Dinter gives the Catholic laity a rare view into the process of priestly formation. The Other Side of the Altar confirmed some of my ideas of this process, but revealed many other aspects of the continuous formation of Catholic clergy. Mr. Dinter's use of his own story, his personal experiences, makes the book credible and interesting. The layers of possible dysfunctional behavior -- that of the individual priest, the collective group of priests and the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy -- are intertwined and bring understanding to many of the problems currently associated with the Catholic clergy. The author clearly defines a curious view of human sexuality that is mainstream to past and present Catholic doctrine. How important this issue is to letting the Catholic Church move forward and into the new millennium is a matter for all readers to decide. Paul Dinter¿s ideas on this issue certainly broadened my perspective in this area. Paul Dinter spares no punches and names some prominent people that touched his priestly formation. A great read for all readers and a must read for all Catholics.