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The Unhealed Wound: The Church, the Priesthood, and the Question of Sexuality


A psychologist, former priest, and one of the leading thinkers in Catholicism today addresses one of the most compelling yet undiscussed issues in the Church: human sexuality.

The Unhealed Wound is a penetrating and insightful study of the unresolved conflicts Catholics face regarding their sexuality and their spirituality—conflicts which become greater as they continue to go unaddressed within the Church. With an unflinching eye, Eugene Kennedy astutely yet respectfully takes ...

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2001 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 144 p. Audience: General/trade. Book is New

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A psychologist, former priest, and one of the leading thinkers in Catholicism today addresses one of the most compelling yet undiscussed issues in the Church: human sexuality.

The Unhealed Wound is a penetrating and insightful study of the unresolved conflicts Catholics face regarding their sexuality and their spirituality—conflicts which become greater as they continue to go unaddressed within the Church. With an unflinching eye, Eugene Kennedy astutely yet respectfully takes to task a church that condemns birth control, marriage for priests, and sex outside of marriage, and he examines its formidable hierarchy, challenging clerics who uphold papal edicts unthinkingly.

Articulately postulating the human need not only to understand but celebrate our own sexuality, The Unhealed Wound will no doubt engender both controversy and heating dialogue amongst Catholics.

About the Author:
Eugene Kennedy is a former priest and psychologist, and the award-winning author of several books and a column for the Religious News Service, distributed by the New York Times syndicate. He lives with his wife in Chicago, Illinois, and Naples, Florida.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Catholic Church has been pilloried aplenty in modern times for its teachings on birth control, priestly celibacy and a male-only priesthood. Kennedy, a psychologist and former Catholic priest, adds his voice to the jeering in this indictment of the Church of Rome. Kennedy argues that Catholicism suffers from a gaping wound because of its alleged failure to deal with sexual intimacy in its midst. Besides opposing artificial contraception and requiring priests to be unmarried males, Kennedy says the Church has failed its people by labeling as sinful all sexual activity outside marriage and deeming homosexuality an "objective disorder." He claims the Church is willing to look at intimate human experience only through its own "distorting lenses," but he fails to point out that other churches with a traditional view share many of Catholicism's positions on sexual behavior. Kennedy also criticizes the Vatican for what he says is its unwillingness to publicly discuss the celibate, all-male priesthood and for mishandling pedophilia scandals. Kennedy maintains that celibacy is a means "to master... men" through controlling their sexuality, and he traces the pedophilia problem to the immature sexual development of priest perpetrators. Readers who are unhappy with the Church's stances on human sexuality will find a sympathetic ear in Kennedy, but little in the way of realistic, constructive solutions. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The myth of Grail King Anfortas, which describes the slaying of Nature in an illusory search for spiritual perfection, serves here to engage readers in the controversial topic of the "unhealed wound of sexuality within institutional Catholicism." Psychologist and former priest Kennedy (My Brother Joseph: The Spirit of a Cardinal and the Story of a Friendship) suggests that human nature has been overruled by the reproaches and restrictions of the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church. The author addresses such topics as the priest shortage, hierarchical control within the Church, and sexual discrimination of women to create a dialog on papal edicts and foster critical thinking on the future direction of the Church. The Catholic bureaucracy would have the layperson believe that if the shortage of priests (and thus the need to ordain women) is not discussed, then it does not exist and male supremacy remains. In this way, the Church invests its power in mastery over human beings and loses its true authority in helping men and women heal and celebrate their nature and sexuality. This thoughtful but demanding discussion is recommended for academic religion collections. Leo Kriz, West Des Moines P.L., IA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A short and rather smarmy reconsideration of the traditional Catholic doctrines regarding marriage and celibacy, written by ex-priest Kennedy (My Brother Joseph, 1997, etc.). The universal overthrow of sexual taboos that took place during the latter half of the 20th century, anticipated by Freudian psychology and made possible by the development of chemical contraceptives and penicillin, came as a great surprise to just about everybody. Religious leaders, in particular, were caught with their pants down by this turn of events: Most of them (and especially the Catholics, who were predominantly celibate) had never bothered to devote a great deal of thought to sexuality from a specifically religious perspective—relying instead on appeals to natural law (among Catholics), tribal custom (for Muslims), or purification rites (within Judaism). The sexual revolution pulled the rug out from beneath all of these authorities, however, leaving many of the clergy with no idea where they were now to stand. Kennedy, who left the Catholic priesthood in the late 1960s, displays this disorientation (from which he has apparently never recovered) on every page of his study. Although he is quite specific in his condemnation of the traditional Catholic approach (to contraception, masturbation, divorce, etc.), his rage seems to be fueled by mists: He never bothers to articulate the grounds (either intellectual or religious) upon which his dissent is based, and he seems equally unable to put forward any "positive" approach to the subject—beyond vague talk of "unhealed wounds" and some silly, postmodern analogizing (e.g., Pope John Paul as the Fisher King) that sounds like a Leo Buscagliascript written by Joseph Campbell. "The priest is the wounded mythic figure, the wounded seeker of the Grail . . . whose infection and pain arise from that deep and unattended estrangement in the spiritual institution—the Church from this world, Spirit from Nature, the terrible price of a divided image of personality." A poor contribution to a serious subject, this may indeed illustrate just how badly Catholic religious life misshapes one's understanding of sexual life—although probably not in the way the author intended.
From the Publisher
"How often can one speak of a book on Catholicism as brave, bold, searching, passionate, compassionate, and, not least, well-written?" -Norman Mailer

"With a masterful blend of poetic and decisive articulation, Kennedy fearlessly and insightfully exposes the many symptoms of the sexual wound." -Chicago Tribune

"Persuasively arguing that all aspects of our God-endowed human nature should be celebrated, Kennedy urges the institutional church to move beyond bureaucratic stasis to reestablish a healthy pastoral dialogue regarding all aspects of human sexuality." -Booklist

"I know of no recent book on the Church that deserves a wider readership than Eugene Kennedy's The Unhealed Wound. It celebrates the reality of the Church as Mystery, but also exposes and examines the pain caused to so many by the Church as bureaucracy or institution." -Rev. Richard P. McBrien, author of Lives of the Popes

"The Unhealed Wound will be a source of healing and liberation." -National Catholic Reporter

"This valuable and needed book shows that doctrine has psychological roots and consequences, and that what is often considered as merely an ecclesiastical fear of sex can become, in fact, an attack on love, which is at the heart of the Christian religion." -Garry Wills, author of Papal Sin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312266370
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/4/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.64 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Eugene Kennedy is an award-winning author, syndicated columnist, and professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University of America. He and his wife, Sara Charles, M.D., live in Chicago

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


* * *

It is the twenty-second day of the last November before the New Year 2000. A light mist casts a sheen on Manhattan's streets, veils the Metropolitan Opera House, and blurs the lights of limousines and taxis delivering guests hungry to see and hear Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. At the end of its first New York performance 113 years before, according to a newspaper of the era, "before the clapping (and screaming) began, the audience sat hypnotized for minutes `silent and motionless in their places as though drunk or in a transport.'"

    Women "swooned when ... Tristan tore the bandages from his wound" to rise from his delirium and greet life again in the return of Isolde and to die in her arms—as Wagner himself wished to die, in the embrace of his mistress, Mathilde. The epic liebesnacht (the love night) and the liebestod (the love death) were said to "have shattered inhibitions [of women] inculcated by Gilded Age decorum." With its "erotic maelstrom of ... love music," one critic reflects, Wagner's version of the Tristan legend "had changed people's lives."

    Do the men and women hurrying toward their places expect their lives to be changed by what, in 1886, the New York Tribune referred to as the "tumultuous lava current" of the opera? It is less by chance than by a summons from the millennial, love-straitened times that Tristan and Isolde are to sing once more of their "love-death" to New Yorkers who know that in the century just ending, a sexual revolution has been won but something about love has also been lost. They almost certainly feel within themselves the poisoned wound of Tristan, the gash that lies at the heart of this legend and a dozen kindred myths.

    Do these people, so unremarkably human in their desires beneath their designer labels, long for love that is not given by half? And would they, in the fundament of their beings, surrender the right always to choose, and instead be themselves chosen, even imprisoned, by a grand consuming passion and suffer the intense erotic wound of a great love? Are they less sexually restless than the patrons a century earlier, or are they more anxious to meet their Tristan or their Isolde and be swept away by a transcendent love that makes even death sweet?

    Enter Wagner's Tristan and enter a myth for the postmodern world, in which the wound symbolizes the still-unhealed division between God and his universe, heaven and earth, and spirit and flesh—that injury that seeds men and women, as Joseph Campbell says, with "longing, irresolution, loneliness and lust." Does the opera intensify fin de siècle ambivalence about the dangerous glory of love that demands a total surrender of the self to another? Do the audience members bear within themselves their own sexual wounds, hoping to tear away their bandages, as Tristan pulls them from his own wound to be healed by, and perhaps to die of, love?

    If this is the theme of this titanic psychodrama, Tristan is but one of the great mythical figures who, like all of us, bear a wound that needs healing. Wounds are found everywhere in ancient legends, in those of Sir Gawain and that of the Fisher King, who found ease only in his boat on the water, and in the spell-casting castrate Clinschor, who was himself wounded as he wounded the king. The Grail King in the Parzival of von Eschenbach waits for someone to speak the words of healing for a wound so severe that he can neither sit nor stand nor lie down with comfort. The wounds are almost always the same—these great male figures are wounded sexually, by spears thrust through their genitals, and await healing that comes, as we shall see, not from magic or miracles but from responses so simple in their human sympathy or so powerful in their human love that they astound us still.

Excerpted from THE UNHEALED WOUND by EUGENE KENNEDY. Copyright © 2001 by Eugene Kennedy. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 The Myth of the Unhealed Wound
1 Overture: Tristan's Wound 3
2 Unhealed Wounds 6
3 Wounded, Everyone, Everywhere 11
4 The Myth of the Grail King Anfortas 21
5 John Paul II, Wounded Healer 26
6 Our Myth, Our Experience, Our Story 34
Part 2 Brick and Mortar: The Church as Institution
7 Myths of Institutional Catholicism: Brick and Mortar 45
8 Romanticized Discipline: Women Do the suffering 55
9 Asexuality in Action: The Curial Style 64
10 The Varieties of Ecclesiastical Control 82
Part 3 Healing the Wound: The Church As Mystery
11 The Gift of Reception in Catholic Experience 101
12 Maimed for the Kingdom 119
13 Defending and Pursuing Celibacy 140
14 What Wounds are These? 164
15 What is it That Ails You? 182
Notes 207
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2001

    Meditation and analysis on critical issues for the Catholic Church

    This book is a well-documented meditation on the issues surrounding sexuality, sexual identity, patriarchy, and celibacy as it relates to the Roman Catholic priesthood and institution structure. I say 'meditation' because it is not the type of book that offers straightforward analysis of the issues. Kennedy, in a somewhat repetative manner, offers perspectives on how these issues can be traced back to a root cause -- the past and present fear and inability of the institutional church within Catholicism to acknowledge the difficulties that have arisen from a dualistic view of the world and the human body, that sought to divide spirit from flesh, theologically, spiritually, psychologically, and physically. The result, Kennedy argues, is an extremely dysfunctional institution that is at times not even aware of its own 'unhealed wound,' and so propagates its own woundedness onto others. The image of the wound is taken from the legend of Parsival and is the metaphor Kennedy uses to speak of the institution's struggles. To that end, Kennedy provides significant historical background on contemporary issues facing the church: the place of women in the church and the question of their ordination, the issue of mandatory celibacy and its unintended and disastrous consequences for the priesthood and the church, the question of artificial birth control, the abuse of power exercised by many priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes throughout history (up to the present), and the psychological background on pedophilia among priests. Although Kennedy's writing style is not always spectacular, his analysis is for the most part good psychology and provides decent theological background. I noted particularly the copious footnotes at the end of the book. And although he does not suggest particular solutions or resolutions to these crises in the church, he goes a long way by simply informing people about the roots of the problem and offers a first step toward healing the wound.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2001

    the truth...well, it should make you free....

    I was disturbed by the reviews of this book given by the Kirkus Service and Publishers' Weekly, and so I write to counter their views. I am a R.C. priest, ordained over 39 years, and from my vantage point Kennedy's description of the bureaucracy's modus operandi is dead on. The problem Kennedy addresses is also expressed in a heresy called 'angelism,' which holds that the body, in ite very materiality, is evil, or irrestibly inclined to evil, while the immaterial part of the human, the soul, is, conversely, good and inclined to goodness. I don't know whether this heresy has been formally condemned by the Church, but in its official rhetoric, it has been. Yet, this same heresy, which infected the life of the Christian movement, from very early on, has nevertheless, been harbored in numerous ways in the Church's real life. The glorification of celibacy is just one of many instances. The dismissal of a central human reality can not but have serious, pervasive, repercussions. And it is these which Kennedy described. Yes, he did not suggest solutions, but the long-denied or ignored reality of the problem is certainly an essential step in therapy.

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