Gender and the priest

Formerly a closet for homosexuals, today overtaken by pedophilia scandals, the Catholic Church is trying to restore a veneer of virility to its religious personnel, thus sacrificing gender politics.

Why the hell and how to do a sociology of priestly masculinity in France today? Catholic priests are fewer and fewer in number and they form an aging group (see box). However, far from being anecdotal or folkloric, Josselin Tricou's dense work, taken from a doctoral thesis in sociology that he defended in June 2020 at the University of Paris 8, shows us what an approach through gender studies of religious phenomena can provide. He does this by combining original and unpublished field data in a truly innovative way, a detailed knowledge of the religious field and a proposal for interpretation sensitive to social classes, which is rare in contemporary Catholic studies.

Catholic priests in France (figures taken from the work of J. Tricou)

Number of priests (excluding religious) in France:

in 1965: 40,994.

in 2012: 13,331.

median age of priests (2012): 75 years old.

Geographic origin: One priest in 10 practicing in France is foreign, most often from a country on the African continent (1048 out of 1689 foreign priests).

Foreign priests mainly exercise their ministry in rural parishes with the lowest economic level.

Rules for the ordination of Catholic ministers

Only single men (thus not having the right to have sexual relations) can be ordained priests.

Since Vatican 2 (1962-1965), married men can be ordained permanent deacons and have the right to celebrate baptisms. But this cannot lead to the priesthood of the order in its fullness nor to the episcopate.

Women are excluded from the permanent diaconate, the presbytrate and the episcopacy. Catholics who participate in or engage in female ordinations are immediately excommunicated.

Since a instruction Roman of 2005, candidates for the priesthood who are homosexual or supporting gay culture are prohibited from ordination.

L symbolic masculation Catholic priests

Even if recent work seeks to renew the field in an unprecedented way (see for further), sociology had not neglected in its work canonical to look at the figure of the priest. The latter could be described as endowed with a functional charisma (Max Weber) or agent of a priestly body having a monopoly on the goods of salvation (Pierre Bourdieu). But these approaches to the discipline only very secondarily address social gender relations. According to Josselin Tricou, the priest is often understood, in a Catholic context, through a catholic gauze (p. 53) as feminists speak of male gauze a filter that desexualizes the body and desire. And this halo was able to penetrate secular sociological work. The seminar or the specific cloakroom of the priest are seen more as means of acquiring a habitus than a component of gender identity.

However, for the sociologist, it is necessary to establish a socio-history which constantly confronts questions of masculinity and sexuality. In the long history of Christianity, it was only gradually, from the Gregorian Reformation (XIe century) to XIXe century where the figure of heart of Ars is overlooking, passing through the important moment of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which imposes itself priestly ideal which can even be seen as a real genre project (p. 82). This model says sulpician, we still know it today: the priest is a celibate, able to wear a different outfit in the street or in mass and a man of piety whose central activity is the celebration of the sacraments. Nevertheless, the two world conflicts and the fact that they place the priest in the middle of the realities of other men as well as the breakthrough of a Catholic theme of social commitment at the time of Vatican 2 (1962-1965) have led to the evolution, in the contemporary era, of this priestly norm which gradually enters into crisis.

For Josselin Tricou, the Catholic priesthood has become for several decades a bug like this (p. 34), movement as they say of a photograph: a disorder which pushes the priests themselves to invest and perform their gender identity. The distinction of the Catholic priest from other types of masculinity, initially desired by the institution, is thus confronted with a form of social downgrading. In the first part of his work, the author sets out to describe this symbolic masculation (p. 96), it passes through cinematographic representations (chap. 1) or through suspicions linked to the extent of the revelations concerning sexual violence (which are specifically the subject of the epilogue).

Contemporary changes in priestly closet

If the status of the priest is less enviable than in the past, what materializes without appeal vocations crisis of Western countries, does this mean that only those who remain have a particular interest in being there, notably Catholic homosexuals?? The author recalls that the clergy, by strongly valuing celibacy as a particular path to accomplishment, has in fact constituted itself over the long term as what it itself calls a closet. This reality has been reinforced since the 1970s, with mass departures and the narrowing of vocations to more privileged social environments, those where marriage remains highly valued and offers little escape for homosexual boys.

Not without paradox, the institution presents itself as defending the complementarity of the sexes and the universal vocation of heterosexuality, but has institutionalized two very contradictory models of masculinity: that of the married layman comforted by an order naturaland that of the priest called to celibacy by a force supernatural. Managing this tension cannot be done without internal control policies to prevent the system from breaking down at a time when social tolerance towards homosexuality is growing:

The fight against gender-theory, beyond the moral enterprise and the remobilization of one of the demographic bases of Catholicism in a context of minoritization (sic), would therefore also be a matter of ecclesiology: it would be a real closet policy which would have the internal aim of silencing the proposed homosexual priests of their sexual preferences by making the issue extremely sensitive to the faithful. Better, its aim would be to silence them and perhaps above all that publicizing them would reveal, beyond the sexual preferences of each person, the secret about this secret, that is to say the general silencing (sic) with regard to homosexuality, particularly, and that of sexuality, more generally, within the clergy (p. 267-268).

Josselin Tricou therefore invites us to look beyond the conservatism/progressive ideological confrontation of recent mobilizations like the Manif pour tous, but as real internal social dynamics linked to the internal contradictions of a religious group placed with discomfort in secular modernity.

Gender policies for virilize the priests

Starting from a usual typology in Catholic social sciences (see the work of Philippe Portier or Yann Raison du Cleuziou), Josselin Tricou wants to bring to light within the identity catholicism two big ones gender regimes:

THE communities charismatic (inspired by North American evangelism), like Emmanuel or Chemin Neuf, developed a so-called gender regime spousalreflecting a nuptial symbolism, strongly anchored in the teaching of John Paul II. The priest, the image of Christ, is there church lice which must be implicitly submitted to him: these communities put forward and at the center of their cosmogony the image of a traditional couple (faithful and procreative) but modernized by the integration of expressive culture, a negotiated balance between intra and extra-family investment, and the promotion of a certain equality between women and men. man, but with respect for the complementarity (pg. 284)

THE communities restitutionists (who aspire to rediscover an ancient order) type Saint-Jean or Saint-Martin rather develop a nosacerdotal gender regime. They have largely reinvested the idealized image of the good priest of XIXe century which rests the priest, no longer equality but above the laity And is achieved in practice within these communities by a resacerdotalization of the cleric, or by the return of his priestly attributes: the cassock, the parting, etc. (pg. 286)

Within these two regimes, the sociologist identifies three methods of revalorization of the clerical masculine which would form a masculinist front converging with contemporary movements which contest female emancipation: 1) the establishment of virile seminars which contest overly intellectual masculinities and draw on the codes of European scouts or military socialization places (chap. 4); 2) the emergence of the priest masculinity expert who accompany men in single-sex training courses such as Optimum camps (chap. 5); 3) the promotion by priests, particularly via digital tools, of managerial skills to reaffirm their authority, particularly in the political field (chap. 6).

Position and reception of complex work

We can only salute the author's efforts to approach with theoretical background a subject which is far from obvious, especially when we recall that the doctoral investigation was carried out in a Catholic context strongly polarized by the debates around the marriage for all.

The author does this by explicitly assuming the ethics of point of view feminist and queer studies, rarely put into practice in French social sciences and even less when they approach Catholicism. Josselin Tricou does not hide his past as a former religious (not ordained priest) and recognizes that this constituted an advantage for perceive alternative masculinities the naturalized vision of gender promoted by the Vatican (p. 53). The sociologist also admits that his passing both heterosexual and homosexual (idem) the work shows how he was the subject of advances from clerics during his investigation which benefited him.

The ethnographer develops an imposing reflective work: how to produce such a work without settling scores? Neither denouncenot without a search for sensationalism or a scent of scandal, like certain recent documentary productions: the work Sodoma by F. Martel (Laffont, 2019) or the documentary Amores Santos (2016) by D. Giovannini, which may be based on outings and freelancers movies? In Cassocks and men, the first elements of reception of the research by the respondents for example, the reactions aroused by the first presentations of the researcher at the conferences, the messages received, etc. become supports for deepening methods and concepts.

On this last point, the author is perhaps trying to protect himself too much, sometimes even if it means piling on theoretical concepts, the jargon of queer studies (anomaly, normal, queerization), if not the wild and assumed uses of the familiar lexicon of the priests (crazy about the sacristy, pseudo, mole). If the reception of the work in a Catholic context may have suffered from this, it perhaps also reveals the embarrassment that the questioning of gender continues to cause as the priesthood is the traditional pivot of the Catholic gender system (p. 18). We can however hope that the work of Josselin Tricou will irrigate the religious sciences themselves since, in the Catholic Church according to the Sauv report, the dismay of the priests seems great. The researcher, now an assistant professor at the University of Lausanne, himself seems to doubt it, at least for France: in Switzerland, bishops speak with me to talk about my research, I am even invited to present them within the formation of seminarians. In France () silence predominates. Is the saying of the Gospels valid for the sociologist of the priesthood: no one is a prophet in his country (Lk, 4, 24)?