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The Unhealed Wound:The
Church and Human Sexuality

By Eugene Kennedy
St. Martin’s Press, NY, 2l4 p., $l9.95

Reviewed by Fr. Lou Trivison

Eugene Kennedy

Eugene Kennedy has written a scathing denunciation of “The Unhealed Wound” of the Catholic Church, which he calls its teachings on sexuality that have caused so much grief, guilt and self-hatred in its members down through the centuries.

He summarizes the effects of its teaching by describing how it leads to “good people thinking themselves bad, healthy people thinking themselves sick, and ordinary human beings with more than enough other troubles, uncomfortable with their own humanity.”

Lost in the struggle to meet the Church’s conditions for leading a chaste life were the uplifting and beautiful teachings on the holiness and sacramentality of sexual love in marriage and the reflection of the love of the Trinity made visible and present in the love of husband and wife.

The three current “wounds” that he focuses on are compulsory priestly celibacy, the Church’s teaching on birth control and its insistence on the non-ordination of women.

Throughout the book Kennedy uses the legend and myth of the Grail Kings and the stories of their sexual wounds to parallel the attempts of the institutional Church to ignore or stifle well-meaning efforts to heal the Church’s sexual wounds. At times the analogy seems far-fetched. But the picture he draws of the pain caused by Church teaching on sexuality, especially in the 20th century, is all too true and sadly depressing.

He distinguishes the Church as Institution and the Church as Mystery and shows how the Institution attacks creativity in its members by its authoritarian rejection of new ideas and its silencing of those who propose them. This abuse of power only serves to deepen the wounds that fester in the members of the Body of Christ.

The refusal of Pope Paul VI to accept the proposals of the Birth Control Commission set up by Pope John XXIII led to the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968) and its disastrous results among the world’s theologians and disillusioned laity. Kennedy maintains that its virtual non-reception by so many theologians and a large percentage of the laity are sound indications that the teaching is deeply flawed. To impose it on the grounds of authority alone is no longer theologically valid and only serves to undermine the credibility of the Magisterium.

Kennedy points to a similar lack of reception of the Church’s position on the ordination of women: “It has not been received by a substantial number of Catholics and a great many historians and theologians” (p. 108). The weak arguments against women’s ordination cannot stand the test of biblical scholarship where there is no evidence that Christ thought about his followers, male or female, as priests. “From the New Testament it is apparent that the clear conceptualization of the Christian priesthood came only after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD” (Raymond Brown).

Kennedy shows how both Paul VI and John Paul II have fought to keep mandatory celibacy the norm for the Latin Rite. Apart from the scandals of sexual abuse by clerics that have surfaced for the past twenty-five years, the refusal to make celibacy optional and open the priesthood to married men has resulted in the greatest evil of all, according to Kennedy, namely, denying the sacraments to Catholics. Canon Law specifies that “the bishop is to strive constantly that Christ’s faithful entrusted to his care may grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments…” (Canon 387).

Half the parishes in the world do not have priests, yet the Institutional Church refuses to make celibacy optional as it was for the first l200 years of Christianity. By failing to open the priesthood to all the baptized, men and women, the Church chooses to starve the faith of its members to death by denying them the life-giving gift of the Eucharist. This is treason at the highest level possible.

Kennedy concludes, “If the official Church could admit its own discomfort with sexuality, as inseparable as the blood from the wound, and could take even a small step toward understanding it, the priest shortage would vanish, the sacramental life of the Church as Mystery would be guaranteed and respect for the authority of the Institutional Church would begin to rise immediately.”

This is an honest and courageous book by someone who loves the Church dearly and has served it as a former Maryknoll priest and as professor of psychology at Loyola University. We are privileged to have Eugene Kennedy as our guest speaker at FutureChurch’s annual dinner October 10, 2002.

Save the Date: Thursday, October 10th

Dr. Eugene Kennedy, psychologist
and author to speak on his book: The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality. FutureChurch annual fundraising dinner.
Reservations available in late August.


Spring 2002




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