Book Review: Priesthood Imprisoned: A crisis for the Church. 

Priesthood Imprisoned: A crisis for the Church.

John E Ryan. Australia:
Coventry Press. Pp 130.


The introductory dedication of this intriguingly titled book both sets its tone and gives the reasons for writing it. This arose from the author’s dissatisfaction with the response and explanations accorded to the ‘abuse crisis’.

John Ryan, himself a priest, suggests that by exploring and identifying inherently deeper reasons it may be possible to rectify these explicit defects.

The ultimate goal of this book is to probe what he sees as a systematic dysfunction. Written within an Australian church context, this book’s content is nevertheless universal and especially relevant to our most recent history. The connection goes even deeper if viewed as a continuation from the work of Dr. Marie Keenan who, here in Ireland, has explored the possible causes of child sexual abuse by priests in her book, Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Gender Power and Organisational Culture.

John E Ryan shows a deep knowledge and wide experience of Catholic priesthood. Ordained in 1963 for the Diocese of Sandhurst in Victoria, Australia, he subsequently pursued post-graduate studies in Pastoral Theology in Rome and in Spirituality in St Louis, U.S.A.

He has also worked in the area of counselling. His interest in this area led to him establishing a centre for the care and education of clergy in Australia.

This book comes as a result of a lifetime involvement in the lives of priests.  It is also obviously comes from a place of love – with deep concerned for these human beings in their journey and struggles.

The early part of the book speaks of the reality of priesthood as it is found today. Ryan does not view priesthood from a distance but instead inserts his own journey into the process. Thus we experience an insider’s look and honest appraisal of priesthood that greatly adds to this book’s authenticity and attraction.

I found the book especially enlightening as I identified my own personal journey within the spiritual model of development, and the psychological stages, he puts forward. Rather than ‘the usual’ more academic examination of priesthood, I found it non-judgemental and helpfully reflective.

From my own work with the ACP, I see that we are in desperate need of help. There are so many labour demands accompanied by often unrealistic expectations on the part of all concerned, bishops, priests, laity. There are so many unresolved issues arising from formation, or the lack of it.

From his own observations and experience, Ryan concludes that the vital areas of sexuality and spirituality are not adequately addressed in priestly formation. This leads to the lifelong dilemma faced by priests ….. how do I answer God’s call to love alongside the fear of my own human vulnerability?

I found his template for moving forward inspirational, but demanding moral courage from those in leadership, in allowing the Gospel message and values to be at the heart of leadership. This applies as well to on-going formation and education.

Ryan speaks the language of Pope Francis and as with him he is faced with the same dilemma; how you hope to cure a ‘cancer’ within the confines of the existing system and structures? In our context how do we change, and change we must, if priesthood has any hope of survival.

I am left with great hope having read this book. The conversation has begun and needs to continue.

I recommend this book to all priests and to those wishing to gain an insight into a living rather than a moribund priesthood.

It is provocative, challenging and inspiring. Buy it! Talk about it!

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