Donald Cozzens RIP

America Magazine reports:

Remembering Donald Cozzens, the priest who saw the sex abuse crisis coming—and worked to change the priesthood

By Edward P. Hahnenberg

I first met Donald Cozzens on the page. As a doctoral student interested in ministry, I picked up The Changing Face of the Priesthood as soon as a copy arrived at the library and read it that afternoon. At first, I didn’t know what to make of this beautiful book. Here was a seminary rector calling out clerical culture, a former vicar for clergy grieving the betrayal of children—not only by priest perpetrators, but by church structures devoid of accountability. Here was a committed celibate taking up the taboo of sexual orientation, a spiritual director describing an Oedipal conflict between priests and bishops.

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  1. Chris McDonnell says:

    A strong voice in turbulent times
    Donald Cozzens
    17 May 1939-9 December 2021
    Chris McDonnell La Croix December 2021

    We heard this week of the passing of the American priest, teacher and writer, Donald Cozzens. His journey came to a conclusion, a few days back, on December 9th. His has been a significant voice in recent years, always faithful to the Church that was his home yet critical of structures that got in the way of mission. He called out clericalism in no uncertain terms, seeking a more honest vision of priesthood that served the pastoral needs of the people.

    His seminal book “The changing face of the priesthood” was first published some twenty one years ago in 2000. It set the tone for his writing in subsequent years, with “Freeing celibacy” and “Notes from the underground” developing his themes. Needless to say his thoughtful criticism received a mixed response from those to whom it was addressed.

    His central themes sought to help others address the urgent challenges facing the Church and in particular the priestly vocation in the 21st Century. He did so with unswerving courage and charity; for his perceptive writing we owe Don a debt of gratitude.

    Born in 1939, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Cleveland Ohio diocese in 1965. He was to serve as a parish priest for nine years before beginning his teaching career. During the Eighties he taught at the Ursuline College in Cleveland as associate professor of psychology and religious studies until 1989 when he was named as Vicar for clergy and religious in the Cleveland diocese.

    He undertook various diocesan responsibilities concluding in June 2001 with his appointment to the faculty of John Carroll University. There he served as visiting professor of religious studies and writer in residence until his recent retirement.

    I came to know Don through e-mail when I wrote to thank him for writing “Notes from the underground”. It was the start of a correspondence that we maintained over subsequent years. I shared articles and poetry with him to which he always responded with critical encouragement. When his recent novel – The Cardinal’s Assassin – was published he invited me to write one of the cover endorsements of the book which I was more than pleased to do.

    Our friendships and passing acquaintances in this life are many and varied. Living in the UK, I was never able to talk with Don face to face but I valued greatly our written exchanges. His was a singular voice of one crying in the wilderness, ever anxious to prepare the way of the Lord. A quick search of You Tube will offer talks and interviews that offer further insight into the thought of this perceptive, humorous priest who served his Church with prayerful honesty and courage over many years. His books are available through Amazon.

    His death came on December 9th, one day before the anniversary of Thomas Merton’s in 1968. May he now rest in the peace of the Lord in whose service he lived his life as a priest and teacher.

    Funeral service details:
    Friday, December 17th – 3:00pm Vespers service at the Church of the Gesu, 2470 Miramar Blvd in University Heights, followed by calling hours until 6:30pm.
    Saturday, December 18th – 10:30am Mass of the Resurrection at Gesu followed by a reception in the Muldoon Atrium of the Dolan Science Center at John Carroll University.

  2. Paddy Ferry says:

    Donald Cozzens RIP.

    I was genuinely saddened when I read of the death of Fr. Donald Cozzens.

    I have read Freeing Celibacy, The Changing Face of the Priesthood and Notes From the Underground, the latter a present from my friend Fr. Hugh Purcell who sadly has also gone to his eternal reward, in Hugh’s case, well before his time.

    Having read Notes From the Underground, written just before the end of the recent Dark Age in our Church, the age of Wojtyla/Ratzinger, I looked forward to reading his next book after our liberation with the advent of Francis.

    However, I now realise having read Edward Hahnenberg and Chris above there was no follow up to Notes though he would later write novels.

    So, it was lovely to read Edward describe being with Don when Francis, a humble, decent, sensible and unpretentious man, arrived on the world stage that evening on March 13th 2013 on the balcony of St. Peter’s with the simple words ” Buona sera” before jumping onto the minibus back to his digs with the other cardinals who helped elect him. And, before ringing his news agent next morning in Buenos Aires to cancel his paper.

    I actually read Freeing Celibacy before I read The Changing Face of the Priesthood though the latter was published some years before the former. Both are excellent but The Changing Face of the Priesthood is undoubtedly his masterpiece. I have read where is has been described as the modern day masterpiece on the Catholic priesthood. Richard McBrien maintained that what is original about the book is the honesty, competence and balance with which he describes and critically analyses the crisis in today’s priesthood.

    However, before I had read any of his books I was intrigued by an article I read, and I am not sure now if Donald had written it himself or,
    perhaps, someone else had written it about him.

    Anyway, what intrigued me was the fact that this article described how he was one of the first to take a serious interest in and to research the incidence of homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood.

    When he was President/Rector of St. Mary’s seminary in Ohio, one September evening as he observed the new batch of first year seminarians arrive, he realised that many of them were, in fact, young gay men.

    He then shared this observation with fellow seminary rectors in the US who reported a similar trend. And, so, his research began.

    He would later admit to a certain anxiety as he began this reflection on homosexuality and the priesthood. However, he continued.

    Following that first part of his work he concluded that 40%, approximately, of our priests were gay.

    Then following similar research in Europe he concluded that the figure was nearer to 60%. And, I hope I am now remembering this correctly, following similar work by the late Richard Sipe, they concluded that over 70% our our priests in Europe and North America — the US and Canada — are homosexual.

    None of this is a problem for me personally. What I do find a major problem is the fact that our institutional church still insults and denigrates boys and girls and men and women who are homosexual by referring to them as “intrinsically disordered” and “having more or less a strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil”. I was also shocked when I read Fr. James Alison describe how you will find the most bitter homophobes in the priesthood among some of those priests who are themselves gay. I was disturbed to read before the recent AGM of the ACP that some of our bishops at home in Ireland mistreat some of our priests who are homosexual.

    In The Changing Face of the Priesthood, Fr. Cozzens uses all of chapter 2, Guarding One’s Integrity to emphasize the absolute importance of personal integrity. If you haven’t got that you’ve got nothing.

    In Chapter 7, Considering Orientation, in part 3 of the book, he begins by quoting Thomas Merton, “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything” and Cardinal Basil Hume, “To love another, whether of the same sex or a different sex is to have entered the area of the richest human experience”.

    He then explores at some depth the subject under various headings, The Estimates, The Significance, Homosexuality and the Seminary, Throughout the Ages, The Priesthood as a Gay Profession and, finally, Out of the Clerical Closet.

    Donald Cozzens has made a major contribution to our understanding of our Catholic priesthood today.

    God rest him.

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