Book Notes

USF Graduate and Professor Opens Window to Priesthood With New Book About Celibacy

Sonny ManuelFr. Manuel is director of the St. Ignatius Institute at USF. A licensed psychologist, he is a past chair and current member of the Sensitive Incidents Team, a committee that presides over sexual misconduct cases for the California Province of the Jesuits.

Sonny Manuel, S.J., ’71 celebrated a homecoming at USF, returning in 2011 as a faculty member teaching psychology. USF Magazine asked him about his time here and his new book, “Living Celibacy: Healthy Pathways for Priests.”

What was it about your time at USF that inspired you to become a Jesuit?

As a student during the protests against the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights, USF taught me that the most compelling reality was human suffering. Jesuit religious life seemed to me to be an invitation to engage suffering and, through a faith that does justice, to live in the hope of positive change.

Why did you write a book about celibacy?

I wrote the book for two reasons. First, I wanted to explain how living a celibate life can be healthy and fulfilling. This book does that by highlighting the stories of priests who live celibate lives with integrity. Second, I wanted to address the misconception among some members of the public that celibacy is at the root of the clergy sexual misconduct crisis.

My experience of priests and celibacy is much broader than the clergy sexual abuse cases. I don’t deny the reality, the painful reality at that, of clergy sexual abuse, but there are also many positive stories about what it has been like for clergy to live celibacy with integrity over many years. 

I thought that story was getting lost and I wanted to tell it in a way that was real, accessible, and personal.

Are priests the primary audience for the book?

I wrote the book for priests, initially. But it is also a book for lay people who want to understand the priesthood more deeply and to see how this life is possible and graced; and, really, life-affirming, life-enhancing, and positive. Lay people who have read the book tell me it helped them understand their own sexuality.

Why is the vow of celibacy so essential to the priesthood?

Celibacy is meant to enhance and grow a priest’s interpersonal relationships in intimacy, depth, breadth, and number. But that doesn’t happen automatically. Just as sex in a marriage doesn’t guarantee intimacy, the fact that you’re celibate doesn’t guarantee that you are going to experience deeply felt, broad, and inclusive love. A priest must work day by day to achieve a broader love, whether it is with parishioners, with those who come to him for counsel, or with those he ministers to. It’s a lifelong process.

Is celibate love fundamentally different from love that is expressed sexually?

In the book I try to explain how they have much in common. If we believe that God’s basic hope for everyone is to love and be loved, then what every person has to figure out is how and where they can love and be loved. For some folks, that’s in a marriage; for others, that’s in the context of a family; for some, it might be serving their country in a way that requires that they remain single; and for a priest, it would be living celibately to serve God and the people of God.

What do you hope the reader takes away from your book?

I hope readers take away a better understanding of their relationships with friends, the role of love in their lives, how and when they connect with God, and more. To foster this, throughout the book I try to engage readers by posing reflective questions about their own lives for them to prayerfully consider and discern. 

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