The construction of masculinity by the seminarians of the Roman Catholic Church: “a South African study”
Khwepe, Nontsokile Maria Emmanuela.
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Masculinity has been a topic of interest for many academic institutions in the last few decades. For the Roman Catholic Church, the topic of masculinity comes with a particular complication. Candidates for Roman Catholic priesthood are trained within hierarchical structures that are inescapably masculine, whether these are the structure of the Church itself or the structure of the lay society within which the Church exists or through which it is sustained. The study found, particularly in its discussion of seminarians and priests, that gender, power, the status of priesthood and organisational culture emerge as problematic in seminarians’ construction of masculinity. This study aimed to explore how the seminarians of the Roman Catholic Church construct masculinity and how their construction has impacted on their perception of the Roman Catholic priesthood and vice versa, with particular reference to priestly celibacy. Participants between the ages of 22 and 33 were interviewed, all of which were candidates for priesthood at the St. Joseph’s Theological Institute at Cedara. The study was positioned within two theoretical frameworks: social construction theory and the gender theory of priesthood. The study employed a qualitative research methodology to broadly explore seminarians’ construction of masculinity and the impact of this in their living of priestly masculinity. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the interview data. The interviews were conducted among ten seminarians to investigate their position in relation to their construction of priestly masculinity and its challenges, while negotiating the construction of masculinity and priesthood. The findings indicate that masculinity construction and priesthood is complex, multiple and changing. It was evident that some of the seminarians’ descriptions of priestly masculinity point to an adherence to traditional and cultural practices. Their descriptions can be understood as constituting a discourse of priests drawing on dominant, hierarchical and patriarchal masculinities which Connell’s (1987; 1995) hegemonic masculinity refers to as a privileged, vi powerful and aggressive masculinity. On the other hand, priesthood masculinity is also constructed as patient, strong, serving, and enduring and sacrificing, which are also regarded as the characteristics of a “real man”. In this regard, for some seminarians to be a man and to be a priest cannot be different from one another since masculinity is seen as a prerequisite for priesthood masculinity and vice versa. This study calls for seminarians and priests to engage meaningfully in the transformation of gender discourses in the Catholic Church and the formation of seminarians in particular. The study calls for the authority of the Church to challenge the structurally privileged status occupied by priests in the Church. In this view, it calls on priests and seminarians to be more involved in an alternative construction of masculinity, which is more consistent with the religious values and commitment of their vocation.