THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ALTAR: One Man's Life in the Catholic Priesthood

Paul E. Dinter, Author
Paul E. Dinter, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-29966-8
Reviewed on: 03/03/2003
Release date: 03/01/2003
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4299-8476-8
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Back in the 1950s when Dinter was an altar boy, Catholic priests were generally respected and even revered. By 1993, as he prepared to leave active priesthood, a wave of sexual abuse scandals was engulfing the church. From its low-key title and first chapter, a reader might expect Dinter's memoir, though engagingly written, to be merely a personal account of this time of turmoil. To be sure, one of the book's important themes concerns his search for wholeness and connection through his student days and early years as a parish priest, his 15 years as Catholic chaplain at Columbia University, his sabbatical year in Rome and his eventual decision to resign from the priesthood. A parallel theme is equally important and far more provocative: the story of "how the Catholic priesthood's efforts to control the moral terms of debate regarding the proper role of human sexuality have irrevocably collapsed." Dinter's characterization of the lives of many priests is devastating: intense loneliness, "a variety of self-soothing mechanisms" including solo drinking and sexual acting out, loyalty to the priestly brotherhood rather than to parishioners. Especially damning is the chapter on the Vatican ("The Men's Club on the Tiber"), with its "self-confirmatory culture" and obsession with power. Now happily married with two stepdaughters, Dinter has this advice for church leaders: "Holy fathers! Get back to the drawing board and study nature's God-given designs before you pronounce so firmly about what you do not know and have not even begun to ask women about." (Mar.)

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