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Senior Research Seminar: Dr Maya Mayblin

When Oct 21, 2016
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Seminar Room, Social Anthropology
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Dr Maya Mayblin
(University of Edinburgh)

A Brilliant Jewel: Celibacy and its Malcontents in the Brazilian Catholic Church

Prostration during ordination ceremony (credit: Clemilda De Melo Elias)With Catholic clerical sexual abuse scandals hitting the news and the crisis of vocations worsening each passing year, debates about the pros and cons of mandatory clerical celibacy seem to be at fever pitch. Whether the argument is for a tightening up of discipline, or for a relaxing of the rules (making celibacy optional rather than mandatory), there is widespread alarm at the fact that ranks of vow-breaking clerics exist. The underlying assumption is that vow-breaking priests, some of whom break secular laws as well, constitute a threat to ecclesiastical structure, and pose an imminent threat to the survival of the Church in a religiously competitive and secularising world. Yet the long, ignominious history of clerical celibacy tells a different story. Evidence suggests that priests have been sexually incontinent in significant numbers throughout the centuries and yet – with the exception of a couple of momentous schisms -  clerical sexual incontinence has barely effected the power of the Church. In this talk I focus on the sexual incontinence of one particular generation of Northeast Brazilian priests to exploring its mechanics and banality. It is not the fact that priests break celibacy vows that is interesting here so much as the relative systematicity with which they have done this. Such systematicity, I suggest, points towards an on-going stable-instability at the heart of the Church as an institution; a dynamic which, if better understood, can help to explain the most characteristic (but often overlooked) feature of institutions more generally: their impressive longevity.

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