Healing, Secrecy, and Jesuit Priesthood

Project Description

This project will focus on the case of the Rev. John J. Powell, S.J. (1925–2009), a sexually abusive priest-professor from Loyola University of Chicago. This essay will explore the historical, institutional, and religious conditions of Powell’s abuse and the Jesuits’ responses to it. In particular, it will situate Powell’s abuse in the mid- to late 20th century U.S. Catholic milieux and in the context of his career as a successful self-help author, popular professor, and retreat leader. The project will use Powell’s case to consider the relationship of sexual abuse and cover-up to the use of priesthood as a part of U.S. Jesuit institutional identity. It will focus specifically on the attraction and risk associated with the idea of Jesuit priests as healers and as privileged masters and guardians of secrets.

John J. Powell SJ

John J. Powell, S.J.

Principal Investigator

John Seitz

John C. Seitz is associate professor in the Department of Theology and associate director for the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University. His research focuses on the historical and ethnographic study of U.S. Catholics and on theoretical questions in the study of religion. Recent projects consider devotional objects and images of priests in World War II, life in Roman Catholic seminaries in the 1960s, and ethnography and psychoanalysis in the study of religion; his current book-length project considers the history of priesthood in the U.S. His work has appeared in Material Religion, Church History, American Catholic Studies, U.S. Catholic Historian, and Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, among others. An edited (with Christine Firer Hinze) volume, Working Alternatives: American and Catholic Experiments in Work and Economy, is forthcoming. His book No Closure: Catholic Practice and Boston’s Parish Shutdowns, came out in 2011.

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