Richard's Newest Book
Celibacy in Literature And Life
Table of Contents
  1. Foundations of a Celibacy Crisis
  2. Gandhi & Friends: The Sexual/Celibate Twain Meet
  3. Irish American Priests: The Road from Hero to Human
  4. The Radio Priest: Charles E. Coughlin
  5. The Television Priest: Fulton J. Sheen
  6. A Mixed Message: Fulton J. Sheen
  7. The Paperback Priest: Andrew M. Greeley
  8. Double Exposure: Andrew M. Greeley
  9. A Bridge from Autobiography to the Novel: James T. Farrell
  10. Child Abuse in the Old Sod: James Joyce
  11. Father & Fatherhood: Ethel Voynich & Graham Greene
  12. Vocation, Lost & Found: J.F. Powers
  13. Will the Real Priest Please Stand Up: Ignazio Silone


Celibacy is one mode of coming to terms with one's sexuality.  It is hard, however, to get the real story of a person who claims complete and perpetual celibacy.  Autobiographical communications about celibacy are rare and perhaps not completely possible. The potential advantage of a first-hand view of celibacy would be having the celibate person's vision of that relatively rare lifestyle.  Whether the personal witness to celibacy is spoken or written, it is likely to be affected by the inclination to distance the image and ideal of celibacy from the personal self.

An authentic biography of celibacy must fulfill certain criteria that likely include the following.  First, any such narrative should record one's developmental relationship patterns, many of which precede any celibate intention.  Nevertheless, early experiences vitally influence a person's eventual sexual/celibate patterns of adjustment.  Family background, education, ethnic and cultural fixes, character traits, sexual preferences, unique talents, and loves and hates all come into play.  Self-knowledge is fundamental to any successful celibate pursuit.

Second, celibacy is dynamic; it is a process of internalization and actualization of the celibate ideal from intention to achievement.  Celibacy does not ordinarily begin with practice, but with the formation of an image of celibacy, often personified in one person believed to be a practicing celibate.

That step involves the achievement of a degree of self-knowledge - measuring one's own capacity to live with the sexual discipline and deprivation necessary to be celibate.  Having some degree of self-awareness readies a person to proceed further in seeking  knowledge about the process of celibacy and what it involves in realistic terms.

Because celibacy is neither abstract nor extraneous to the individual striving for it, these inevitable steps precede the experimentation and practice of celibacy.  If, in time, celibacy takes personal root, it is often capped by a more or less formal vow.  It is from a stable internal base that celibacy can be said to reach achievement once its integration is woven into the fiber of one's person.  That is when celibacy becomes an integral part of one's sexual self.  Such self-revelation is never simple.

Finally, celibate achievement is accountable and, to a degree, measurable.  "By their fruits you shall know them."  Although celibacy is capable of many faces, it is also capable of wearing many masks.  In all of its variations, permutations, individualizations, frustrations, failures, or perversions, certain qualities measure its authenticity: service, complete self-honesty, awareness of the oneness of the human condition, and the capacity to love.

I have written books on theoretical and practical aspects of religious celibacy.  The previous paragraphs summarize my vision of the essence and process of celibacy through the lenses of my experience, research, teaching and counseling.  The goal of the following chapters is to elucidate further the principles of religious celibacy, first, through the eyes of those who have lived it and given autobiographical testimony and, second, through the visualization of fiction writers.

The essence, process, practice, and achievement of celibacy are best recorded in two my books, A Secret World (1990) or Celibacy in Crisis (2005).

All of the chapters are written against the framework of my understanding of the process of a celibate vocation and are predicated on hte following definition of religious celibacy:

Celibacy is a freely chosen, dynamic state, usually vowed, that involves an honest and sustained attempt to live without direct sexual gratification, in order to serve others, productively, for a spiritual motive.

From the Jacket

Richard Sipe, himself a former monk and priest, has made a lifelong venture of determining the reality and meaning of religious celibacy. Even an adequate operational definition of religious celibacy, he says, has been avoided and denied by Catholic hierarchy and scholars to preserve "the celibate myth." Having spent 25 years conducting a study of celibacy and sexual behavior among Roman Catholic priests, Sipe concluded that at any one time no more than 50 percent of priests are practicing celibacy. To more fully understand what celibacy is, how it is practiced, the effect it has on the humanness—the psychology and spirituality of men and women, and the social effects it presents—Sipe says we can use the approach presented in this book. Specifically, we can analyze historic men who presented themselves or were perceived as living examples of celibacy—Gandhi, Coughlin, Sheen, and Greeley—and also focus on the "most profound" truths of celibacy found in literary accounts, from Joyce and Hawthorne to Farrell and Powers. Psychology, religion, and literary criticism interface and are woven together in this book with minimal jargon. The Serpent and the Dove was written in the hope of exciting honest analysis of the essence of religious celibacy and to foster a recrudescence of authentic sexual vigor with all of its evolutionary potential. "Human sexuality is not going away; nor is it irrelevant to the well-being, progress and happiness of the human community," says Sipe. "And the practice of genuine celibacy is not going to disappear either. No question, the Catholic Church needs profound reformation. But in all my work I have chosen not to throw any babies out with the horrendously dirty 'holy water' the church continues to treasure and disseminate. Here, as in all my work, I try to foster dialogue between religion and science, such as literary criticism. The Catholic Church (and religion) is at a Copernican Moment when it has to cede to science the nature of sexuality." The Serpent and the Dove is one more work among Sipe's many books and articles making the need for that clear.


"An entertaining and vital book. What is particularly gratifying about this work is that it is even-handed, letting readers evaluate their own opinions and attitudes. Many religions have embraced celibacy, in addition to individuals who make personal choices. The issues surrounding celibacy are complex and Richard Sipe is never reductive. He poses problems in a fascinating way, and it is possible to read his book as avidly as the popular novels he describes. He writes engagingly in a prose that speaks to real people. This book is a must read for any person fascinated by what a religious commitment entails."  - Marianne McDonald, Ph.D., Member Royal Irish Academy

Author Information

A.W. RICHARD SIPE is a Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor who earlier spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest. He was trained specifically to deal with the mental health problems of Roman Catholic Priests. In the process of training and therapy, he conducted a 25-year ethnographic study of the celibate/sexual behavior of that population. His study, published in 1990, is now considered a classic. Sipe is known internationally and has participated in 12 documentaries on celibacy and priest sexual abuse aired by HBO, BBC, and other networks in the United States, United Kingdom, and France. He has been widely interviewed by media including CNN, ABC, NBC, CNBC, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, People magazine, Newsweek and USA Today.

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