Reproducing celibacy: A case study in diocesan seminary formation

Paul Stanosz, Fordham University


This study examines the social processes and practices through which Roman Catholic seminaries train priesthood candidates to live lives of celibacy as diocesan priests. Seminary “formation” is a particularly intense form of professional socialization that attends to all aspects of seminarians' lives, including their affective maturity and sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A case study was conducted at a small U.S. seminary using semi-structured interviews with ten seminarians, seven faculty members, the diocese's bishop, and on-site observation over the course of one semester. Commitment to celibacy, to the role of priest, and to the Roman Catholic Church was developed especially through the requirement that seminarians live together on campus. This allowed their daily lives to be highly organized by a schedule of prayer, classes, meals, and recreation. Students were also subject to the close scrutiny of the priest faculty members with whom they lived. Together faculty and students constructed a subculture and ethos where celibacy was seen as the hallmark of a life completely dedicated to God and ministry. In their interviews, seminarians viewed celibacy as enhancing the priesthood by making them more available to the laity they would one day serve in parishes. Faculty members were less inclined than the seminarians to praise celibacy and to imbue the practice with various theological meanings. The data suggests that those seminarians who continue in the seminary to ordination enjoy the seminary's structured life and the support of their peers. However, the data raises questions regarding whether the identities formed in the seminary will endure after ordination when seminarians are no longer living with their peers, scrutinized by the faculty, or immersed in the seminary's religiously-saturated subculture.

Subject Area

Clergy|Theology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Stanosz, Paul, "Reproducing celibacy: A case study in diocesan seminary formation" (2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3140903.