An Interview with Adam A. J. DeVille, editor of “Married Priests in the Catholic Church”

Adam A. J. DeVille, associate professor of theology and director of humanities at the University of Saint Francis, is the author and editor of numerous books, including Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power and Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011). He sat down with us to discuss Married Priests in the Catholic Church (April 2021).

When did you first get the idea to work on this book? 

At the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Chicago in 2012, after a panel I was on devoted to the topic of married Catholic priests. I met with other scholars from around the world and we agreed to publish the AAR papers in a book under my editorship along with the papers of another conference in Rome on the same topic. The book grew from there to include other chapters I later solicited at the recommendation of UNDP’s invaluable peer reviewers. 

How does this book contribute to contemporary conversations or events?

Every year there are at least several articles in various media about whether the Latin/Roman Church in the West (for Eastern Catholics already allow married priests) will change its position on clerical celibacy. That topic has been regularly debated since at least the late 1960s. This book contributes to an ongoing discussion by showing that the idea of change is not a simple one, will not solve the problems in the Church many blithely assume, and will bring new challenges to the Latin Church. 

The book thus attempts to inject a note of realism into these discussions, which are too often mired in a kind of fatuous idealism on both sides.

What did you learn while working in this book?

That any responsible view of married clergy must avoid the twin pitfalls of romanticizing or demonizing either celibacy or marriage. Both have strengths; both bring serious challenges. 

In what way is the book you published different from the book you planned?

Its focus is much wider and more diverse! That is, the original book only looked at married Catholic clergy and their experiences; but the UNDP peer reviewers—whom I cannot thank enough on precisely this point—recommended I include the voices of Eastern Orthodox clergy as well as former Anglican clergy who became Catholic priests in the various ordinariates worldwide. That recommendation made for a much richer book. 

Who is the biggest influence on you and your work?

I would not rank these, as they are intertwined in my mind, so let me just say: the Eastern theological tradition (patristic and modern); Freud and the psychoanalytic tradition after him, especially in Britain; and the great philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. 

What is your editing and writing schedule like?

Schedule?! What is a schedule? I teach full-time, have four kids, supervise an academic division of a dozen faculty, write grants, run two blogs, and now do clinical work part-time. Long-form writing for books is a luxury I only have time for in the summers and on sabbatical. In fact, the finishing touches to this book on married priests were put in place on my sabbatical in 2018-2019. 

What advice would you give to a writer who wants to start a book?

  • Writing = rewriting = rewriting. Never, ever, publish the first thing that pops into your head. Sleep on it. I have often regretted things I said, but never once regretted keeping silent.
  • You are never your own best editor. Get someone else to do that who will be utterly ruthless with you—or, better still, ruthless and gracious, as Stephen Little and others at UNDP have been with me!
  • Do not fall into the trap of self-publishing. Peer-review by an academic press like UNDP is an enormously under-valued grace and gift you must be willing to receive. 
  • Writing is an ascetical exercise whose patron saint is John the Baptist: you must decrease your word-count while increasing the felicity and economy of expression!

Who would you like to read Married Priests in the Catholic Church and why?

Anyone and everyone in the Catholic world who has wondered about the questions of married and celibate priests. Others, especially Anglican and Orthodox Christians, will also benefit from hearing their voices in this book and seeing how their gifts are lived within the Catholic communion. 

What book are you working on next?

“Theology After Freud” is its tentative working title though that will probably change, as indeed the shape of the book has in two years. Right now it’s a bit of an omnium gatherum, pulling together more classically “academic” chapters in which, e.g., I do a close critical reading of Freud’s The Future of an Illusion and Beyond the Pleasure Principle (his two books where, contrary to all the rot that Christians have talked about them, he is most valuable to theology and has the most in common with Christian thought); look at more contemporary psychoanalytic thought, especially in the so-called British Middle/Independent school (Winnicott, Coltart, Klein, Bollas, Fairbairn et al.), where there is a strong streak of apophaticism; and then I will probably present some essays and case studies from my clinical work.

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