HPS Student Matthew Gummess Presents Paper at the Midwestern American Academy of Religion Regional Conference

Author: Char Brecevic

HPS student Matthew Gummess will be presenting his paper titled "Regime of Fear: The Affective Economy of A Secret World" at the Midwestern American Academy of Religion Regional Conference in Muncie, Indiana. The conference will be held on March 1st and 2nd, 2019. An abstract for his paper is provided below:


The sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church demands analyses that go beyond the polemics that are symptomatic of the crisis itself. Such polemics do not satisfactorily answer serious questions about the relationship between celibacy and the crisis. Psychotherapist and ethnographer A.W. Richard Sipe, on the other hand, has pioneered serious investigation of such questions. His longitudinal study of Latin Rite clergy over the course of some three decades in the latter half of the 20th century famously anticipated the scale of the sexual abuse scandal in the archdiocese of Boston.

Though Sipe did not pose the question of the relationship between celibacy and the crisis in terms of affect, his work represents an incomparable mine of data for anyone seeking to shed light on the question of how celibacy and affect interact. The work of William Reddy, on emotional regimes, and of Sara Ahmed, on affective economies, provide the analytic tools necessary to “read” this source material. At its worst, the emotional regime of the clergy permits and even fosters the kind of affective immaturity that is consonant with abuse of minors; but abuse alone is not so much the substance of the scandal as it is the vast cover-up perpetrated by the Church’s hierarchy. An analysis of the relationship between the Church’s law of celibacy and the emotional regime it engenders for the clergy in general sheds light on the conditions for the cover-up.

I argue, with Sipe, that the disjunction between the public façade of universal adherence to the law of celibacy and a private regime of tolerance for non-celibate behavior issues forth in a climate of considerable fear, which is variously directed: towards the forbidden other, towards the self, and towards discovery. Thus, this emotional regime sets up an affective economy in which the currency of fear is dominant, to the detriment of not only those governed by the emotional regime, but also all those bodies that this fear constitutes as its object, especially female and queer bodies. This affective economy correlates, at the very least, with the preferential treatment of priest abusers and the evident disregard of abuse victims that is the substance of the present scandal.

I suggest, not by way of a definitive conclusion, but rather, as a plausible hypothesis needing further substantiation, that the failure to distinguish, on a practical level, between celibacy as a charism, or special “gift” or “talent” given to some, and celibacy as a law that governs all lies at the root of the crisis. Further work on the relationship between the genuine practice of celibacy and affect will be in the service of making the distinction between the celibacy as charism and as law clearer so that those discerning a calling to the priesthood can make a more informed decision about their own capacity to live celibacy well.