“The Church has been shaped both by a strong presence of homosexual priests and by a very heteronormative discourse”

Maintenance. Celibacy perceived as toxic, sexual violence killed by the Church, condemnation of homosexuality, refusal to ordain women … For several decades, many reasons have been put forward to question the figure of the priest, who does not seem to be a man like the others.

Assistant professor in sociology of religions at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), doctor in political science and gender studies, Josselin Tricou is the author of the book Cassocks and men. Survey on the masculinity of Catholic priests (PUF, 472 pages, 23 euros). He analyzes this construction of an atypical masculinity of the clergy by the Church and its consequences, as much from a historical and sociological point of view as from a political point of view.

How did your thesis project on the masculinity of priests in the Catholic Church, which has just been published, come about?

As a committed actor, I saw the rise in power within Catholicism, from before 2012 and the great mobilizations against “marriage for all”, tensions around gender issues, particularly among Catholic priests.

As a sociologist, I was intrigued by an enigma: the fact that the Catholic Church has set up a gender system that is out of step with that of the societies that encompass it. Indeed, this system does not include two but three genders: the lay man, the lay woman and the cleric. This is what I called in the book the Catholic “shake” of the genre, as we call a voluntary blur in photography.

However, this system is paradoxical. On the one hand, the Catholic Church develops a naturalizing and binary discourse, according to which there is a masculine nature and a feminine nature, with an insurmountable difference between the two, at the basis of the necessary complementarity of the sexes and heterosexuality. obligatory. On the other hand, it sets up an entirely different internal organization. In fact, the masculinity that the Church places at the top of her gender hierarchy, that of priests and religious, is an atypical construction: by making the priest sacred, the Church has made him a separate being, degenerate and desexualized.

If the question of masculinity in the Catholic Church is essential for understanding its doctrine and organization, you note that it has hardly been the subject of in-depth studies by historians or sociologists of Catholicism. Why this unthought?

In our Western societies, masculinity has long been unthinkable because it was the norm. As such, it was omnipresent, evident. This is what feminist researchers of the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated very well, notably Nicole-Claude Mathieu (1937-2014). Moreover, as long as the priests were taken seriously by the population – in particular because they were related to notables – their atypical, degenerate and desexualized masculinity was not suspected and therefore not questioned as such.

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