Trapped in a Closed World is a lived exposé of the poisonous clerical culture dominating life in a typical Catholic seminary in Australia in the 1960s. This endemic culture still exists in some seminaries today.
Told with the tenderness and humour of a memoir, it nonetheless rigorously investigates the extreme beliefs and practices that paved the way for many Catholic priests to sexually abuse those in their care and for the bishops to protect their clergy before victims.
The Catholic beliefs taught in the seminaries date back to medieval times, and have made the Church hierarchical, misogynistic, and exclusive. For the young men training to be Catholic priests, this meant being special, being chosen directly by God to serve the institution of the Holy Mother Church.
The God Kevin Peoples met as a seminarian was not the God he knew and loved and wanted to serve. This is his tale, as he struggles with expectation, faith and common sense. Ignorant and innocent at the time of the sexual abuse affecting the community outside the closed gates of Saint Columba’s, Springwood, and especially in his home diocese, Ballarat, Victoria, Kevin makes up for lost time with this tour de force. It is an insightful memoir of one young man’s personal struggle to break free from a closed world.
Kevin Peoples lives in Melbourne. He is a retired Technical and Further Education (TAFE) teacher and has a Master of Arts Degree in Australian History from the University of Melbourne. As a late vocation to the Catholic priesthood, he returned to complete his secondary education at Chevalier College, Bowral, NSW in 1962. He entered Saint Columba’s Seminary, Springwood in 1964 and left in 1966. He is the author of Santamaria’s Salesman (2012) and From the Top of the Hill (2016).
I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up Kevin's book, but what I found was an intriguing tale of a young man's struggle to reconcile his faith with his church. Kevin takes the reader on a journey through his years at St Columba’s Seminary – why he joined, why he stayed, and why he eventually left. Throughout this journey we visit the Catholic seminary of the time – the expectations placed on these young men by the Catholic laity and those Clerics in power who shaped these young men – and the priests they later became. Kevin frames the recent sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church with this culture that he endured - the same culture that gave rise to some priests who went on to commit heinous crimes against children.
Kevin has researched the current sexual abuse crisis, both in Australia and overseas exceptionally well, and addresses the elements that he faced and sees as contributing to this, including the issues of forced celibacy for priests, priestly power, and the forbidding of forming friendships with other seminary candidates.
While the statistics and tales of abuse are difficult to read and digest, the reader doesn't get too bogged down in this. Instead, we see this time through Kevin's eyes, and follow him as he navigates his vocational struggle. His story is told with elements of humour and his characters are brought to life, giving it the human element that the Church in his story tried so hard to suppress. I was left wanting to know how the story ended for this young man and the men around him, and reflecting on the circumstances that formed the perfect storm within the church that led to the sexual abuse crisis. There is much the Church and seminaries today can learn from this book; but it is also for the general reader who is interested in one man's vocational struggle and how he navigated his seminary days.
- Rachel H.
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