On the Behaviour of Priests...

A Father of the Society of Jesus, On the Behaviour of Priests towards Women

This 12-page pamphlet constitutes one of the more intriguing titles in the Old Library’s collection. Giving no details regarding publication place, date or authorship, the background of the piece has been tentatively sketched.

No further library records for this publication could be located. The sole concrete reference found relating to this piece is in the Kirby Catalogue, which lists the archives of the Irish College in Rome, and in particular the personal correspondence of the Rector Tomás Kirby.

On 28 May 1891, Kirby received a letter from Rev. Robert Whitty who enclosed two copies of On the Behaviour of Priests towards Women – a delicate and difficult subject. This does not indicate if the sender is the author however. Rev. Robert Whitty was a late convert to the Society of Jesus, but an active one, giving ecclesiastical retreats throughout his later years. Originally from Pouldarrig in Wexford, he spent a good deal of his later years travelling and the above letter is postmarked Fiesole, Italy.

In the same year the Irish College, Paris, received Rev. Martin Whitty CM as professor of moral theology. He remained in office until 1893, retiring on grounds of ill-health despite his young age. These tenuous links between Robert Whitty and Martin Whitty are as yet unsubstantiated, however it is possible Martin invited Robert to give an ecclesiastical retreat during his short tenure as professor.

A Father of the Society of Jesus, On the Behaviour of Priests towards Women

The author is modest in the aims he sets out for this small, but ambitiously-titled, pamphlet. He describes it as a “practical subject”, especially for young ecclesiastics about to embark on their church careers. The author contends that the “subject is far too living (...) shifting and changeable, to admit of being stereotyped in the written words of a dissertation”, but he tries his best anyway. The short piece draws from the teachings of St Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, and St Francis of Assisi. “Human nature remains indeed ever the same, and the principles laid down by the saints remain the same”. Any advice drawn from experience is completely absent. It is indeed summed up in the one word of the Imitation of Christ, “Be not familiar with any woman”.

This pamphlet is a rare “curiosity”; there is only one other known copy in European collections, in the Irish College, Rome.