Needs of the Heart traces five centuries of conflict and change in the life of the clergy in Brazil, home to the world's largest and arguably the most dynamic branch of the Roman Catholic Church. Serbin examines how priests participated in the colonization of Brazil, educated the elite and poor in the faith, propped up the socioeconomic status quo, and reinforced the institution of slavery, all the while living in relative freedom from church authority. Earthy men, many flouted the rule of celibacy and became embroiled in politics.
Serbin also describes the conservative modernization of the clergy, effected through seminary education, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Emphasizing discipline, the seminaries aimed to mold a new kind of priest—moral, isolated from politics and social entanglements, and, above all, obedient and celibate. However, the social, cultural, and religious upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s led students to reject the seminary. Seminarians worked to form a national union, and many left seminaries to establish greater contact with the people. The seminarians' movement sparked the practice of liberation theology; it also reflected the quest for professional and individual development, including optional celibacy. The Church responded to its seminarians' demands for personalized education by attempting to build an ambitious program in liberation psychology, a phenomenon as important as liberation theology.
"In Needs of the Heart, Kenneth P. Serbin examines the rise and crisis of a model of priestly vocation that was not 'traditional' but rather a new discipline, institutionalized in the mid-nineteenth century. Its intimate, splendidly documented analysis of men's responses to that model can give us a constructive perspective on the coverups of sexual misconduct within the American clergy. Needs of the Heart is also an extraordinary history of the Sixties in Latin America. The countercultural and experimental movements within Brazil's seminaries, ranging from psychoanalysis to 'living alongside the people,' offer us a touchstone for judging the promise and contradictions in the post-1945 Christian quest for individual fulfillment and social justice." —Dain Borges, University of Chicago
“Kenneth Serbin’s Needs of the Heart, extraordinary in its breadth, depth, and compelling analysis, unveils the triumphs and tragedies of Brazil’s priests and the seminaries that formed them. The current world-wide tensions and scandals engulfing the priesthood are reflected in this study—a study that needs to be replicated throughout the Catholic world.” —Donald Cozzens, John Carroll University, author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood