Priests: A Calling in Crisis

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Overview


For several years now, the Roman Catholic Church and the institution of the priesthood itself have been at the center of a firestorm of controversy. While many of the criticisms lodged against the recent actions of the Church—and a small number of its priests—are justified, the majority of these criticisms are not. Hyperbolic and misleading coverage of recent scandals has created a public image of American priests that bears little relation to reality, and Andrew Greeley's Priests skewers this image with a systematic inside look at American priests today.

No stranger to controversy himself, Greeley here challenges those analysts and the media who parrot them in placing the blame for recent Church scandals on the mandate of celibacy or a clerical culture that supports homosexuality. Drawing upon reliable national survey samples of priests, Greeley demolishes current stereotypes about the percentage of homosexual priests, the level of personal and professional happiness among priests, the role of celibacy in their lives, and many other issues. His findings are more than surprising: they reveal, among other things, that priests report higher levels of personal and professional satisfaction than doctors, lawyers, or faculty members; that they would overwhelmingly choose to become priests again; and that younger priests are far more conservative than their older brethren.

While the picture Greeley paints should radically reorient the public perception of priests, he does not hesitate to criticize the Church's significant shortcomings. Most priests, for example, do not think the sexual abuse problems are serious, and they do not think that poor preaching or liturgy is a problem, though the laity give them very low marks on their ministerial skills. Priests do not listen to the laity, bishops do not listen to priests, and the Vatican does not listen to any of them. With Greeley's statistical evidence and provocative recommendations for change—including a national "Priest Corps" that would offer young men a limited term of service in the Church—Priests offers a new vision for American Catholics, one based on real problems and solutions rather than on images of a depraved, immature, and frustrated priesthood.

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Editorial Reviews

National Catholic Reporter
The prophetic outcry of a public intellectual who wants to weigh in on the significance of the scandal with empirically based interpretations of its impact for the future. . . . Greeley's summary is sobering. . . . Priests dares to address the disappointing state of ministry in the church today. It disposes of some oft-repeated judgments on priests concerning celibacy, homosexuality and priests' morale. . . . These are hard days, and his agenda of sorting out the social meaning of priesthood in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis may be the kind of rough talk that will wake up some readers and empower others.

— Paul Philibert

Catholic Register
[Greeley] does an admirable job of establishing a scientifically verifiable view of the priests of the United States today, one that is not drawn from anecdotal evidence or personal opinion. . . . Greeley does an admirable job of what he set out to do—to give anyone who is willing to listen objective data from which to discern the appropriate responses and actions regarding the future of priestly ministry in the United States.

— Dan Danielson

Catholic Library World
In this slim, but forcefully argued volume . . . Greeley examines current cultural perceptions of the institution of the priesthood and those who pursue it as a vocation. It is not a pretty picture. . . . No one will ever accuse Professor Greeley of being less than blunt. And that is all to the good. This is a worthwhile study that is carefully articulated and methodologically rigorous. It should be required reading for all formators in seminaries and will be extremely useful for anyone intersted in the present state of the ministry.

— Patrick J. Hayes

Booklist

“The mixture of humility and arrogance that is part of Greeley’s appeal surfaces here when, referring to his sociological studies, Greeley says they are usually ‘not very good’ but ‘the best there is on the subject’ because no one else is doing what he does. He dismisses psychologists’ studies of the priesthood, suggesting that psychological methods are inferior to sociological methods as bases for global interpretation. He dismisses former priests’ and non-Catholic’s studies, suggesting that they are biased (his are ‘empirical’). Be that as it may, the data underlying this book depict the Roman Catholic clergy as representative of the population as a whole. Priests are relatively satisfied in their work and no more or less sexually mature and self-fulfilled than other men. The greatest problem facing the priesthood, which Greeley locates in the institutional structure of the church, is disconnection from the concerns of the laity. In the end, he advises, ‘Clergy at all levels from the pope to the lowliest parish curate must be quiet and listen. And listen. And listen.’”
America
As a polemicist, Greeley has no peer. . . . Greeley demolishes the claims of other self-styled experts . . . that the crisis of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, which inevitably looms large in these pages, is a result of compulsory celibacy and/or a disproportionate number of homosexuals in the priesthood.”

— John Jay Hughes

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In "Priests: A Calling in Crisis," Andrew M. Greeley, one of the best-known priests in America, takes up the cause of men like Tom Doyle — men who do a tough job in difficult circumstances. A sociologist, Greeley examines the abuse crisis through the prism of statistics. He concludes that most priests like their work. Celibacy is not a burden to most of them. Dissatisfaction comes in not being appreciated, either by their bishops or a public that now views too many of them with suspicion. Father Greeley deals bluntly with questions about the "gay subculture" within the priesthood, the church's inability to deal with questions of sex and the culpability of bishops in the abuse crisis. Yet for most priests, he says, these questions are tangential. They're working too hard trying to save souls. This dense, number-laden book adds an important empirical perspective to discussions of the abuse crisis and should be of comfort to worried Catholics and the men who minister to them.”

— Kevin Horrigan

Conscience

“A robust and objective examination of the true state of the priesthood in America, with Greeley’s trademark sociological analysis as a centerpiece.”
Contexts
This book represents Andrew Greeley in vintage form as an agent provocateur within both Catholicism and sociology.”

— Jay Demerath

Theological Studies
The book should be required reading in every seminary course on priesthood.”

— C.J.T. Talar

National Catholic Reporter - Paul Philibert

"The prophetic outcry of a public intellectual who wants to weigh in on the significance of the scandal with empirically based interpretations of its impact for the future. . . . Greeley's summary is sobering. . . . Priests dares to address the disappointing state of ministry in the church today. It disposes of some oft-repeated judgments on priests concerning celibacy, homosexuality and priests' morale. . . . These are hard days, and his agenda of sorting out the social meaning of priesthood in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis may be the kind of rough talk that will wake up some readers and empower others."
Catholic Register - Dan Danielson

"[Greeley] does an admirable job of establishing a scientifically verifiable view of the priests of the United States today, one that is not drawn from anecdotal evidence or personal opinion. . . . Greeley does an admirable job of what he set out to do—to give anyone who is willing to listen objective data from which to discern the appropriate responses and actions regarding the future of priestly ministry in the United States."
Catholic Library World - Patrick J. Hayes

"In this slim, but forcefully argued volume . . . Greeley examines current cultural perceptions of the institution of the priesthood and those who pursue it as a vocation. It is not a pretty picture. . . . No one will ever accuse Professor Greeley of being less than blunt. And that is all to the good. This is a worthwhile study that is carefully articulated and methodologically rigorous. It should be required reading for all formators in seminaries and will be extremely useful for anyone intersted in the present state of the ministry."
America - John Jay Hughes

“As a polemicist, Greeley has no peer. . . . Greeley demolishes the claims of other self-styled experts . . . that the crisis of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, which inevitably looms large in these pages, is a result of compulsory celibacy and/or a disproportionate number of homosexuals in the priesthood.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Kevin Horrigan

“In "Priests: A Calling in Crisis," Andrew M. Greeley, one of the best-known priests in America, takes up the cause of men like Tom Doyle -- men who do a tough job in difficult circumstances. A sociologist, Greeley examines the abuse crisis through the prism of statistics. He concludes that most priests like their work. Celibacy is not a burden to most of them. Dissatisfaction comes in not being appreciated, either by their bishops or a public that now views too many of them with suspicion. Father Greeley deals bluntly with questions about the "gay subculture" within the priesthood, the church's inability to deal with questions of sex and the culpability of bishops in the abuse crisis. Yet for most priests, he says, these questions are tangential. They're working too hard trying to save souls. This dense, number-laden book adds an important empirical perspective to discussions of the abuse crisis and should be of comfort to worried Catholics and the men who minister to them.”
Contexts - Jay Demerath

“This book represents Andrew Greeley in vintage form as an agent provocateur within both Catholicism and sociology.”
Theological Studies - C.J.T. Talar

“The book should be required reading in every seminary course on priesthood.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226306452
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 156
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author


A prolific author of fiction and nonfiction, Andrew Greeley is on the staff of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and professor of social science at the University of Arizona. His nonfiction books include Confessions of a Parish Priest, Religious Change in America, The Catholic Imagination, and The Catholic Revolution.
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Read an Excerpt

Priests

A Calling in Crisis
By Andrew M. Greeley

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2005 Andrew M. Greeley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226306453


Chapter One


Policy Implications

It is expected of someone who writes about a social problem that he make policy recommendations for dealing with the problem. I will respond to this expectation, so long as it is understood that my recommendations are my own reflections on the data and do not flow logically from the data. Also, I want it understood that I do not deceive myself that anyone-priest, bishop, curialist-will take them seriously.


Homosexual Priests

There is nothing in this book that justifies the hysteria among some Catholics on the subject of homosexual priests. Nor is there anything that will persuade the Vatican that homosexuals should not be banned from seminaries and the priesthood. The fury of the homophobia in the Church will not yield to data. It would be a wise policy for church leaders to tone down the hysteria and leave homosexual priests alone, so long as they avoid the gay "scene" and the gay "lifestyle." Yet perhaps priests who are homosexual should avoid blatant manifestations of homosexual friendship groups, which create the impression of homosexual subcultures. On the other hand, they are entitled to have friends who share similar problems.


Celibacy

Patently, most men who leave the priesthood do not leave because of celibacy. They must also dislike the work of the priest to the extent that they say they would not choose again to be a priest. Despite the happiness and maturity of most celibate priests, few of them are willing to speak out in its defense. Hence there is little resistance to the constant propaganda that celibates are inadequate human beings and that celibacy causes child abuse. The proper response to these attacks would have to come from priests themselves and especially from the organized priest groups such as the National Federation of Priests' Councils. Yet these groups are committed to the abolition of the celibacy rule and apparently think that to defend celibacy would be to insult those who have left the active ministry. If priests are unwilling to defend their collective reputation, then there is no reason to think that anyone else will.


Vocations to the Priesthood

There seems to be broad agreement among priests that the ordination of married men is the only solution for the shortage of priests. There is no evidence to support this confidence, nothing to prove that there are thousands of married men who would be qualified to be priests if only they could bring their wives along. Indeed, one must wonder about the man who is ready to bring his wife and children into such a dysfunctional institution as the Catholic Church in the United States is today. Moreover, is it really true that celibacy is what is keeping young men away from seminaries? Everyone seems to believe that this is true, so there is no ground for seeking proof. Yet, in principle, another explanation might be possible. Perhaps young men are not seeking out the priesthood because no one is trying to recruit them.

In the Knights of Columbus study of Catholic young people made in the late 1970s, my colleagues and I discovered that nine out of ten of our male respondents who expressed some interest in the priesthood had never been approached by any priest on the subject. If only a small proportion of those young men had become priests, there would be no priest shortage today. But why, if priests are so happy and so satisfied in the priesthood, if celibacy is not a serious problem for most of them, and if even those who would like to marry remain in the priesthood because they like it even more than they think they would like marriage, are priests so reluctant to engage in vocational recruiting?

The answer to that question, it appears to me, is to be found in a problem that social scientists call pluralistic ignorance. Most priests as individuals are happy as priests, but they do not think others are happy. As individuals they do not find celibacy a serious personal problem. But most priests (it would appear) believe that the majority of their fellow priests are unhappy because for them celibacy is a serious personal problem. The reason is that at most gatherings of priests the lowest common denominator of envy, misery, and mediocrity tends to dominate the conversation. Hence the astonishment among many priests at the findings I reported from the first Los Angeles Times study. Astonishment and blunt denial.

Priests tell me that they simply will not try to recruit young men into a group where morale is so low and where there is so much dissatisfaction unless and until the Church changes the celibacy rule. In effect they are engaging in a game of chicken with the Vatican, defying the Holy See to change the celibacy rule or run out of priests-behavior that, for whatever my opinion might be worth, is immature and self-defeating. As we say in Chicago, go fight city hall!

The vocation crisis may be a matter of smoke and mirrors. But the smoke and mirrors have a very real consequence-an ever-increasing shortage of priests. Whence the destructive smoke and mirrors? I suggest that they come from the loud attacks on the current condition of the priesthood by a small minority of former priests, by the tiny minority of active priests who are unhappy, and by the anger of some members of the lay elite. Those who are happy in the priesthood and those who understand and apparently embrace celibacy have been intimidated into silence by the anticelibacy crusade. They are afraid to say publicly that they find the priesthood better than they expected because they might hurt the feelings of their former colleagues and have their masculinity or humanity questioned by an articulate minority of resigned priests and by lay elite who perceive celibacy as an attack on the equal virtue of married sexuality.

On this subject, doubtless some religion teachers, vocation directors, and retreat masters preached not so long ago that abstinence is something intrinsically superior to sexual experience. But I doubt that most priests believe that. Even in the reactionary seminary I attended (twenty-five years ahead of its time, it was said, because it responded to the problems of 1850 with the answers of 1875), this notion was not part of the ethos. Perhaps the vehemence of the anticelibacy among some laypeople is a result of their anger at the way the Church has meddled in their sexual lives, a valid anger no doubt, but aimed at the wrong target, because since 1965 the celibate parish clergy has been on their side.

However, I do not blame the vocation shortage on the anticelibacy ideology and its assault on those who remain in the priesthood and who dare to defend celibacy. Laypeople have reason to be angry even if they choose the wrong target. Former priests who have suffered have the right to speak out about their sufferings and attack what they think was the cause of their suffering.

The real cause of the vocation shortage is the reticence of those who are happy in the priesthood and not excessively burdened by celibacy. They may complain about the shortage of priests, but they are not ready yet to do battle with the anticelibacy ideologues, to recruit young men to what is a happy and satisfying life. Nor are they ready to speak, individually or collectively, about the joys of being a priest, joys about which there can be no doubt after studying the results of the two Times studies.

If the celibacy rule is abolished, fine. But let it be abolished for good reasons-that it is right and proper and good for married men to be in the priesthood, not because celibacy has driven out of the priesthood most of those who have left and not because celibacy as such is the cause of the vocation crisis. These two reasons are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Moreover, they are false prophecies and those who proclaim them false prophets.

I have advocated for three decades the establishment of a Priest Corps, something like the Peace Corps-a group of young men who are willing to commit themselves to a limited term of service to the Church in the priesthood, say five or ten years, renewable. If they like being priests-and the evidence in these studies suggests that they would-then they may want to stay. If not, then they are free to go, with gratitude and respect. The merit of this modest proposal is that it makes a virtue out of present necessity. Men now do feel free to leave the priesthood if they are not happy in it. Unfortunately their treatment by the Church is disgraceful. My Priest Corps scheme would merely require that the Church treat them honorably and that there would be periodic moments when they could review and renew their commitment. Theologically, they might still be priests and even be called on occasionally to exercise ministry. In practice they would be men who serve generously for a time and go on to other careers.

The ideologues on both sides of the celibacy debate dismiss this proposal as a "compromise." The Church must either defend celibacy in "this time of testing" or abolish it entirely. We must not tolerate experiments with some kind of "middle way."

In the first hundred years of the priesthood in Chicago, the average age of a priest at the time of his death was thirty-six. For most of human history most men (priests or not) were dead by the time they were forty. Now the majority of priests live to their golden jubilee. This demographic revolution transforms completely the ambience of priestly commitment. If a man approaching the age of forty cannot stand teenagers, grows weary of the bedlam of the rectory office, finds most other priests insufferable, and would like to take unto his bed a wife and to begin a family of his own, what useful purpose for the man or for the priesthood or for the Church is served by trying to prevent his departure? What good does it do to force a deeply unhappy man to stay in the priesthood?

As for the young man who might like to be a priest but finds celibacy a daunting prospect and has heard all the anticelibacy diatribes, could one not say to him, "Give it a try till you're thirty-five or forty, and if you want to reconsider then, it would be fine with us."

Would it not be better to experiment with such a program before attempting to reverse a thousand years or so of history?


Recently Ordained Priests

There can be no objection to a newer cohort of priests that does not accept the conventional wisdom of its predecessors. However, one can and should object to those in the newer cohort who are inflexibly resistant to the acquisition of any new knowledge and who have made up their mind what kind of priest they're going to be even before they arrive at the seminary. Not all of the younger priests are of that sort, but some apparently are. Seminary authorities should hesitate before recommending the ordination of such a man, as hesitant as they would be about the ordination of someone who frequents gay bars or who shows sign of being a child abuser. The Church always needs new men with vigor and zeal and new ideas. But the Church no more needs a subculture that demands lay submissiveness and seeks comfort and security from clerical status than it needs a subculture that is openly and flagrantly gay.


Priestly Service and Clerical Culture

The findings reported in this study about the inadequacies of priestly service and negativity of clergy reaction to their laity are arguably the most serious problems that the priesthood faces. How can mature men, happy in their priestly commitment and determined to remain in the priesthood, be sloppy in their professional activities and dismissively contemptuous of their laity? The protective structures of the clerical caste must be broken open, and authentic and honest communication between the laity and their clergy must begin. It is intolerably tragic that a cultural system should block the effective ministry of men who have given up much to be priests.

What is to be done?

The seminaries must face the fact that they are not turning out well-trained professional clergy. They must realize that preaching is creative work and that some element of creativity should be required as a condition for ordination. No one should be ordained who has not done some kind of creative exercise-a short story, a cycle of poems, an art or photo exhibit.

Bishops must realize that it is idle to babble about evangelization when those in the neighborhoods who are supposed to evangelize do not, on the average and with some happy exceptions, do a very good job at it.

The priest organizations around the country, both local and national, should realize that their membership has a serious image problem and undertake programs to improve it. Maybe the National Federation of Priests' Councils will even fund a study by Dean Hoge of preaching and preparation of homilies-including a study of the reactions of parishioners.

Individual priests should consider mailing the NORC questionnaire on ministerial service (see chapter 6) to their parish list. They might establish parish oversight committees to challenge priests on the quality of their service, not unlike the national oversight committee headed by Justice Anne Burke to make sure the sexual abuse rules are enforced. They might also think about reading a little more, too. It's hard to write a decent sermon when you have not had a new idea in ten years.

Is it possible to do research on the qualities that make for good preaching and good ministerial service? It is possible but complicated and expensive. Nonetheless, one cannot escape the harsh fact that, as a ministerial profession, the priesthood has very serious problems. They are not new. They did not develop yesterday or last year or even with the Second Vatican Council (which gets blamed for everything these days). They will not go away tomorrow or the next day. However, the laity, who pay the bills, have a right to high-quality priestly service, in strict commutative justice with the obligation to restitution. Somehow priests must come to see that there is no substitute for excellence.

At every step in the training and the ongoing education of the clergy, in every planning committee, and at every meeting, retreat, prayer day for priests, the laity should be present, not to fight, not to demand, not to seize power, but to communicate, respectfully but honestly. The clergy as a collectivity and priests as individuals may pretend that the problems are not there, but the ocean is washing over the beaches in whose sands they have buried their heads. Clerical culture and its blind loyalty to the guys is in the final analysis the cause of the abuse scandal, not homosexuality or celibacy.

Finally, priests must assume responsibility for responding to the anger of the laity because of the sexual abuse scandal. It is not permissible for them to wash their hands of it.

Continues...

Continues...


Excerpted from Priests by Andrew M. Greeley Copyright © 2005 by Andrew M. Greeley.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Inside the "Secret World"
2. Sexual Orientation and Celibacy
3. The Morale Question
4. Why They Leave
5. Priests and the Catholic Revolution
6. Clergy, Hierarchy, and Laity
7. Priests Under Pressure
8. Conclusions
9. Policy Implications
Appendix from the Los Angeles Times
References
Index
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