As blunt as ever, Father Greeley backs his strong views with the best available data. The future of American Catholicism depends on its willingness to confront findings like these. 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.
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. On the other hand, they are entitled to have friends who share similar problems.
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. 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. There seems to be broad agreement among priests that the ordination of married men is the only solution for the shortage of priests.
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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 s, 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.
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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.https://haeburgiorenew.ml
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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 with the answers of , this notion was not part of the ethos.
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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 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. Must be gay. He has a pleasant voice. The book is trash.
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