Title: Priests: A Calling in Crisis
Author: Andrew M. Greeley
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Equally critical of both liberals and conservatives
Analysis of the Catholic Churchs sexual abuse scandal
Argues against both conservative and liberal critics of the priesthood
Defends priesthood and priests
There are a lot of different opinions out there about how to reform and improve the priesthood, with the elimination of homosexuality and celibacy being two of the most popular. In reality, though, it seems unlikely that either are good answers to what is going on at least, if one looks at the sociological data about Catholic priests. Thats what Andrew M. Greeley, himself a Catholic priest as well as a professor of social sciences, has done in his book Priests: A Calling in Crisis. He minces no words in his sharp criticism of both liberals and conservatives.
As to liberal critics, Greeley argues that the statistical data demonstrates that priests arent particularly worse off for being celibate.
They dont suffer psychologically or emotionally because they dont have intimate, sexual relationships with women. He doesnt argue that celibacy must necessarily remain, and in fact acknowledges that there may be very good reasons for and consequences to allowing married men into the priesthood. His point, however, is that there is no good data to support the claims that celibacy causes priests to be psychological wrecks and that this, in turn, increases the likelihood of committing sexual abuse:
- 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. ...If the celibacy rule is abolished, fine. But let it be abolished for good reasonsthat 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.
This does not mean that priests are always happy, however:
- 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.
At the same time, Greeley is just as critical of conservatives who think that getting rid of all the homosexuals will save the priesthood (he finds that only about 16% of priests are gay higher than in the general population, but hardly an overwhelming number):
- 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...
According to Greeley, the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is not the result of any particular problem with priests; instead it is a problem with humans generally. The real problem within the Catholic Church lies with the efforts to keep the problems quiet and, later, the efforts to lay the blame on gay priests.
Quite a lot has been written on the problems that have been plaguing the Catholic Church and Catholic priests, so what makes this one so interesting? Most of the books on this subject have been written from a very partisan perspective and typically with an ideological axe to grind. Greeley, however, criticizes both liberals and conservatives. Greeley makes a good case for why both sides have made mistakes and that both sides have used the abuse crisis to advance their own agendas. Greeley certainly isnt an independent observer, but he does a good job at being even-handed in this comments.