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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The Distance Between Priests and Laity in the Catholic Church -  

Based on survey work he conducted over the past 20 years, Andrew Greeley (priest and sociologist) argues in this months Atlantic Monthly that the american priesthood is characterized by two intersecting social phenomen...

1. A younger priesthood, which came of age in a post Vatican II world, who is relatively conservative/reactionary (i.e. believes strongly in the importance of clerical authority and is socially conservative).

2. A priesthood which is generally distant from the concerns of the laity. The money quote along these lines...

Priests as a group are simply not in touch with the laity. In the 2002 Los Angeles Times study only thirty-six of 1,854 priests identified clericalism as one of the major problems facing the Church's laity. Astonishingly, only forty-seven priests thought the sex-abuse scandals worth mentioning. For some reason, priests of all generations are unable or unwilling to see the clergy as responsible for the departure of disaffected laypersons—a problem that today plagues the U.S. Church.

To explain the laity's dissatisfaction with the Church, priests from all generations tend to trot out the usual litany: individualism, materialism, secularism, lack of faith, lack of prayer, lack of commitment, media bias, hedonism, sexual freedom, feminism, family breakdown, lack of education, and apathy. The advantage of such explanations is that they free priests from any personal responsibility and put the blame on factors over which the clergy cannot be expected to exercise much control. The rectory thus becomes an isolated citadel battered by cultural forces, which encourages precisely the sort of closed, band-of-brothers mentality that the Vatican II reforms were designed to break down.


I went to a Jesuit high school (Jesuit's being historically liberal Catholic priests) from 1988-1992 and observed the first point then: younger priests tended to be relatively dogmatic and socially conservative, older ones the opposite. The second point is much more complex, but I think, something I have felt since numerous sexual harassment charges against priest started surfacing as well. I felt then that if only the church could have made an institutional admission of guilt, coupled, perhaps with internal sociological studies to try and understand whether something in the culture of the priesthood was causing the problem, that much of the anguish of the laity could have been avoided. It's tough, even now, at least for me, to see anything but Greeley's "band of brothers" in the Catholic hierarchy and it seems a tragic waste.
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