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Young Fogeys: Young reactionaries, aging radicals-U.S. Church's unusual clerical divide
The Atlantic Monthly ^ | January/February 2004 | Andrew Greeley

Posted on 01/15/2004 10:24:30 AM PST by Polycarp IV

Young reactionaries, aging radicals;the U.S. Catholic Church's unusual clerical divide
 

by Andrew Greeley
 

.....
 

S ome forty years ago, as the dramatic events of the Second Vatican Council unfolded, a spotlight was trained on the Catholic Church. It was, commentators said, a revolutionary time. The Church fathers broadened the canons of scriptural interpretation, invited other churches and denominations to engage in friendly dialogue, and attempted to understand the strengths of the modern world. They defended religious freedom, condemned anti-Semitism, and recalled the traditional notion that the Church was made up not just of its clerical hierarchy but also of its laity. They approved the translation of the liturgy into vernacular texts. Although in actual practice the reforms were only modest attempts at housekeeping, made by moderate men who had no intention of destabilizing the Church, they nevertheless contradicted the Church's traditional attitude toward reform—that the Church had not changed, would not change, and could not change. In that regard any reform at all was indeed remarkable.

For more than three decades now, as a sociologist and a priest, I have been tracking the evolution of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic clergy and laity in the United States. My most recent analysis, based on survey data that I and others have gathered periodically since Vatican II, reveals a striking trend: a generation of conservative young priests is on the rise in the U.S. Church. These are newly ordained men who seem in many ways intent on restoring the pre-Vatican II Church, and who, reversing the classic generational roles, define themselves in direct opposition to the liberal priests who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.

The divisions created by Vatican II are not new, of course. Caught up in the reform euphoria that followed the council, the lower clergy and the laity almost immediately developed a new ideology based on respect for women and for the freedom (including the sexual freedom) of the laity. On these matters, quietly or loudly, the laity and the lower clergy did resist the teachings of the Church.

The backlash was swift. Church leaders, realizing that reform had slipped out of their control, grew increasingly convinced of the need for a Restoration—a movement in which the upper clergy would close ranks and reassert their authority. Newly appointed bishops would restore the rules; theologians who disagreed would be silenced; and, as much as possible, the old order would be re-established. Even some of the progressives of the council, frightened by the laity's exuberant interest in change and by the declining influence of the Church in the United States, lost their nerve and joined in the call for a Restoration. Today's young conservative priests are rallying to this call.

W ho are these young counter-revolutionaries? Several studies are helpful in answering this question: a 1970 National Opinion Research Center study (with which I was involved); two studies released by the Los Angeles Times, in 1994 and 2002; and a 2002 study by the sociologist Dean R. Hoge. Hoge's The First Five Years of the Priesthood: A Study of Newly Ordained Catholic Priests is particularly useful. Hoge reports that half the newly ordained priests he encountered believe that a priest is fundamentally different from a layperson—that he is literally a man apart. Hoge also reports that almost a third of these priests feel that the laity need to be "better educated to respect the authority of the priest's word." These beliefs are strikingly at odds with those of the predominantly liberal generation of new priests studied in the 1970 NORC survey. Today's young priests tend to want to restore the power that the clergy held not only before Vatican II but also before a large educated Catholic laity emerged as a powerful force in the Church after World War II. Older priests today often complain that their younger colleagues are arrogant, pompous, and rigid, and that they love to parade around in clerical dress. The image that comes to mind is young versions of the old ethnic monsignors of the Depression era.

Stark differences exist between older and younger priests on many major areas of concern within the Church. The 2002 Los Angeles Times study reveals that priests of the Vatican II generation overwhelmingly support the idea that priests should be allowed to marry. In the study 80 percent of priests aged forty-six to sixty-five were in favor, as were 74 percent of those aged sixty-six to seventy-five. Only about half the priests under thirty-five, however, supported the idea. The study revealed a clear divide, too, on the ordination of women. Sixty percent of priests aged fifty-six to sixty-five, and at least half of those aged forty-six to seventy-five, supported the idea, but only 36 percent of priests under forty-six did. Significantly, even priests over seventy-five—whose views took shape well before Vatican II—were slightly more likely to support the marriage of priests and the ordination of women than were the young priests.

The lines are a bit less clear on questions of sexual ethics. According to the same Los Angeles Times study, about half of all priests reject premarital sex and homosexual sex as always wrong. But only about 40 percent of the younger generation believe that birth control is always wrong—a revealing failure of the Restoration efforts of the past thirty years, which have been fundamentally opposed to birth control. And younger priests seem to have a higher general regard for women than older priests do—an attitude demonstrated most clearly in the 1994 Los Angeles Times study, in responses to questions about support for official condemnation of sexism and for better ministry to women, and concern for the situation of nuns. This attitude, which is in line with the views of the laity, explains some of the clergy's resistance to the Church's teachings on sexuality. Nonetheless, younger priests are more than twice as likely as priests aged fifty-five to sixty-five to think that birth control and masturbation are always wrong, and they are significantly more likely to think that homosexual sex and premarital sex are always wrong.

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.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: andrewgreeley; babyboomers; catholicchurch; catholiclist; generationgap; generationy; vaticanii
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1 posted on 01/15/2004 10:24:30 AM PST by Polycarp IV
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To: .45MAN; AAABEST; AKA Elena; al_c; american colleen; Angelus Errare; Antoninus; aposiopetic; ...
Young Fogey ping!
2 posted on 01/15/2004 10:25:16 AM PST by Polycarp IV (http://www.cathfam.org/)
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To: CAtholic Family Association
Dear Mr. Greeley:

As far as the future of the Catholic Church is concerned, your generation is nothing more than an anomaly of the post-WW2 era that will simply be belched into oblivion within a few decades. By the time you are gone, nobody is really going to know that there ever really was a "progressive" movement in the Church.

3 posted on 01/15/2004 10:31:42 AM PST by Alberta's Child (Alberta -- the TRUE North strong and free.)
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To: CAtholic Family Association
When I was a young man, I found that the old priests were reliably orthodox, understood the Faith, preached it well, and behaved with the dignity befitting a priest. The young priests, OTOH, were leftist radicals, slobs, liberation theology spouting dissenters, didn't understand the faith, couldn't preach their way out of a wet paper bag, and wanted to be everybody's pal.

Times change. I observe, as an older man, that the old priests (who were the young priests of my youth) haven't changed their stripes, and their radicalism doesn't wear any better with age. Meanwhile, the younger priests have gotten back to the basics of Orthodoxy, Faith, Charity, and Sanctity.

4 posted on 01/15/2004 10:31:57 AM PST by ArrogantBustard
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To: CAtholic Family Association
Many of the liberal 50 something priests, headed straight into the seminary at a very young age. I commend this, but it is true that many of the newer priests attended college, and worked and lived an lay adults before answering the call. In addition, the younger breed has the advantage of a seminary experience that has had time to reflect on Vatican II. The older generation were equipped with a seminary curricula that was pre-Vatican II. That seminary experience was quickly made obsolete. It is the 50 something priest that had to rely on the Greely's of the world for an interpretation of Vatican II. The truth is, it is the new priest that is better equipped to reveal Vatican II in all its forms, orthodox and revolutionary. Let us not forget that the new priest actually read and studied the Vatican II documents.
5 posted on 01/15/2004 10:43:17 AM PST by reed_inthe_wind (I reprogrammed my computer to think existentially, I get the same results only slower)
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To: Alberta's Child
Priests as a group are simply not in touch with the laity.

The "new fogeys" better figure out a way to change this.

Laymen don't care what kind of attire a priest prances around in. And they are not going to be deferential to him just because he wants it.

Cocksureness is a quality of youth, whether in the Church, or in business, or elsewhere.

They'll grow out of it.

6 posted on 01/15/2004 10:52:55 AM PST by sinkspur (Adopt a shelter dog or cat! You'll save one life, and maybe two!)
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To: reed_inthe_wind
Let us not forget that the new priest actually read and studied the Vatican II documents.

A good point.

But, if Greeley's survey is to be believed, younger priests are no more sold on some of the Church's positions on sexual mores than their elders.

7 posted on 01/15/2004 10:55:21 AM PST by sinkspur (Adopt a shelter dog or cat! You'll save one life, and maybe two!)
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To: CAtholic Family Association
I love how Fr. Greeley frames the argument. The young are the reactionary "fogeys" while his generation is the eternally youthful revolutionary change agents breathing new life into the Church--even though most of them are now in their seventies.

No, Fr. Greeley, you've got it exactly backwards. Your generation accomplished a major upheaval which altered many aspects of Catholic life and worship. But it's been a miserable failure, particularly in the West, where it was carried to and beyond its illogical extremes. Now, those who haven't abandoned the Church entirely are recognizing the failures of the Robert Weaklands, Roger Mahoney's, Margaret Steinfels, and Andrew Greeley's.

The cheesy liberal interpretation of Vatican II has been rejected and the young who remain are finding enrichment and fulfillment in the traditions, history, and true teachings of the Church, stretching back hundreds and thousands of years before the 1960s.

The old fogey reactionaries are those who are continuing to focus on things that happened 40 years ago instead of embracing a truly traditional Catholic renewal.
8 posted on 01/15/2004 10:56:49 AM PST by Antoninus (In hoc signo, vinces )
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To: CAtholic Family Association
The study revealed a clear divide, too, on the ordination of women

This matter has been defined irrevocably by John Paul II: the ordination of women is not compatible with scripture and long-standing Church teachings. Women cannot be ordained. The matter is no longer open for debate in the sense that it will ever happen.

Greeley is a goofy old radical with many axes to grind. His time about up, he occasionally grouses about something so he can pretend still to be relevant.

I wouldn't put too much credence into any of his opinions.

9 posted on 01/15/2004 11:02:36 AM PST by TheGeezer
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To: sinkspur
Ping for later
10 posted on 01/15/2004 11:03:23 AM PST by BlackElk (The auto-da-fe is God's chosen way to purge sin from the land!)
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To: sinkspur
Priests as a group are simply not in touch with the laity. The "new fogeys" better figure out a way to change this.

Don't worry. The most "in touch" priests I know are those who say Mass at the Latin indult parish I attend sometimes.

Most of the elderly "progressive" radicals can't stand the idea that their precious "gains" are going to be erased by a younger generation that thinks the 1960s crowd did great damage to the Church. Fortunately, most of them will be in their eternal reward (or otherwise) while us youngsters are repairing the havoc they created.
11 posted on 01/15/2004 11:03:26 AM PST by Antoninus (In hoc signo, vinces )
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To: sinkspur
Nonetheless, younger priests are more than twice as likely as priests aged fifty-five to sixty-five to think that birth control and masturbation are always wrong, and they are significantly more likely to think that homosexual sex and premarital sex are always wrong.

Did you miss this?

Nonetheless, younger priests are more than twice as likely as priests aged fifty-five to sixty-five to think that birth control and masturbation are always wrong, and they are significantly more likely to think that homosexual sex and premarital sex are always wrong.

12 posted on 01/15/2004 11:05:34 AM PST by B Knotts (Go 'Nucks!)
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To: TheGeezer
I wouldn't put too much credence into any of his opinions.

Don't worry, I just read him for laughs.

If one views this column through conservative orthodox Catholic lenses, its a welcome change. Greeley is bemoaning the passing of his liberal, dissenting and infecund generations' philosophy of life and faith. That's great news for us.

13 posted on 01/15/2004 11:06:13 AM PST by Polycarp IV (http://www.cathfam.org/)
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To: B Knotts; sinkspur
Oops. That was supposed to read thusly:

But, if Greeley's survey is to be believed, younger priests are no more sold on some of the Church's positions on sexual mores than their elders.

Did you miss this?

Nonetheless, younger priests are more than twice as likely as priests aged fifty-five to sixty-five to think that birth control and masturbation are always wrong, and they are significantly more likely to think that homosexual sex and premarital sex are always wrong.

14 posted on 01/15/2004 11:07:48 AM PST by B Knotts (Go 'Nucks!)
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To: Antoninus
The most "in touch" priests I know are those who say Mass at the Latin indult parish I attend sometimes.

Anecdotal experience means absolutely nothing.

That only 2% of the American clergy thinks the sexual abuse situation was a "big deal" shows just how out of touch they really are.

Ask the bishops if it was a big deal. Or their accountants.

15 posted on 01/15/2004 11:08:13 AM PST by sinkspur (Adopt a shelter dog or cat! You'll save one life, and maybe two!)
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To: B Knotts
But only about 40 percent of the younger generation believe that birth control is always wrong;a revealing failure of the Restoration efforts of the past thirty years, which have been fundamentally opposed to birth control.

They've still got a ways to go, apparently.

Sixty-percent of young priests think that there are at least some occasions in which contraception is not always wrong.

16 posted on 01/15/2004 11:11:22 AM PST by sinkspur (Adopt a shelter dog or cat! You'll save one life, and maybe two!)
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To: Akron Al; Alberta's Child; Andrew65; AniGrrl; Antoninus; apologia_pro_vita_sua; Askel5; ...
PING to the fogeys, young and old alike.
17 posted on 01/15/2004 11:12:34 AM PST by Loyalist (To be is to do--Socrates. To do is to be--Sartre. Do be do be do--Sinatra.)
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To: sinkspur
Indeed, that is a problem. The sixty percent are wrong, and need to reexamine their belief. But, at least progress is being made.
18 posted on 01/15/2004 11:13:53 AM PST by B Knotts (Go 'Nucks!)
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To: CAtholic Family Association
Another young fogey checking in!
19 posted on 01/15/2004 11:14:04 AM PST by NeoCaveman (Facts are stubborn things)
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To: sinkspur
=== Cocksureness is a quality of youth, whether in the Church, or in business, or elsewhere.

Hey kiddo ...

I have never observed that counter-revolutionaries and faithful, older trads tend to "prance" in their clericals.

Rather, I see prancing among the sorts who tend to gladhand while the Eucharist sits unattended on the altar or who pull out their clericals only when attending whatever leftist rally or court appearance they think to color with "Catholic" support by wearing a collar or veil for dramatic effect.
20 posted on 01/15/2004 11:20:11 AM PST by Askel5
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