Priests: A Calling in Crisis is an assessment of problems in the priesthood presented in a not- so-seamless amalgam of data from Los Angeles Times surveys and musings and impressions of well- known author, scholar and priest, Andrew M. Greeley. This is a brief but intense book which attempts to dispel the many inaccuracies and popular assumptions about the priesthood which gained favor during 2002, a year which Father Greeley irreverently dubs "The Year of the Pedophile."
The scandal of pedophilia in the priesthood and its covering over by church hierarchy brought media accusations of pervasive sexual misfunction among Catholic priests. Celibacy and homosexuality became the twin villains of this deviant and destructive behavior and the media broadcasted their supposed negative effects as if they were well-documented facts. Even within the church liberals pointed to the celibacy rule as the root of the problem while conservatives blamed homosexuality, but neither explanation accounts for sexual abuse in the priesthood and its subsequent cover-up, says Greeley. He challenges these popular notions and offers his own assessment of the sources of the problem.
Greeley asserts that most of today's priests are celibate heterosexuals who are psychologically healthy and happy in their work. He challenges works by Eugene Cullen Kennedy, A. W. Richard Sipe, and McDonough and Bianci who rely on their own experiences (or non-random samples) to extrapolate a picture of the problems in the priesthood. Using data from the Los Angeles Times surveys of 1993 and 2002, and from an earlier 1970 NORC study, Greeley assembles a picture of today's priests. His analysis challenges the popular media depictions of sexually and emotionally repressed men whose lives of chosen celibacy make them inordinately vulnerable to predatory sexual behavior. Priests today, he says, are satisfied with their lives as priests, are even happier than they expected to be, and score higher on satisfaction then do doctors, lawyers or Protestant ministers. They find their greatest joy through the explicitly religious aspects of their work such as saying Mass and administering the sacraments. For most, celibacy is either not a problem at all or is viewed as "an on-going journey".
The 2002 Los Angeles Times study asked if respondents considered themselves heterosexual, homosexual or somewhere in-between. Seventy percent said they were heterosexual, nine % said they were homosexual, and the rest somewhere in-between. Though the low response rate and the nature of the question raise some doubt about the reliability of the responses, these numbers, says Greeley, challenge popular assumptions that the priesthood is an overtly homosexual institution.
The Los Angeles Times survey data also reflect changes in attitudes toward the priesthood among younger priests. Younger priests, Greeley says, are more conservative than older priests whose lives were shaped by the reforms initiated by the Vatican II Council. (Greeley himself belongs to the older cohort of priests and clearly favors the church reform perspective that followed in the wake of Vatican II.) These "post-Vatican II" priests are less likely than older priests to be in favor of married priests, the ordination of women, and the election of bishops. He thinks their responses reflect a desire to return to a more conservative pre-Vatican II church, fostered by church leadership but in direct conflict with older clergy and with the laity. This desire to return to a more clerical priesthood is especially ominous because it is clericalism in the church, Greeley believes, that fostered the hiding of priestly abuse.
Greeley synthesizes his argument with a twelve point summary followed by a chapter of "Policy Implications" which, he clarifies, "are my own reflections on the data and do not flow logically from the data" (118). He concludes that clerical culture is the essential cause of the sexual abuse scandal and that more open communication is the key to its resolution.
This book provides Greeley's own perspective on the causes of the pedophilia scandal while successfully refuting the popularly debated charges against celibacy and homosexuality. While some conclusions go beyond what is evidenced in the cited data, it provides a thoughtful context for considering why the abuse scandal happened and what might prevent such devastating errors in the future.