Book Review: Same Call, Different Men: The Evolution of the Priesthood Since Vatican II by Mary L. Gautier, Paul M. Perl, & Stephen J. Fichter

Same Call, Different Men: The Evolution of the Priesthood Since Vatican II. By Mary L Gautier, Paul M. Perl, and Stephen J. Fichter. Liturgical Press, Collegeville Minnesota, 2012.

Reviewed by Jack Rakosky.

The new data for this study was collected in 2009. It is part of a series of studies beginning with Andrew Greeley in 1970, and continued in studies by Dean Hoge in 1985, 1993, and 2001. The National Federation of Priests’ Councils, also involved with previous studies, received funding for this study. Because of Hoge’s death the study was done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Many questions used in the preceding studies were replicated to provide comparisons across time.

CARA drew a sample of 2,400 diocesan priests and 800 religious priests from its mailing list of 24,000 diocesan priests and 13,000 religious priests. There were 960 respondents (678 diocesan, 282 religious order priests), a thirty percent response rate. The written surveys are supplemented by anecdotal data from three focus groups and fifty phone interviews to help flesh out the numbers. They make the reading much more interesting.

Since Vatican II there has been concern about the morale of priests. Initially many priests were leaving; more recently there is evidence of a heavy work load on dwindling numbers of aging priests. Those arguing for a married clergy and democracy in the church have helped keep the morale issue in the foreground. Nevertheless, all the studies of the series have demonstrated that priests are very satisfied with their ministry, that they intend to remain priests, and that they would choose to become priests again.

Why the very high level of morale among priests? The General Social Surveys from 1986 through 2006 have shown that clergy have the highest level of satisfaction of any occupation. Other helping professions such as teachers and psychologists are also at the top of the list.

Priests are at the top of the list even in comparison to clergy of other denominations, and these studies show their satisfaction has been increasing over time. Some increased satisfaction is because unhappy priests have left. Some is likely due to greater satisfaction experienced by the many people late in their careers. Some is due to the greater satisfaction of “younger” priests. They are being promoted early and have a stronger sense of support from the Vatican and their own bishop.

Andrew Greeley wondered if priests might be the happiest men in the world. Greeley also expressed concern that priests “seem curiously out of touch with the laity, the world in which the laity live, and the religious problems the laity have (Priests, 2004, p.57).” This study shows that priests find their greatest satisfaction presiding at liturgy, preaching, and being a part of a community. However, Greeley and others have shown that Catholics are less satisfied with liturgy, sermons, and parish community than Protestants. Priests seem oblivious of the dissatisfaction that laity experience in the very things that priests report as being most satisfying. Greeley tended to blame this situation on “the walls of clerical culture, which inure them against the sentiments of the laity (p.98),” The cure that Greeley recommended: “Clergy at all levels from the pope down to the lowliest parish curate must be quiet and listen. And listen. And listen (p.131).”

A different framework has guided my understanding and interpretation of this book and its data. For a couple of decades, I regularly analyzed extensive data collected by mental health clinicians in their daily work. Was my analysis able to tell them anything new about their practice? The short answer is that they could not see the forest for the trees. About half the findings were not even on their radar screens. Let me give a dramatic example.

One therapist had a great reputation as a group therapist. People liked her groups so much that one group talked about buying a house and living together! However a client has to be in individual therapy before joining group therapy. Ninety percent of the people assigned to her dropped out with less than four sessions; however the ten percent who entered group therapy wanted to stay forever. She and the agency lived with blinders focused upon her very successful groups. Everyone was surprised by the data. She had failed to help ninety percent of the people; studies have shown that three or less therapy sessions rarely help anyone.

Decades of processing mental health data led me to the conclusion that we all go about with blinders. They focus our attention, helping us to be productive and happy people. At the heart of the blinders are people who are doing good and being successful. They are not deceiving themselves about that. They simply do not focus upon the problems that surround their success.

Priests, like therapists, have abundant opportunities for doing good things that affect the lives of people. Sunday worship and the sacraments are important to many people. Many in the parish and the community are in need of help. Priests can be very successful with ten percent even if they fail ninety percent of the parish. The homily might have been boring to 99.99% but if one person thanks the priest for being inspirational, he experiences success.

These studies have found that although priests experience much satisfaction, many problems exist which are close to the surface. The survey asked priests about twenty one potential problems. True to the blinders notion, few priests described any area as a “great” problem but half or more of the priests saw many areas were at least “somewhat” of a problem.

Wearing rose-colored glasses helps avoid depression. Priests have found happiness and much satisfaction in their ministry. However, blinders are a better metaphor than rose-colored glasses. The yoke is easy and the burden is light, especially when the blinders are in place.

Authority and workload are the major problem areas. Across the series of studies, The Way Authority Is Exercised in the Church received the highest percentage of “great” problem responses from 26% in 1970 to 30% in 2009. A combined total of sixty-four percent of priests say it is either “somewhat” or a “great” problem. “I felt I had a lot to share and give to the authorities in my life but they didn’t seem to care.” Being Able to Represent Church Teaching that I Disagree With received a combined problem score of 65%. “There are just some topics I won’t talk about.” The Relationship With the Bishop of the Diocese receive a 35% combined problem score. “We had years in my diocese of an administrative bishop concerned with money.”

Workload-related items are now approaching authority as a major problem area. Shortage of Available Priests received a 66% combined problem score: “I often feel outnumbered.” Too Much Work receive a 50% combined problem score: “I had to give up my days off” and Parish Restructuring in the Diocese receive a 43% combined problem total. Priests who are pastors have the greatest workload problems as well as any priest who ministers in a clustered or multiple site parish.

Two chapters in the book deal with the sexual abuse scandal. The first chapter on sexual abuse documents what happened when the blinders that prevented recognizing the sex abuse problem were removed: “It went all year. It preoccupied each day.” “It was in the newspaper and the more that came out, the more angry we all got.” “What I was unaware of, however, was that it was such a problem in my diocese.” “I had a sense as a newly ordained priest [in the 1970s] that there were probably priests acting in a homosexual manner toward young men, high school kids…I had no firsthand knowledge of it.” “I had no idea. I learned about it when I opened my newspaper one morning in 2002 and found that a seminary classmate of mine was one of the primary abusers.”

The Dallas Charter and its zero tolerance policy now give priests strong reasons for focusing upon their work rather than its potential problems. The authors remarked about how nervous and concerned priests were about their anonymity on this topic. “There is no longer any degree of abuse. I know of a case where a priest propositioned a seventeen year old but nothing happened.” “Zero tolerance is irrational…we are not going to treat the guy who was in an alcohol stupor and had an event with a seventeen year old the same as somebody who has abused twenty people.” “In the Dallas Charter, all consequences fall on priests. Nothing is in there for bishops.”

A second chapter views the sexual abuse scandal from the perspective of nine priests with varying relationships to it (e.g. member of Review Board, chancery official, priest and victim, etc.). The perspective of a priest exonerated after being accused gives a good idea why priests are nervous about the Charter. The accusation came out of the past. The priest had no recollection of his accuser or any incident. He was promptly taken out of the parish, and had only very formal contact with anyone in the diocese and no support from fellow priests until he was cleared. “What kept me going was the fact that the parishioners banded together. They circled the wagons around me. If I didn’t have their support I probably would have left the priesthood. All the way through those months they did not waver as to my innocence.” We should not be surprised by the parish support. A priest in our diocese was busted for growing marijuana. Many in his parish supported him. Priests have many opportunities for doing good in the parish. Whether guilty or innocent of a crime, they are likely to have devoted followers.

Two different situations have arisen more recently, involving collaboration and multiculturalism. If we look closely at data we can sometimes see the blinders of consensus that aid ministry as well as the problems that lurk around the corner. In the chapter on collaboration in ministry we see the consensus that parish life would be aided by an increase in full-time professional lay ecclesial ministers. Eighty-one percent of priests agree; an increase from seventy-two percent in 2001. However the data also provide a glimpse beyond that consensus. Millennial priests agree with this statement (65%) but less than the cohort of Vatican II priests (90%). More Millennial priests say that it is essential to uphold the distinction between priests and laity (79%) than do Vatican II cohort priests (58%). A pastor in his 30s reported: “When I came here Sister was doing all of my job. Sister was trying to play priest and that’s a huge frustration to me. I wanted to do priestly things. I want to meet the families I’m preparing for baptism. I’m not just going to come in and pour water over their heads. I want to meet them and prepare them and that is not Sister’s job. I don’t need to print programs, put ashes and palms out, order daily meditation books.”

The chapter on the multicultural reality of priestly ministry takes us beyond the stereotype of the recent past in which cohorts of local seminary graduates went out to staff the growing suburban parishes. An older priest marvels at the non-Anglos of his parish: “It seems that church is a big part of their life, like when they come to church it is not just from nine to ten o’clock, and then I’m gone. They make of morning of it, a day of it.” But there are also the problems of integration in multicultural parishes: “A lot of the Hispanics won’t come because some of the Mass will be in English and the white people will go across town to the other church because it will be partly in Spanish here.” The arrival of foreign priests has disrupted the neat procession out of the seminary into the parishes. A young US-born priest is told by a foreign born priest that he does not know half the priests at the Chrism Mass: “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that neither did I.” Another priest said that he no longer feels the priests in his diocese are his conferes: “We are just employees of the same company. That’s the relationship I see now.”

There is value to this study, but it has its limitations. A much better title for this book would have been “Same Call, Different Men, Different Situations: the Priesthood Since Vatican II.” Same Call captures the sacramental and service dimensions that are the constant basis of priestly satisfaction. Different Men captures Dean Hoge’s model of generational differences in priestly spirituality: the servant leader model of Vatican II in contrast to the cultic model before and after. This book has gone beyond these to present us with some of the changing and challenging situations that have arisen in recent decades, e.g.: the sexual abuse scandal, lay ministry, and multicultural parishes.

If I were using this book to recruit for the priesthood, I would emphasize the basic satisfactions of priestly life, both the sacraments and helping people. Satisfaction in these basic elements can be found with either a cultic spirituality or a servant leader spirituality. Today people, especially young people, value diversity, so we should emphasize not only a diversity of spirituality in the priesthood but also the diversity of challenges in priestly life.

This series of studies views the priesthood from a personnel and human resources corporate perspective. When the series began, that was relatively new and innovative. Some probably thought job satisfaction was not an appropriate way to look at the priesthood. But these studies have shown that the priesthood stacks up very well when measured by corporate standards. However, religion in America is moving beyond corporate and denominational models. People are moving freely among congregations, denominations, and spiritualities. Sociological models and data can take us outside the blinders of our institutional ways of thinking and acting which focus us upon what we do well rather than on what we neglect.

We have new sociological tools that could be exploited to research new models. I particularly like Mark Chaves tool of using a random sample study of Catholics to locate parishes which are then studied in depth. We need a social movement model of Catholicism and Christianity in which people move back and forth from greater to lesser involvement in parishes, congregations, and denominations. The model should help understand how parishes, organizations, and social networks can serve people as they move about in a increasingly complex religious world, and how various people (priests, deacons, religious, laity) can serve people, networks and organizations well in that changing world.

Jack Rakosky, a regular Pray Tell reader, has an interdisciplinary doctorate in psychology and sociology. He spent twenty years in applied research and administration in the public mental health system, where his main interests were empowerment of consumers of mental health services, and evaluation of mental health outcomes. Now in retirement, he has earned a theology masters degree at Notre Dame specializing in spirituality. He is particularly interested in spiritualities such as those of religious orders that might encourage and support religiously motivated voluntarism in church and society.


  1. [I was invited to participate in an “Authors Meet Critics” session about this book last month at the joint Annual Meeting of the Religious Research Association and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

    Here is an the first portion of my commentary; two more pieces will follow:]

    The title of this book was thought-provoking for me. Is it the “Same Call”? The responses of these priests suggest that even if God is calling all of them to the same vocation, they don’t all experience it the same way or have a common understanding of how to define and respond to that call. Also, many of these respondents are the same men as the ones who were profiled in earlier surveys, and their views of the Church, themselves, and their call have changed over time.

    This leads us into the second half of the title, “Different Men.” What are these differences, and why do they exist? While the second question is likely to be the subject of books yet to be written, let me focus on a few differences that the authors brought into stark relief through their presentation of priests’ responses.

    “Conflict with parishioners or laity about issues” is a problem for one third of younger priests (compared to one fourth of older priests), despite more recent formation that should have equipped them for this. Without more formation or support, there is a danger of priests falling into an us versus them mentality.

    It is notable that so many of the millennial priests do not believe it is at least somewhat important to have open discussion about collaborating with lay ministers. Their 35% rate is 1½ to 2 times the proportions in other ordination cohorts.

    We need a better understanding of why so many Millennial priests do not agree that “the Church needs to move faster in empowering lay persons in ministry.” Overall trend from 1993 to 2009 is increasing agreement with this statement, so we should be concerned that only 65% of this cohort agree with it, compared to 82% of other priests.

    We should also be concerned that only 62% of Millennials agree that “Parish life would be aided by an increase in full-time professional lay ecclesial ministers.” This is a big drop from the rates for other priest cohorts (88%, 90%, 76%), and it moves against the overall trend (72% in 2001, 81% in 2009).

    Most in all cohorts agree that they “would be happy to attend primarily to the sacramental life and let the laity assume responsibility for most other functions.” But younger priests are more likely to not agree. This is consistent with some other survey results I recently analyzed, which indicated that many (though not all) younger priests desire greater control over a wide range of pastoral care, rather than entrusting these duties to others.

    It is striking that the biggest problem for priests, “the way authority is exercised in the Church,” is an internal one and it is increasing. This issue demands attention and action.

  2. “We need a better understanding of why so many Millennial priests do not agree that “the Church needs to move faster in empowering lay persons in ministry.” …

    It could be that many priests believe we have achieved a strong degree of empowerment. As a lay minister, I believe a higher priority is empowering parishioners to lead and vision.

    “We should also be concerned that only 62% of Millennials agree that “Parish life would be aided by an increase in full-time professional lay ecclesial ministers.” …”

    Less concerned about this for the same reason: we are making progress.

    With 30,000 lay ministers in the US, I’d say we’re overdue for a survey of our own.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #2:
      I don’t often disagree with Todd, but here I think my perspective may be a bit different.

      I think we need a lot more good, professional lay ministry because lots of things could be done in the church with an increase of qualified people in general. The whole movement of the past twenty years has been an increasing use (and exploitation) of the willing volunteer, at the expense of preparing lay people for consistent, professional, and prolonged service to the Church in ecclesial ministry.

      Results: Turnover is high, theological education is low, and superficial strategies and short-term commitments are the rule.

      We are right now shedding institutions right and left, at least here in the northeast. Communities are closing and being combined all over. I think that’s a shame. If we had the people, we’d have the personnel to run the institutions. But no. We’re waiting for the nuns to come back. We are praying for vocations to the priesthood, and until Father can find the time, it doesn’t get done.

      I’d like to see new models of lay ministry, like teams that work and pray together, or who visit homes in different quadrants of a parish so that somebody has paid a call on everybody and knows how things look close to the ground when it comes to seeing where the needs are and planning how to address them. Many of our parishes could be much better tended than they are. Small wonder people show up to get married and be buried. Nobody has time for them on a day to day basis.

      Couldn’t all Catholics really take care of themselves? That’s sort of what the system expects. But it leads to a lot of individualism, and also to situations when the only time people encounter a church professional it’s in a disciplinary or teaching role. Consider the density of parish life, and there will always be need for multiple kinds of interactions. With gifted lay people more fully employed, we’d recover some of our “heart” for the Church in its many…

  3. I have known, and heard firsthand stories of, people who err on both sides. Priests who are intimidated by or jealous of longtime parish employees who enjoy popular support. Lay professional ministers who overplay their hand, acting as if they were really in charge and the pastor is just some guy in a collar who performs sacraments. There’s enough blame to go around.

  4. We need a better understanding of why so many Millennial priests do not agree that “the Church needs to move faster in empowering lay persons in ministry.”

    With all due respect, how much more could we do to “empower lay ministers,” in the aggregate, than we have already over the last fifty years – short of dispensing with the sacramental priesthood altogether?

    Obviously there’s variation out there. Some places have more extensive lay ministry than others. But there’s at least some credible empirical evidence that those areas which were most aggressive in empowering lay ministers, especially in the liturgy, have seen the lowest rates of vocations and resort to sacraments across the board (see for example: Saginaw, Rochester).

    All of which is not to suggest resort to some crude “pray, pay and obey” model of days of yore, mythical or real, and no one shiuld think that 1958 (or pick your date of change) was some kind of Golden Age. A parish lives and thrives to the extent that it has a large, energetic, and well catechized laity present, and not just to pay the bills. But this question seems to presume too much about just what the sacramental priesthood is there for, and how it differs from that of the baptized. There are things the laity can (and should) do. But only those in orders can dispense (with the very qualified exception of baptism) the sacraments.

    I know the concern has been raised before, but is there not a danger of replacing (or largely so) one clerical class (the sacramental priesthood and diaconate) with yet another of a sort – a newly empowered lay ministry, complete with extensive theology degrees, one in which, as John Pau lII put in 1987, “we run the risk of clericalizing the laity or laicizing the clergy”?

    And are we placing too much emphasis on what the laity do *inside* the Church, and not enough on what they can – and should – do out in the larger, secular world to help convert it?

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #4:
      I think the discussion needs to be reframed along these lines: we encourage, develop, and focus on a call to the baptized. That doesn’t leave anybody out. And it clarifies that the Church is not focused too much on “those who lord it over others,” as the Lord himself warned.

      Do lay ministers, by and large, have a strong sense of baptism at the root of their vocation or service? I think yes. Do some imitate the worst of the leadership examples they see? That too.

      Does the clergy have a sense of baptismal call in themselves, or in discerning and drawing that out of the laity? Some do. But many priests have been nominal Catholics drawn into a life of what …? Service, holiness, and certainly, authentic callings to priesthood. But not always well-sorted or well-discerned.

      And for every Rochester, there has also been an Erie. And my own parish, certainly with its own history of lay ministry going back decades, also counts no less than twenty priests ordained from our midst since our founding in 1947. Not bad for a community that sees young men in residence here for three-and-a-half years, and usually not much more. And almost any US parish outside of the best university communities would have a difficult time matching that discernment record.

      And speaking of Rochester and Saginaw, I suspect these “questionable” places may be as much about p*** poor young adult ministry, as about bishops that had difficulty pumping baptized and called believers into the seminary.

      The institution and its pastors are often scared of youth and young adult ministry. It shows.

  5. I have to say that the summary offered here on priests’ views of the sexual abuse crisis is disconcerting and worrisome. While I agree with some of the thoughts expressed here – that under the Dallas Charter, priests are held accountable but not bishops; and that zero-tolerance policies have the potential to be unjust – what I would hope to hear priests say is not said here. Here is what I would like to have read: “We recognize that it is our responsibility to follow the criminal laws and diocesan policies: to report abuse, even when doing so implicates one of our brother priests, because the well-being of the people in our care comes first.”

    The vulnerability and liability of priests, of their words or actions being misunderstood, or of being falsely accused, is real and not to be dismissed. But reading what is written here, I fear I’m still left with the question, “Are they getting it?”

  6. [In the second portion of my commentary, I briefly challenge the authors with a few questions and proposals.]

    First, now that sociologists have gotten us addicted to the generation v. life cycle paradigm, who is going to examine the extent to which various differences may be the consequence of generation or life cycle? How do priests change over time, as they age? As men age, does their need for certainty, clarity, and control lessen? Is it conditioned by their “coming of age” experiences? How are young (or middle or older) priests the same or different over time? I would also like to see further research into differences within generation or life cycle groups. For example, research in one Midwestern diocese shows that there are two distinct sub-groups of millennials, one that is much like the post-Vatican 2 group and one that is radically different. What about looking for such a split nationally?

    Second (with a nod to Andy Greeley), in light of the fact that respondents indicate the two most important/fulfilling aspects of their work are celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments and preaching the Word of God, isn’t it time to get some good information on the quality of their efforts in these areas? Some questions that are long overdue for inclusion in a survey of priests would include:
    • How do they approach these ministries?
    • What preparation do they undertake on a regular (weekly) basis?
    • What preparation do they undertake on an annual or biennial basis?
    • What are their self-assessed strengths and weaknesses in these two ministries?
    • What impact has the new translation had on their liturgical leadership?

    Some of these questions may have practical connections to the questions on earlier versions of the survey about priests’ reading habits. Responses to questions such as these might produce new leads for identifying best practices in these fundamental priestly activities, and a companion survey of parishioners could further enrich our understanding of issues in this area.

    1. @Jeff Rexhausen – comment #7:
      Jeff – good questions and analysis. Have always taken these surveys with a grain of salt. Ever since Greeley, we have heard that priests are happy in their jobs and yet, surveys are not nuanced enough to indicate or show differences – not just age; but also current positions.

      There appears to be little ability in surveys to make distinctions between questions such as – sacraments, preaching, weekly eucharist is fulfilling but my personal life; current position; job demands; relationship to bishop or boss is terrible. Or, the above is fulfilliing but feel compromised by Rome/bishops who require me to defend issues I don’t agree with.

      Men do change as they age – most get more conservative; but not all. What about questions around celibacy; around sexual maturation; around intimacy; around issues such as taking responsibility for my life and future.

  7. In our recent feedback sessions in Dr. Rakosky’s diocese I remarked on the apparent disparity between my own anecdotal observations and the findings of Steven Rossetti’s “Why Priests are Happy.” This insightful commentary is very helpful to me as I continue to reflect on this fascinating dynamic particularly as it pertains to wellness for clergy which is an interest of mine. I thank Jack for this excellent analysis, and if he ever finds himself in Richfield lunch is on me.

  8. I am happy to have survived my early years as a priest, during which time I did some good work and effectively ministered to many people while not having my personal act together. There was no accountability system back then, and there really is not one in place now. Most priests are regarded more or less as independent contract workers who try to keep out of trouble so as to not draw undue attention from the authorities (an exception, of course, are the independent contractors who are seeking higher positions on the totem pole who want to be noticed by the authorities).
    It took a close brush with death at 54 to provide me with the impetus to address important personal issues which led to an enduring spiritual awakening. So I’m very happy being a priest because it is who I have been called to be. I am incredibly grateful for all the opportunities I have to carry the message of God’s good news. So there’s lots to be happy about. But there’s also lots to be frustrated about with regard to the dysfunctional structures of the church which often result in grave injustices. The Maciel case leaps to mind because it involves corruption at the highest levels of the church. The coverups which resulted in almost no sanctions against bishops. The dismissal of successors of the apostles by the Pope. A synod that features little but talk, talk, talk. A refusal to meet the clear and obvious needs of local churches by permitting the ordination of mature married men as well as mature celibate men. The imposition of LA and the revised translation. Negotiations for unity with unrepentant schismatics while piling castigation after castigation on progressive “dissenters”.
    Happy, though, for a kind bishop, wonderful parishioners, good friends, and for participation in this forum.

  9. Thanks, Rita – lots of wisdom and experience in your words. Have also wondered about the professionals and the fact that the church does not support unions; pays less than what you find in the for profit world; no one has spoken about the constant movement of pastors who can hire/fire at will (not good for a career or trying to support a family).

    Last year, saw this diocese prolong a hiring process for months changing the job description as they went along. Thus, the diocese rejected excellent, qualified professionals initially because they were not clerics; then, when they could find no qualified clerics; they stalled and changed descriptions until the diocesan hiring person chose a num (her friend) who had some qualifications but the diocese did not get the most qualified or the best.
    Have witnessed like situations that are driven by financial constraints; some by a desire to place older religious especially if the religious community has other members working in the diocese or has long term ties to the diocese; at times it comes down to who knows whom (okay, this is also true in the for profit world). Wonder if some of the religious communities that have developed lay membership associations; who may live together, attract & have professional ministry degrees, etc. will ulimately both replace the earlier positions held by nuns? Some of these communities are active in multiple parishes given size, lack of resources, etc.

  10. [The final portion of my commentary focuses on the contribution made by the four people whose reflections comprise the final section of the book:]

    In the reflections that form the often thought-provoking conclusion of this book, echoes of Dean Hoge’s prophetic voice is raised by several people. Each of the four illustrates a different way to read this book, and, at their best, they are challenging reflections.

    Unfortunately, the first of these reflections largely fails to deliver. Bishop Aymond comes off more as a propagandist than a prophet; he glosses over some serious issues, such as working with laity – especially women – and the impact of bishops’ poor leadership. I hope other bishops will give a more honest and less rose-colored consideration to the findings.

    The other reflections each enrich the book in a different way. The Executive Director of NCEA’s Seminary Department, Msgr. Jeremiah McCarthy, drawing on his seminary career, noted differences in a number of areas, including attitudes about collaboration, sources of satisfaction, and views of identity and ministry. He offers several insights about implications for formation, and I would argue that they apply to ongoing formation, not just seminary. His comments about screening and admission of candidates may also lead to consideration of whether there have been shortcomings in recent screening and formation.

    Sr. Katarina Schuth of the University of St. Thomas made comparisons to her study of priests in multiple parishes. She brings knowledge and insights from her parallel research to her comments. I especially appreciated her point that support from living and working with like-minded priests is important but more difficult to obtain. She also provides a valuable perspective about the tensions many priests have with their bishop and the Church, which she refers to as a troubling situation.

    Dr. Dianne Traflet of Seton Hall took a very different approach, searching for themes in the open-ended comments that the authors included in the book. Her insights provide a helpful counterpoint for readers like me who might not give sufficient attention to the qualitative elements of the book. Her identification of the themes of “humility, accompaniment, spirituality, mutual support, and collaboration” will provide many readers with a tool for moving, as Fr. Bob Howes (one of the Church’s first pastoral planners) used to say, “from insight to impact.”

    [This final commentary has some very interesting points that many readers here would appreciate. Indeed, for some people it may be the most valuable part of the book. I will find out if a brief extract from it can be reprinted here.]

  11. “Lay Ministry” covers a lot of very different people.

    1. What I call “professional ministers”, people with M.A. in theology or M.Div. who can really be colleagues to priests. As we get fewer priests and religious, we need many more laypeople who have these degrees. For example when I interviewed people participating in Bible Study which was facilitated by fellow parish members, people appreciated those facilitating skills in small groups but still wanted someone involved personally in the program who was a real expert on scripture.

    2. What I call “credentialed ministers”, the people who generally have risen “up the ranks” of parish activity often starting out as volunteers, and who are increasing being given diocesan training at the undergraduate level to supplement their experience. Since these people usually have extensive experience and interpersonal skills, they work very well with pastors and could work very well with “professional ministers.” We have a lot of these people in my experience, and most of them are very empowered (sometimes too empowered) by their pastors.

    3.What I would call “professional voluntary leaders.” People with professional degrees or their work equivalents in areas other than religion who can provide leadership in both the parish and the community. I put myself in this category even though I now have a theology masters.

    In the eighties, before there were many lay professional ministers, or lay credentialed ministers, I was a member of a mostly voluntary pastoral staff that was composed of “professional voluntary leaders”, e.g. an African American grade school teacher who was our social justice minister, a union shop steward who was our youth minister, etc. All these people had professional leadership skills and experience from outside the parish that they were able to bring to the parish as well as their own spiritual gifts.

    If parishes are going to be Vatican II, engaged with and evangelizing the world, professional voluntary leaders are the most important collaborators for pastors.

  12. “A pastor in his 30s reported: “When I came here Sister was doing all of my job. Sister was trying to play priest and that’s a huge frustration to me.”

    Apparently, Sister has shown her ability to handle the job. Instead of snidely accusing her of “playing priest”, the young pastor might better ask why she isn’t a priest.

    1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #16:

      Because pastoral ability has nothing to do with being able to be a priest? Because the young priest in question takes the teaching of the Church to which he has committed his life seriously?

      In any case, the Catholic Church is not some conservative protestant sect which holds women are incapable of leadership. Therefore, the fact that they are capable of such, does not represent an arguement against the Catholic Church’s definatively expressed belief.

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #17:
        Scott, if pastoral ability has nothing to do with being a priest, we are in real trouble. Fortunately, this magical thinking that your comment seems to evidence is not descriptive of the actual process by which candidates are supposed to be led through the process toward holy orders, nor of the church’s documents concerning holy orders.

        Think “good shepherd” — the pastoral role of the priest is key to the whole of his ministry. Is he not expected to celebrate eucharist? That is pastoral ministry. Is he not expected to hear confessions? That is pastoral ministry. Is he not expected to contribute to Christian initiation, bless marriages, visit the sick with the sacrament of anointing, preside over the rite of Christian funerals? These are pastoral activities. They imply — and indeed require — pastoral ministry.

      2. @Rita Ferrone – comment #20:

        You are missing the point.

        Pastoral ability is key to a priest being effective in his vocation, and should be central in the Church deciding who it wants to be a pastor of souls. It has nothing to do with if a person, in the first instance, is able to be a priest at all.

        To deploy a much overused metaphor, some men have the skills required to be a mother. Indeed, they may have all the attributes you would want before someone decided to be a mother. But they still can’t be a mother.

        To be a good priest (or mother), you first must be able to be a priest (or mother) at all.

      3. @Scott Smith – comment #22:
        I didn’t miss the point. What you said was that being pastoral wasn’t essential to priesthood. If you meant that it’s not sufficient, you should have said that.

        I see that you do value pastoral skill and ability at some level, and I applaud you in that.

        Nevertheless, I stand by my statement. To isolate maleness as the only qualification necessary for priesthood, and then go on to say that the rest is about “being effective in his vocation” is to miss the very point of holy orders, which is a sacrament in service to communion, not a sacrament of masculine ego and identity.

        There are numerous men — males — who are not qualified to be priests. Don’t let the fact that the priest shortage has set the bar lower for admission to holy orders fool you. There are still guys who don’t make it, and who shouldn’t be priests — and not because they’re not male!

      4. @Rita Ferrone – comment #24:

        Then perhaps we are managing to talk past each other?

        I certainly agree there are men, perhaps most men, who are not qualified to be priests. In fact, I suspect you could count me as a man not suitable qualified.

        My point, contra Brigid Rauch’s earlier comment, was that the reason women can not be ordained is not to do with any out-dated notions about women’s abilities, and that accordingly arguements about their pastoral ability are aimed at a straw man (or woman).

        I was not, and am not suitably prepared to, argue any broader point about the qualities which support the sacramental nature of the priesthood (though I wonder to the extent which your view would render a “bad” priest not a priest, thus potentially denying sacramental grace to members of the faithful).

      5. @Scott Smith – comment #27:
        Yes, Scott. Thanks for your reply.

        As to your last point, which is a good one, we can’t have control over everything that happens post-ordination, and I certainly wouldn’t want to argue for invalidating holy orders broadly for those who prove un-pastoral, especially because skills can be learned to remedy the situation. But I do think the discernment needs to be there up front. Of course the church does invalidate orders sometimes (laicization); most often for priests who marry, and now increasingly for sex abusers. I could imagine that personality disorders undiagnosed at the time of ordination, which might be the foundation of un-pastoral behavior, could also be grounds for laicization.

      6. @Rita Ferrone – comment #30:
        Laicization doesn’t invalidate Holy Orders, but removes the canonical right to exercise it, except in an emergency. However, I do think that there is a canonical process, similar to an annulment that can be used that would investigate if there was an impediment to ordination, such as coercion or mental illness or intention not to live the promises/vows, which declares that the man was never ordained to begin with. But I think this procedure is very rare and seldom used because of the question of the validity of what this invalidly ordained priest’s sacramental celebrations, although I would think in these cases the “Church supplies” what is lacking.

      7. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #31:
        Thanks for the clarification; I didn’t know that someone who was “returned to the lay state” could exercise orders in an emergency. Once you bring up the validity of the sacraments previously celebrated, I can see the point of this distinction.

  13. Most parishes in my neck of the woods which can afford it have staff members that are paid. The amount that is paid all depends upon the laity and their sacrificial giving. You can’t pay personnel unless there is money to do it. At our elementary school as well as our private high school, the staffs are completely lay, not a religious in sight. Of course tuition and fund raising covers that and our teachers are paid one year shy of what public school teachers get.
    On the parish side of things where we can’t charge people to attend Mass, we have to rely upon what is provided for us and a budget to cover it and savings for a rainy day. But with that said, parishes in our diocese with at least a thousand households do have a full time DRE, Music director, youth director and pastoral assistants. In addition to these, in my parish we also have a full time administrator, bookkeeper and administrative assistants. Having an administrator releases me to do what I need to do pastorally and otherwise. We also rely heavily upon volunteers.
    Our high school is a Sisters of Mercy school, although they no longer provide anyone for it. They have turned it over to a “broad of trustees” operation and it has been very successful. There is no sister of mercy even on the board and no priest. I could see this type of operation working for cities that have multiple parish buildings and few priests and rather than closing these structures, the bishop could turn them over to a board of trustees and tell them it’s yours, sink or swim, within parameters of course.
    But the bottom line is money and until Catholics start competing with their Protestant counterparts and begin tithing, volunteers will rule the day and yes, there will be high turnover, low theological formation and the status quo.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #18:
      Allan, I totally agree. Excellent comment.

      However, I think you are missing the point — which is that these young priests don’t want more lay ministry at any price. It’s not the practical issue that blocks them, it’s the principle of the thing. They see lay ministry as competition rather than collaboration.

      I’d understand if they said they can’t foresee it given their budgets and the giving patterns of their parish, but I believe they are saying they do not want it, period. Here is where some more expansive vision — similar to what you have described, concerning youth ministry, faith formation, caring ministries, etc. — would help us as a whole. I hope you are talking to the younger guys and encouraging them to open doors!

      The pastor is key to fundraising, so if the priest does not want lay ministry to develop, the fundraising will go toward other things.

      1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #19:
        I suspect these young priests who are a bit wet behind the ears, once they’ve been in a parish a while and actually end up the only priest in a parish, will soon change their minds. I’ve had a string of newly ordained parochial vicars over the past nine years and yes they come in gung-ho thinking they can conquer the world and by the end of the first year they realize they need help to do it.

  14. Rita – just give thanks that Mr. Smith is not a formation director and leave it at that.

    Used to debate whether *pastoral abilities* were taught or were inherent in one’s personality or may be a little of both.

    Priesthood is about building relationships just as the Trinity is about relationships. Thus, priesthood is ministry, a sacrament – all ministries and sacraments are communal actions.

    Priesthood is not an object or state that can be separated from its reason for being – service and ministry to build up the Body of Christ. We do not espouse a *cultic priesthood* that is separate or above the people of God – priesthood is a calling out of the people of God to serve the people of God….nothing more and nothing less.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #23:
      Thanks, Bill.

      Service and building up the Body of Christ are the qualities I was trying to get at. These are not optional add-ons or frills. They go to the heart of the sacramental quality of priesthood itself.

  15. Thanks, Rita – was often faced with some difficult decisions and choices; for example, candidate with excellent pastoral skills, mature, good personality but weak academically….do you steer him elsewhere because he struggles academically?
    or candidate who is superior academically but avoids community service; does not relate well with others; under-developed personality, etc……do you approve advancement based soley upon his academic crendentials?
    All of us can probably give examples from either extreme – have college classmate who was dropped because of academics but later ordained a diocesan priest who has done wonderfully – at his heart he was dedicated to service; well-adjusted; mature; have seen other examples of scholars who avoid any type of parish assignments; have a difficult time relating even to community members; loners; etc. These ultimately become *non-assignable* members of the community and burdens.
    Unfortunately, we have come a long way historically from the tradition that candidates are called from a community to be educated, trained, and returned to that community to serve and minister. Too often as others have said, we have individual *contractors* (my favorite phrase from Cardinal Egan during the abuse hearings) and whose lives are best defined by the phrase – *lone rangers*.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #26:
      Bill, these are great questions. They come up in the diaconate, too. I find the academic requirements in particular to be perplexing. Is it really, truly, necessary to be able to succeed in a postgraduate academic environment in order to be ordained and go on to have a fruitful ministry? For the diaconate, I would answer with a resounding “No!” Your example of your former classmate suggests that it may be at least a qualified “no” for the priesthood as well. And yet the trend I see in diaconate formation programs is that the academic requirements are being beefed up. There are some great deacons in my diocese who never got past (or, in some cases, even all the way through) high school. I worry that we’re passing over calls to vocations because of academic hurdles.

      I found my own academic formation extremely helpful. I don’t mean to suggest that there is no value to it. Not sure what the answer is.

  16. A concern I see, especially in candidates in their twenties, is that some sort of “call” is “discerned” before any pertinent charisms are discerned at all.

    Many clergy have no idea or even a personal expression of what their baptismal call is. None at all. For them orders becomes the sacrament of initiation.

    “I wonder to the extent which your view would render a “bad” priest not a priest, thus potentially denying sacramental grace to members of the faithful.”

    We already know that the institutional Church engages in administrative practices instead of authentic discernment which in effect denies sacramental grace to millions of believers. Is this concern, outside of hypocrisy, even on the table?

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #29:
      “We already know that the institutional Church engages in administrative practices instead of authentic discernment which in effect denies sacramental grace to millions of believers. Is this concern, outside of hypocrisy, even on the table?”

      Todd this is an excellent point. Thank you for putting it on the table, here at least. Would that it were truly on the table at the highest levels of the Church’s decision-making.

  17. Todd Flowerday : We already know that the institutional Church engages in administrative practices instead of authentic discernment which in effect denies sacramental grace to millions of believers. Is this concern, outside of hypocrisy, even on the table?

    Can we clear what “administrative practices” we are discussing? It is likely my fault, since Rita clearly knows, but I am a little lost on this one all the same.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. @Scott Smith – comment #34:
      One practice would be the surfacing of viri probati (“proven men”) as candidates for the ministerial priesthood even if they are married. This is solidly within the mainstream tradition of Christendom, is based on New Testament apostolic principles, and could be applied as a legitimate solution for rural and urban communities that somehow fall under a population threshhold for “earning” their own pastor, or a share of one.

      And I will also point out that the Church’s present practice of ordaining only men is an administrative one, and does not impact faith or morals in any way. I accept the tradition of it, and I look forward to a reunited Christendom being open in an Acts 15 way.

      But viri probati is significant enough.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #35:

        Thank you for the clarification.

        In terms of my response, I am with Richard at #37. The Church has been reasonably clear that ordaining married men is a matter of discipline (i.e. administration), whereas women priests (and say marrying the ordained) is not.

        Therefore, it does impact faith, and your unsupported assertion fails (accepting that a blog comm box is a difficult forum in which to support such a view).

      2. @Scott Smith – comment #38:
        Actually, it is not a matter of faith. The function of a woman as a presbyter does not impact any Christian view of God. It has nothing to do with theology.

        It is a serious matter of administration of the sacraments, however. Hardly trivial.

        I am glad youhave conceded the point that the institution has administrative flaws not affected by theology that affect the availability of the sacraments. This is a serious situation that has a moral impact on bishops, if they willingly close off discernment to the detrment of the faithful.

      3. @Scott Smith – comment #40:
        I think the attempt to broaden the discussion may be intellectually dishonest. A woman confecting the Eucharist says nothing about God, except that the grace of the Holy Spirit is working in that person. The matter strikes me as akin to the discussion of Judaism in Acts 15.

      4. Todd Flowerday : @Scott Smith – comment #40: I think the attempt to broaden the discussion may be intellectually dishonest. A woman confecting the Eucharist says nothing about God, except that the grace of the Holy Spirit is working in that person. The matter strikes me as akin to the discussion of Judaism in Acts 15.

        I don’t see how.

        What God is and what God wills are almost the same thing as far as I can tell. If the nature and workings of God’s grace don’t tell us something about the nature and workings of God, I not sure what does.

  18. The point was made that priests who have been canonically “reduced to the lay state” may, in fact, act as priests in situations deemed “in extremis”. This is generally regarded as referring to a laicized priest being able to grant absolution or to anoint someone who is near death. With the drastic reduction in the number of parishes–a continuing trend–wonder what will have to happen before people begin to notice that such “former” priests could celebrate Mass for people who would otherwise not have access to it without going way out of their way?

    I understand the term administrative practices referred to as including the willful refusal on the part of bishops to even have a conversation about ordaining some mature married men in order to meet the legitimate needs of their dioceses. In my diocese we have 17 international priests covering parishes that were once served by priests of our own diocese. Recently three additional local priests had to be put “on the shelf” while pursuing serious health care. I have no idea how the archbishop is going to meet that need in a way that will not result in seriously reduced priestly ministry in all these parishes. Our retired priests who do “fill in” work are already stretched to the limit.

    A few years ago, I mentioned this to a priest friend who has since been named a bishop. He responded almost flippantly that “the church” in Latin America has had a worse shortage for more than a hundred years and the Vatican hasn’t lifted a finger to do anything about it. He said that compared to them we have plenty of priests. Great attitude, huh? BTW, I have great admiration for this man otherwise.

  19. @ Todd at #35:

    There is no theological objection to ordaining viri probati. The East does this, and more. It’s a discipline, and thus open to change.

    There is every theological objection in the world to ordaining women. The tradition of the East is entirely the same as the West on this.

    Proponents of women’s ordination always seem dismissive of Christ’s example in choosing only men for Apostles – when they aren’t denying that Christ instituted a sacramental priesthood at all. This Christ strikes me as . . . extraordinarily weak, too hemmed in and constrained by cultural expectations and taboos to stand up and do the just thing.

    It’s a Christ that hardly seems divine, and therefore hardly worthy of worship.

  20. As this post sunsets into the archive, let me thank Jeff Rexhausen for his excellent alternative view of the book, @Jeff Rexhausen – comment #1:
    @Jeff Rexhausen – comment #7: @Jeff Rexhausen – comment #14:

    These emphasized some things. e.g. lay ministry. and Hoge’s generational model that I chose not to emphasize because of my complex views of these areas, e.g. my post comments If we look closely at data we can sometimes see the blinders of consensus that aid ministry as well as the problems that lurk around the corner. In the chapter on collaboration in ministry we see the consensus .and Satisfaction in these basic elements can be found with either a cultic spirituality or a servant leader spirituality . People are attracted by moderate novelty, and repelled by too much novelty. I decided the “blinders” model was enough novelty for one post.

    My views of lay ministry are complex, something that I hinted at in my comment distinguishing among the various types of lay ministry as I view them as a sociologist. @Jack Rakosky – comment #15:

    What I see happening in most parishes is that “credentialed ministers”, the people who generally have risen “up the ranks” of parish activity often starting out as volunteers, and who are increasing being given diocesan training at the undergraduate level to supplement their experience . These laity are not very different from the sisters of decades ago who were highly dependent upon pastors. Young priests are going to adapt to them very well. The parish model to which we may be headed is ever larger “cathedral parishes” in which a young priest learns how to be a bishop like pastor presiding over deacons and lay ministers. That is why I am on the side of people who are opposing their church closings and for the alternative model that empowers deacons, sisters, and lay people as “pastors” of smaller communities.

  21. What I am for is “professional voluntary leaders.” People with professional degrees (or their work equivalents) in areas other than religion who can provide Christian leadership in both the parish and the community.

    While ideally these people are the majority of parish leaders, I don’t see them as being permanently in parish ministry. When I left my period of time as a professional giving voluntary parish staff ministry in the eighties, I came to my professional life with a renewed spirit. I took off the blinders of my own professional life, and quickly found what became a decade or more of empowerment of persons with severe mental illness. I would also say that that decade of experience qualifies me far more than any theological training or spirituality to lead people at the parish level into a deeper experience of Christ in their own professional lives.

    The idea model of parish leadership is one in which Christian lay leaders are constantly being cycled between roles of voluntary ecclesial leadership and civic-professional paid leadership.

    The American Grace finding that religious networks of family, close friends and small groups are responsible for the very positive effects of church attendance (the equivalent of a $100,000 in income) will eventually transform American religion as entrepreneurs work out its implications in our world of decreasing denominational and congregation identity. There is no reason why the religious networks have to be congregational or denominationally dependent. The research says these networked people need to go to worship services but they could travel among parishes and denominations.

    We are heading into a “deinstitutionalization” of religion much as we deinstitutionalized the health and mental health systems. The old model was to get them to the hospital to take care of them, and to get them to church and get them to tithe. Modern health care emphasizes prevention, support groups, and multiple providers. This was the reason for my advocating new sociological models and tools at the end of my post to help us move outside the blinders of our past experiences.

  22. And thank you, Jack, for setting the stage for an engaging discussion with your thought-provoking post. I’d like to continue some of this off-line with you. If you’re willing, send me a note at:

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #46:

      And the rest of the Catholic faith? If we can’t rely on Tradition, how can anyone reasonably accept any of it?

      The faith is a seamless garment. Once you deny a part, cruel logic will ultimately demand you deny it all.

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #48:
        We’ve been down this road many, many times at Pray Tell, but I will state it yet again: parts of Catholic tradition in the past have grown and developed and changed.

        All of the following have been condemned at times by Church authorities: separation of church and state, religious liberty, freedom of conscience, democratically elected government, usury, enjoyment of the marital act, heliocentric universe. These have been supported at times by Church authorities: owning, buying and selling slaves; forced conversion of Jews.

        There are efforts, unconvincing in my view, to explain each of these away as if the context somehow made it OK (also known as relativism), or the Church didn’t really say what it said, or the Church also said other (better) things (which may be true but doesn’t alter the fact that all these problematic things were also said).

        This notion that the faith is unchanging and unchangeable is – I’m sorry to say it but it’s true – fundamentalism. The facts of history do not sustain it.

        When Archbishop Nichols of London was asked recently if Church teaching on homosexuality will ever change, he said “I don’t know.” When Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna was asked if women will ever be ordained, he did not rule it out, but said that in his view only an ecumenical council could do that.

        I’m not arguing here for a change on any particular issue. But when someone does, the proper response is to engage the issue on its own merits, rather than ruling out the question by the fantasy that nothing ever changes.

        We can rely on tradition, but not uncritically, and not only on tradition. There is also God to rely on, as well as each other.


      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #49:

        You have expressed your view many times. It has not become more convincing with repetition.

        One issue to start is the implicit no limits fallacy (i.e. that doctrine can develop does not mean every belief can change).

        Where you say “the Church also said other (better) things” in relation to slavery, this to me appears where the development of doctrine can fairly apply. We see two possibilities in the Tradition, and we narrow the allowable views down.

        That is development, a refining of belief, as understanding grows. Not rejecting tradition as man made, and introducing alien novelties.

  23. Todd & Jim – thought this reflection was interesting:

    IMO, today’s readings highlight that faith is about relationships and actions (it is not some pre-ordained world set in stone). That faith is a journey that requires as Karban’s says:
    – “Just as Jesus’ earliest followers didn’t immediately recognize his importance, much less his divinity, I presume many of us don’t recognize the risen Jesus at work in all we are and do.” (apply to this question about ordination)
    – “When I pray to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I’m basically praying to someone whose image I create in my mind. I can conjure up any image I desire. But when I pray to the risen Jesus present in the people around me, I’m on the hook. I’m forced to deal with what I’ve got — the men and women, children and adults, sick and healthy, straight and gay, acceptable and unacceptable individuals who populate my world — a very unpredictable lot.

    Like our sacred authors, our faith lives are rooted in a constant quest to discover God in the unpredicted and unexpected. If we’re not experiencing that process, we really don’t have a lot to rejoice about.”

    Journey, quest, unpredictable, unexpected – struggling with these is what brings *rejoicing*. Anything else is avoiding the work and our own paschal dying and rising. Faith is about a loving relationship; not guarantees that things will always be a certain way.

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