Same Call, Different Men: The Evolution of the Priesthood since Vatican II by Gautier, Perl and Fichter, a research project of CARA , continues the series of studies started in 1970 to track trends within the American Catholic priesthood. The study included both diocesan and religious priests.
The book has eight chapters half of which analyze data collected from a representative body of priests with the other half devoted to interviews of priests about the effect of the sexual abuse scandal on their lives.
Major conclusions of the statistical analysis are that American priests are happy in their vocation, getting older, overworked, learning to collaborate, especially with women, and are more and more likely to be ethnically other than white. CARA has collected a lot of date to prove what is already apparent to most observes.
The study shows that the fewer number of priests is being addressed partly by recruiting priests from other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin American. The problems associated with this phenomenon of international priests are illustrated with stories from pastors and diocesan officials about language and cultural issues.
The chapters on the sexual abuse scandal make for interesting reading and are a good summary of the complete history of that topic. Priests who knew or supervised abusers were selected for extensive interviews and their verbatim responses are summarized. The selections are a very moving account of the hurt and shame felt by many priests.
The book concludes with a chapter on the future and reiterates Andrew Greeley’s conclusion in 1970 that “If priests are among the most effective recruiters of other priests and if their enthusiasm for recruitment has undergone a considerable decline, then it is not likely that the present vocation crisis will cease unless there is once again a return to some higher level of enthusiasm for vocational recruiting among the clergy.” Of course, when the future of the priesthood is discussed there is no mention of the possible ordination of women.
To complement the work of the three researchers, four people were asked to comment on the findings. Only one of the comments is worth noting: Reflections from a Former Seminary Rector. Msgr. Jeremiah McCarthy wonders how long can the crisis in numbers be managed by restructuring, combining parishes, importing international priests and so forth.
Msgr. McCarthy writes that the old adage in therapeutic circles is that you are “only as sick as your secrets” when he refers to the sexual abuse scandal. It seems that this adage might be applied, as well, to the presence of gay men among the clergy. How might satisfaction be increase, recruitment increased, and general acceptance be enhanced if gay men could serve the church openly?