From the Pastor: Progressive Priests? Not For Long!
A study of a study, with the unwieldy title, “Polarization, Generational Dynamics, and the Ongoing Impact of the Abuse Crisis: Further Insights from the National Study of Catholic Priests” has just been published. If you want my quick summary and then wish to quit reading further, here are three of the main points. 1. The wildly progressive priests are dying or retiring. 2. The priests taking their places are mostly orthodox in their theology. 3. Priests don’t trust their bishop if he is not orthodox in his theology. Here is how the authors described the origin and purpose of this new paper:
In October 2022, The Catholic Project at the Catholic University of America released initial findings from The National Study of Catholic Priests*, the largest survey of American Catholic priests in over fifty years. That study involved three primary components:
• A survey of 10,000 Catholic priests, receiving 3,516 respondents across 191 dioceses/eparchies (36% valid response rate).
• In-depth qualitative interviews with more than 100 priests selected from survey respondents.
• A census survey of U.S. bishops, receiving 131 responses (67% valid response rate).
Since the publication of initial findings from that survey, researchers at Catholic University and elsewhere have continued to study and analyze the data. This report highlights several themes which have emerged from closer analysis of the quantitative data, as well as careful study of the qualitative data collected from the one-on-one interviews with priests.
Here is the beginning of the paper’s insight. My comments will follow.
Political polarization in the United States has been a common and growing concern in recent years, as have concerns about growing polarization within religious communities including the Catholic Church. Our data does show a significant divide between the political and theological self-identification of older priests and younger priests.
Yet the data also suggests that the American presbyterate is, over time, becoming less polarized. Simply put, the portion of new priests who see themselves as politically “liberal” or theologically “progressive” has been steadily declining since the Second Vatican Council and has now all but vanished.
This decline is especially stark theologically. Asked to describe “their views on most matters having to do with theology and doctrines” on a scale from “very progressive” to “very conservative/orthodox,” there are significant cohort differences (Figure 1). More than half of the priests who were ordained since 2010 see themselves on the conservative side of the scale. No surveyed priests who were ordained after 2020 described themselves as “very progressive.”
Yes, priests are becoming less polarized for one simple reason. The “progressive” end of the spectrum of priests rarely encouraged vocations and certainly never taught a good reason for anyone to become or remain Catholic, let alone dedicate his life to being a Catholic priest. As they die off, they do so without “reproducing” so to speak. The newer priests, especially those entering seminary after the 2002 major priest scandals, went in to fight for the Truth, not to change it. They looked with horror at the beliefs and actions of the priests making the news and said, “That is not a priest at all. I will be a real priest! I will be faithful in words and actions. I believe what the Church teaches, will live it to the best of my ability, and will proclaim it to the people in its full glory!” The progressives die, and their replacements are really Catholic, so there is now very little overlap, thus, no polarization!
Regarding the trust priests have in their bishops, which varied widely across dioceses from 100% trust down to as low as 9% trust, the authors state:
If a priest describes himself as theologically conservative, for example, and he believes that his bishop is also theologically conservative, it is likely that he would report a high degree of trust in his bishop. In contrast, if a priest reported that he did not align with his bishop on theological matters, he would predictably report low trust in his bishop’s leadership; a similar line exists for political values.
Well, of course. If a priest is orthodox and his bishop is “progressive” (see 2 John 1:9 in the New American Bible Anyone who is so “progressive” as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God) the priest cannot trust his bishop to faithfully teach, preach, and act on Catholic faith, morals and discipline. Likewise, if the bishop politically aligns himself with the party of death, socialist, or communist parties, he must not be trusted, as those political parties are at odds with the Catholic Church on issues with the greatest moral significance!
Further insights may also be found in this document, so I have added a link to it on our parish website. Enjoy the good news!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka