Goodbye Father: The Celibate Male Priesthood and the Future of the Catholic Church

By Richard A. Schoenherr; David Yamane | Go to book overview
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EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION

This book is the product of a truly catholic mind and spirit. Richard Schoenherr was a friend and advisor during my graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1991 until he unexpectedly passed away in January 1996. At that time, he had spent over half his 61 years studying the Roman Catholic priesthood, 25 of them as a member of the sociology faculty at UWMadison. During his lifetime, Schoenherr was best known, as the New York Times described him in his obituary, as the “sociologist who counted priests. There is a grain of truth in this description, for it was Schoenherr who was responsible for the definitive demographic study of the priest shortage in the United States. 1 That study, published as Full Pews and Empty Altars, documented a 19 percent decline in the priest population between 1966 and 1984 and projected a 40 percent decline by 2005. In recognition of its scholarly rigor and analytical power, Full Pews and Empty Altars garnered accolades among the Catholic faithful as well as scholars, including the1996 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

So Schoenherr was indeed a sociologist who counted priests. At the same time, those who knew him well always understood his broader theoretical, theological, and pastoral interests. With the publication of this book, others will have an opportunity to share in his broad vision. Goodbye Father is the product of a lifetime of reflection on the Roman Catholic Church as an organization and community of faith. Richard Schoenherr's magnum opus sets his demographic analyses of the priest shortage in its world-historical context. It is a testament to the power of a mind capable of incorporating the insights of scholars as diverse as the demographers Nathan Keyfitz and Judah Matras, the organizational theorists Peter Blau and Howard Aldrich, the population ecologists Michael Hannan and John Freeman, the sociologists of religion Thomas O'Dea and Robert Bellah, the philosophers Martin Buber and Paul Ricoeur, the historians Mircea Eliade and Gerda Lerner, the feminist theologians Rosemary Ruether and Carol Christ, the transpersonal psychologists Abraham Maslow and Ken Wilber, and others. (Schoenherr's acknowledgments give a full accounting of his intellectual debts and development. ) From his first scholarly publication— an analysis of power, authority, and celibacy 2—to this, his last, Schoenherr proved himself to be single-minded in his devotion to understanding the place of the priesthood in the church he loved. He was, in Isaiah Berlin's classification scheme, an intellectual hedgehog. “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. 3

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