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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6
FORCES FOR CHANGE IN CATHOLIC MINISTRY

In this chapter I examine seven historical trends related to Catholic ministry that have been gaining strength over the latter half of the twentieth century. Each trend comprises two countervailing forces in a dialectical relationship. Together they compose a matrix that is creating tension toward change in the structure of Catholic ministry that will lead first to married priests and then to the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.


Demographic Transition

I list the decline and aging of the priest population first because currently it is the driving force for change in Catholic ministry. As noted in chapter 2, Lawrence Young and I examined the extent, components, and causes of that decline and also discovered that it conflicts with another demographic trend affecting U. S. Catholicism—steady growth in lay membership. 1 This conflict will help bring about a radical change in the structure of Catholic ministry.

The next social trend centers on the ideological apparatus supporting the status quo of the Catholic form of ministry. Have Catholic beliefs and values about priesthood and its relation to ministry changed noticeably in recent decades? If so, how deep are the forces of ideological change and what is the source of their strength?


Shift from Dogmatism to Pluralism

Throughout the institutions of modern society, including religion, blind faith in the received wisdom of the past is being questioned. The Vietnam War shattered the illusion that all Americans uncritically believe in the right to destroy a people to make the “world free for democracy. Watergate ended the belief in the unquestioned right of the president to act outside the law. The inside traders of Wall Street damaged the belief in a free market system. Dogmatism of all kinds is being replaced by pluralism. Dogmatism characterizes an organization's ideology or belief system when a uniform set of truths is taught with absolute authority and accepted with unquestioned obedience. Pluralism characterizes its belief system when a variety of truths are taught with relative authority and those that are convincing are accepted. Both are organizational characteristics. At the

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