Choices, conflicts, and transformations in my own life have shaped the framework for the story of how the priest shortage produces crisis, conflict, and change in the Church and society. So I offer an autobiographical account that acknowledges the social underpinnings of the analysis in this book. The narrative tells of personal biases, forks in the intellectual road, and milestones in the evolution of my thought. The story begins three decades ago, at the close of the Second Vatican Council.
I had been ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit only a couple of years when the late John Cardinal Dearden asked me to get a doctorate in sociology at the University of Chicago so I could teach in the seminary. One of my first term paper assignments was to design a research project in a social psychology course with Professor Richard Flacks. The proposal I submitted featured a questionnaire on celibacy in the Catholic priesthood. Flacks liked the paper and urged me to do the survey. I talked it over with Joseph Fichter and Andrew Greeley, both Catholic priests and noted sociologists who were at the University of Chicago. Fichter was there on a sabbatical and Greeley was a program director at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). It was the mid–1960s. I remember Fichter saying, “You young Turks get right to the heart of the matter, don't you. ” Greeley said, “To do it right, a study like that will take a lot of money. And it should be done right. ” Flacks's suggestion soon got lost in the realities of qualifying examinations and a research assistantship with Professor Peter Blau. A couple of years later Fichter published his book America's Forgotten Priests. The first American sociologist to pose the burning question, he reported that the majority of U. S. priests were in favor of optional celibacy. Then in 1969, Greeley accepted a contract for another national survey of the priesthood, funded to the tune of $300,000 by the United States Catholic Conference (USCC). “Here's the study you wanted to do on celibacy, ” he said. “Would you like to be the director?”
I had been reading about theories of social change and complex organizations and working on an exciting research project with Blau. My years in graduate school coincided with the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, which were electrifying times for Catholics, especially young priests. So much seemed up for grabs in the Church. As a budding sociologist, I began to see the Catholic Church as one of the most powerful complex organizations in the world. I also had a hunch that, somehow, compulsory celibacy was part of its power structure. One of my first published papers dealt with these issues. 1 I was learning a great