For several years now, the Roman Catholic Church and the institution of the priesthood itself have been at the center of a firestorm of controversy. While many of the criticisms lodged against the recent actions of the Church—and a small number of its priests—are justified, the majority of these criticisms are not. Hyperbolic and misleading coverage of recent scandals has created a public image of American priests that bears little relation to reality, and Andrew Greeley's Priests skewers this image with a systematic inside look at American priests today.
No stranger to controversy himself, Greeley here challenges those analysts and the media who parrot them in placing the blame for recent Church scandals on the mandate of celibacy or a clerical culture that supports homosexuality. Drawing upon reliable national survey samples of priests, Greeley demolishes current stereotypes about the percentage of homosexual priests, the level of personal and professional happiness among priests, the role of celibacy in their lives, and many other issues. His findings are more than surprising: they reveal, among other things, that priests report higher levels of personal and professional satisfaction than doctors, lawyers, or faculty members; that they would overwhelmingly choose to become priests again; and that younger priests are far more conservative than their older brethren.
While the picture Greeley paints should radically reorient the public perception of priests, he does not hesitate to criticize the Church's significant shortcomings. Most priests, for example, do not think the sexual abuse problems are serious, and they do not think that poor preaching or liturgy is a problem, though the laity give them very low marks on their ministerial skills. Priests do not listen to the laity, bishops do not listen to priests, and the Vatican does not listen to any of them. With Greeley's statistical evidence and provocative recommendations for change—including a national "Priest Corps" that would offer young men a limited term of service in the Church—Priests offers a new vision for American Catholics, one based on real problems and solutions rather than on images of a depraved, immature, and frustrated priesthood.