Sociology ETDs

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The motivation which led to the selection of the subject of commitment was both professional and personal. The author not only went through this process himself of commitment/decommitment to the official ministry but came to know many other such priests in his involvement with the Society of Priests For a Free Ministry. It is to the men and women of this renewal organization that this thesis is dedicated.

It is known to any "insider" of the Roman Catholic clergy that thousands of priests have long been experiencing intense and numerous frustrations. Some priests are able to satisfactorily resolve their frustrations and remain in the officially active or ecclesial ministry while others chose to cease exercising any type of priestly ministry and, still others, chose to exercise a ministry to a community without the official sanction of the institutional leaders.

When this study was initiated three years ago there were virtually no published studies that sought to deepen the understanding of why some priests "stay in," others "leave," either giving up their minis try or exercising it in an unofficial manner.

A questionnaire was designed and 32 priests officially active and unofficially active were interviewed. All but two interviews were taped, averaging one hour each. Howard Becker's concept of "side bets" as a mechanism which in some instances helps explain the process of commitment and decommitment was used as the basis of the sociological theory.

The main findings were:

  1. Some priests stay in the official ministry out of a commitment which is bolstered by the support of the extraneous side bets.
  2. Some priests cease functioning as priests because of: a. a loss of commitment, b. a change in the “valuables” of their side bets, c. the refusal of inability to change their side bets.

3. Some priests leave the official ministry and continue to function as priests in an unofficial or "free" ministry precisely because they have maintained their original commitment. The side bets of these priests usually (and probably always) have changed from those made at the time of ordination.

4. The concept of side bets can help one arrive at a deeper knowledge of how commitments to the priesthood are arrived at, maintained, re-channeled, or lost.

Also, some insight was gained into the valuables that priests use as the basis of formation of their side bets. Side bets that insure or help priests to remain in the officially active ministry are economic security, relatively carefree existence, and work/assignment satisfaction. Side bets that influence attrition among priests are "falling in love," modern values such as humanistic emphasis rather than institutional allegiance, and inner-directedness, i.e., following one's own conscience.

It seems that a "pure commitment" to the priesthood as traditionally perceived would be a rare event indeed. Most commitments now seem to include numerous side bets. As the emphasis is shifting from "clergy" to “laity," from "Catholic" to "Christian," and even from "Christian" to "human" it would appear that it will be increasingly more difficult for people to make commitments to things that are clerical, Catholic, and Christian. A very unorthodox age is looming on the horizon for the Catholic Church. The clergy is simply the first group to dramatically demonstrate its impact. To understand what the clergy are experiencing today is to get some insight into what is in store for the rest of the church in the not too distant future.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Patrick Hayes McNamara

Second Committee Member

Joseph Fashing

Third Committee Member

Joseph Alfred Blake



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Sociology Commons