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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

More on Greeley

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 18, 2004

In my earlier post concerning Andrew Greeley's Atlantic article on the conservative convictions of younger priests, I withheld comment on an irritating feature: his report that "only about 40 percent of the younger generation believe that birth control is always wrong."

Well, Father, contraception is always wrong, but the term "birth control" in itself can include morally licit uses of NFP, as well as "Abstinence: the Safest Form of Birth Control" (in Ignatius Reilly's memorable phrasing). Hence an orthodox priest, I imagined, might have caught the equivocation in "birth control" and skewed the survey response.

In brief, the LA Times Survey that Greeley cites (available here as a PDF file) avoided the blunder he did not and puts the question fairly: "Do you think it is always, often, seldom or never a sin for married couples to use artificial methods of birth control?" The responses, tallied according to years lived as a priest, are interesting. Here are the percentages of those who replied "always":

less than 21 years: 31
21-30 years: 17
31-40 years: 15
more than 40 years: 39

Here are the summed percentages of those who replied "seldom" or "never":

less than 21 years: 31
21-30 years: 56
31-40 years: 56
more than 40 years: 30

One sees the symmetry: priests ordained before 1962 and after 1982 have roughly equivalent responses; those of the 20-year block in between are indistinguishable.

I don't know where Greeley got his 40% figure, but I'd have to agree that youngest generation is still disappointingly squishy. Still it's worth noting that, of the priests who were their confessors and homilists as they grow up -- and indeed their profs in the seminary -- 83-85% believe that contraception is permissible in at least some circumstances, and well over half regard the subject as a joke. Against that background we can view more benignly those who tugged themselves up into orthodoxy by their own bootstraps.

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