The Young Prospectors -- or, nemo restaurat quod non habet

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 15, 2004

Several bloggers have commented on Fr. Andrew Greeley's "Young Fogeys" piece in the current Atlantic, in which he retails the unsurprising news that

a generation of conservative young priests is on the rise in the U.S. Church. These are newly ordained men who seem in many ways intent on restoring the pre-Vatican II Church, and who, reversing the classic generational roles, define themselves in direct opposition to the liberal priests who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.

Greeley is not alone among aging liberals in viewing the future with dismay. "I haven't attended more than once any church," admits the NCR's Arthur Jones, "where the altar is home to the new-style soutaned papal marionettes." (In "soutaned papal marionettes" one hears the ecclesial counterpart of Rush Limbaugh's "mind-numbed robots" -- minus the jocularity.)

Though characteristically tendentious in presentation, Greeley's portrait of the generational divide corresponds in rough outline to my own experience and hunches -- including the finding that "only about 40 percent of the younger generation believe that birth control is always wrong" and the conclusion that it represents a "failure of the Restoration efforts of the past thirty years." Greeley seems smugly pleased with this failure, though most of what he reports he considers bad news on his own terms.

Where Greeley is hopelessly wrong is in his conviction (repeated six times) that the conservative ideas of young priests represent a restoration. To restore something it needs to have been there in the first place, and for the newer priests the Catholic life they're trying to bring into existence is as remote from their juvenile experience as "Blowin' in the Wind" was foreign to the childhood of Andrew Greeley. If a 35-year-old Catholic opts for Gregorian chant or the doctrine of Humanae Vitae, he's not replicating the cozy ambience of his own years as an altar boy -- remember, for him a priest is a mysteriously angry man in Docksiders haranguing the assembly that Lent is no longer a penitential season -- no, the orthodox priest had to work to discover the tradition and he had to work to hang on to it through hostile years in the seminary.

There are of course seminarians today who are timid, unimaginative, intellectually passive and overly eager to ingratiate themselves with the faculty. The irony is that, in 2004, the brain-dead sycophant who parrots his profs holds the opinions of ... Arthur Jones. And Andrew Greeley.

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  • Posted by: Stonewall - Jan. 16, 2004 9:15 AM ET USA

    There are a plethora of Catholics, saints and others, that are worthy of emulation. Why present a non-Catholic to the congregation? Doing so could give the impression to some that being Catholic is not important. In the case of M. L. King, he was a serial violator of the Sixth Commandment, hardly a proper example. Perhaps one reason so many priests mention him is because he used his position as a minister and civil rights leader in the same way that many priests have used their position.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 16, 2004 12:50 AM ET USA

    M. L. King as a role model I must demure on this one. If every pastor read, just once, King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he mentions St Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law, it would be a great day in Catholicism in America.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2004 9:32 PM ET USA

    I was one who was a child of the 60's of a parent who did not accept the new mass. We went to a latin mass wherever we could . Today by some counts there are over 300 latin masses said weekly in the U.S. In Chicago a church that had a date with a wrecking ball was givin to The society of Christ the King Soveriegn Priest. the Article is in the 1-11-04 Chicago Tribune. Wherever you have traditional parishes you will find more vocations. Traditional Catholic families just might be our salvation

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2004 7:54 PM ET USA

    I just read Father's article and it sounds to me like he might be a little jealous!

  • Posted by: Stonewall - Jan. 15, 2004 5:39 PM ET USA

    During the last 5 years I have moved from parish to parish in the Manchester Diocese hoping to find a parish that was tolerable. After 20 plus parishes I finally found one, and the pastor is a young priest. His sermons are excellent and not once has he mentioned Gandhi or M. L. King as a role model, he always finds a saint. He is very reverent and it reflects on the congregation.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2004 1:50 PM ET USA

    My brother-in-law is one of these newly-minted priests, who would no more define his beliefs -- those repeated by the Holy Father, not invented by him -- in such absurd political terms than he would approve of admitting homosexuals to the priesthood. I've questioned him closely on this latter point, and he assured me that at the Pontifical North American College, at least, aspiring members of the Lavendar Criminal Cabal were given the boot upon discovery. Sycophancy? Give us more of it.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2004 11:55 AM ET USA

    Pardon my Waughsian musing, but I certainly must chime in. While there are lidless conservatives and Feenian fanatics still around, the "new" Orthodox are much, much more interesting than the processional bevy of 60's retreads who keep strumming the same cord on their sitars. So, to add insult to injury, the 60's recyclers are boring as well as irrelevant.