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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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