Role Commitment Processes Revisited: American Catholic Priests 1970 to 1985

Verdieck, Mary Jeanne, Joseph J. Shields, Dean R. Hoge. "Role Commitment Processes Revisited: American Catholic Priests 1970 to 1985." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 27, no. 4 (December 1988): 524-535.

The present study partially replicates an earlier and larger study carried out in 1970. This earlier study posited a cluster of values that affect a priest's decision to continue his vocation. The values that most directly affect that decision, that study held, are the desire to marry (the certainty of wanting to marry if celibacy were optional), loneliness, work satisfaction and modern values. That study posited that other values are channeled through the desire to marry, making it the primary determinant in the decision to continue in the priesthood. The earlier study concluded that social exchange theory was adequate to explain these findings. Celibacy is the cost of the priesthood, work satisfaction the reward, according to this theory. When the desire to marry outweighs the rewards of ministry the likelihood of continuing in the priesthood decreases. This study found that while the desire to marry was still the most important factor bearing upon the decision to resign or remain in the priesthood, the weight assigned to that desire had lessened in 1985. Why this is so is unclear, but there is no doubt that celibacy is the heaviest cost associated with the priestly vocation. This study empirically documents the role played by celibacy in the overall commitment structure of the current population of priests, and indicates the desirability of taking that role into account in future debates over how to address the vocational crisis facing the Catholic Church in the U.S.