- Who Do We Think We Are? How Catholic Priests Understand Themselves Today by Christopher A. Fallon
Christopher A. Fallon’s book pivots on a theological framework that uses the social sciences to delve deeper into what is both observable and what is beyond the realm of the senses. The result is simply fascinating. Fallon’s guiding question is, ‘‘How do the priests currently ministering in the Liverpool Archdiocese understand their priesthood and how do their self-understandings influence the way they carry out their ministry?’’ (1). While this question may appear narrow, it should not discourage potential readers. The implications and possible applications of Fallon’s work to a broader context not only makes it notable for the less specialized reader, they provide a way forward for those in more specialized areas of academia. Minimally, readers should be familiar with the Dean Hoge and Jaqueline Wenger 2004 study of priests in the United States and Jack Shea’s review of the Hoge-Wenger study. These works ‘‘focus’’ Fallon’s book and are frequently referenced.
Fallon uses two theological constructs to organize his data: two ‘‘models of priesthood’’ and two ‘‘theological stances or views of catholicity’’ (60). The two models of priesthood are the cultic and the servant leader model, each differentiated by how the priest understands the ontological status of the priest, authority and magisterium, worship, orthodoxy and praxis, and attitudes toward celibacy. The two views of catholicity are world-affirming (associated with Rahner) and world-judging (associated with Balthasar). Given Fallon’s thoroughness, it is surprising that more theological commentary is not provided in the second chapter. Major areas and movements of theology are encapsulated in the span of approximately ten pages, leaving readers to investigate and interpret for themselves. An example might be a more detailed exploration of Robert Schreiter’s connection between the two interpretations of catholicity, Ignatius of Antioch and Cyril of Jerusalem, and Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium (64).
Fallon’s most satisfying and interesting discovery by far is that the priests of the Archdiocese of Liverpool are not divided into two camps, ‘‘one embracing the servant leader model and the first view of Catholicity while the other inclines to the cultic model of priesthood and the second view of Catholicity’’ (212). If true of the Liverpool sample, perhaps this is true of other dioceses or the church as a whole. Fallon observes that the polarization described by the Hoge-Wenger study is not as pronounced among the clergy he surveyed. Fallon offers two general reasons: a lack of uniformity among pre-Vatican II priests identifying with a cultic model of priesthood and no clear majority regarding the question of ontological change (62). Given Fallon’s interpretation of the Hoge-Wagner data, is this sufficient to explain the lack of polarization in the Liverpool sample that he documents? The historical exposé that begins the book seeks to provide insight into previous influences that have shaped current views and approaches to ministry; perhaps this accounts for the difference. A more meaningful exploration of the effects of the past on the present would be welcomed. Maybe some of the recognized nuances and differences between the findings of the Hoge-Wagner study and Fallon’s own data are explained by differing histories and cultures.
Related to the issue of polarization is a lack of strong correspondence between personality traits and views of catholicity. Fallon’s data demonstrate a strong correlation between personality traits and identification with a particular model of the priesthood. The data also hint at a link between these models of the priesthood and the first and second views of catholicity. What do the data suggest about the relationship between personality traits and one’s view of catholicity? This is where the complexity of the book shines. Given the findings of the previous two correlations, the natural hypothesis would be to link personality traits with a particular view of catholicity. Fallon found that [End Page 281] the data appear...