One of the great human mysteries of modern times is the amazingly swift process by which the Roman Catholic Church, apparently one of the most solid, self-confident, and enduring institutions in the history of the world, was plunged into an identity crisis of cosmic proportions. The crisis still goes on, with no satisfactory outcome yet in sight. […] The answer to that question is perhaps best approached by noticing how the crisis developed and its exact locus. Immediately it becomes necessary to dispose of one common myth, that the crisis was somehow a democratic uprising from the pew, forcing the hierarchy of the Church to reconsider its doctrines. Anyone with even the most elementary acquaintance with sociological principles realizes at once how such an event could scarcely have occurred in the kind of society which was the Catholic Church of 1960.
Instead the roots of the crisis must be located among the elite of the Church, including some lay people of advanced educational attainments, but mainly with the Church’s official leadership, the anointed guardians of its laws and traditions – the clergy. It was a crisis which quickly spread beyond the priesthood as such and into the ranks of nuns, brothers, and seminarians. Only from these very strategic centers did it begin to permeate the church at large.
James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)