The clerical crisis (using the term clerical as a convenient designation for both priests and religious) is very familiar in general outline, and this familiarity has tended to obscure a complete understanding. Church professionals, before the Council was barely over, began to show themselves restive under the kinds of discipline they were made to endure – anachronistic and confining clothing, petty and outmoded rules of conduct, pious practices left over from another age, authoritarian and frequently arbitrary superiors. Finally this restiveness reached the heart of the matter – the vow of chastity or the promise of celibacy and the very notion of lifelong, unbreakable commitment.

For a time the priesthood seemed almost fated to disappear, as thousands of men who had supposedly committed themselves for life gave up their offices and, usually, took wives. Nuns, who were if anything popularly regarded as even more exalted and sacrosanct than priests, appropriately went through an even more dramatic crisis, one which shows no sign of resolving itself short of the eventual disappearance of many existing communities of women.

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)


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