The divisions created by Vatican II are not new, of course. Caught up in the reform euphoria that followed the council, the lower clergy and the laity almost immediately developed a new ideology based on respect for women and for the freedom (including the sexual freedom) of the laity. On these matters, quietly or loudly, the laity and the lower clergy did resist the teachings of the Church.
The backlash was swift. Church leaders, realizing that reform had slipped out of their control, grew increasingly convinced of the need for a Restoration—a movement in which the upper clergy would close ranks and reassert their authority. Newly appointed bishops would restore the rules; theologians who disagreed would be silenced; and, as much as possible, the old order would be re-established. Even some of the progressives of the council, frightened by the laity's exuberant interest in change and by the declining influence of the Church in the United States, lost their nerve and joined in the call for a Restoration. Today's young conservative priests are rallying to this call.
Who are these young counter-revolutionaries? Several studies are helpful in answering this question: a 1970 National Opinion Research Center study (with which I was involved); two studies released by the Los Angeles Times, in 1994 and 2002; and a 2002 study by the sociologist Dean R. Hoge. Hoge's The First Five Years of the Priesthood: A Study of Newly Ordained Catholic Priests is particularly useful. Hoge reports that half the newly ordained priests he encountered believe that a priest is fundamentally different from a layperson—that he is literally a man apart. Hoge also reports that almost a third of these priests feel that the laity need to be "better educated to respect the authority of the priest's word." These beliefs are strikingly at odds with those of the predominantly liberal generation of new priests studied in the 1970 NORC survey. Today's young priests tend to want to restore the power that the clergy held not only before Vatican II but also before a large educated Catholic laity emerged as a powerful force in the Church after World War II. Older priests today often complain that their younger colleagues are arrogant, pompous, and rigid, and that they love to parade around in clerical dress. The image that comes to mind is young versions of the old ethnic monsignors of the Depression era.
Stark differences exist between older and younger priests on many major areas of concern within the Church. The 2002 Los Angeles Times study reveals that priests of the Vatican II generation overwhelmingly support the idea that priests should be allowed to marry. In the study 80 percent of priests aged forty-six to sixty-five were in favor, as were 74 percent of those aged sixty-six to seventy-five. Only about half the priests under thirty-five, however, supported the idea. The study revealed a clear divide, too, on the ordination of women. Sixty percent of priests aged fifty-six to sixty-five, and at least half of those aged forty-six to seventy-five, supported the idea, but only 36 percent of priests under forty-six did. Significantly, even priests over seventy-five—whose views took shape well before Vatican II—were slightly more likely to support the marriage of priests and the ordination of women than were the young priests.