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Talk Pays Tribute to Religion Sociologist Hoge
By
Patricia Zapor
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, March 28, 2010
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WASHINGTON (CNS)—In an inaugural lecture honoring the late religion sociologist Dean Hoge, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Hoge's recommendations on bringing new vitality to the priesthood bear receiving close attention from the church's leaders.

Hoge died in 2008, after a 34-year career at The Catholic University of America as a professor of sociology and as head of the school's Life Cycle Institute from 1999 until 2004. The March 24 dinner gathering honoring Hoge included about 100 guests invited from universities, research institutions and various church organizations around Washington.

Drawing from Hoge's research on the priesthood, particularly about those who are beginning their priestly lives, Bishop Kicanas said that if the newly ordained are to thrive in ministry as Pope Benedict XVI stressed in declaring the Year for Priests, "dioceses need to attend to the amount of work they put on priests and to find ways to assist them in acquiring the skills necessary to feel competent in what they are called to do in parish work."

He suggested that further research into how priests spend their time might help dioceses provide them with the training they need in management and in making use of other people's skills. Research also "might clarify whether priests feel heard and understood by their bishop and those in responsible diocesan positions," he said, and provide guidance for addressing problems caused, for instance by priests' living situations.

Bishop Kicanas explained that in his diocese many priests live alone. For those who recently came from a seminary where they had friends down the hall, peers to pray with and to discuss their lives with, the transition to solitary living can be difficult and stressful for the priest.

He also touched on other areas of Hoge's research on the priesthood, including priests' concerns about how they relate to their bishop and to the diocesan structure; understanding and discussing sexuality and celibacy; the role of prayer and spirituality in a priest's daily life; and the importance of affirmation, a sense of belonging and collaboration.

Bishop Kicanas told, for instance, of having conversations with pastors who are finishing a six-year term at a parish.

"Some men have been moved to tears, literally, hearing the appreciation people in their parish feel for them," he said. "As I read them their parishioners' letters, they listen attentively and seem to be hearing this appreciation for the first time. They begin to realize that their ministry does indeed matter."

Bishop Kicanas noted that the church has at times been hurt by ignoring research about itself. "Such isolation has robbed the church at times of opportunities to understand issues and to address them in creative ways," he said.

Leaders in various fields have let their impressions, instincts, hunches and untested opinions prevail over decisions based on research, he added: "This can lead to tragic results."

"What we learn sometimes fails to get applied in any effective way," Bishop Kicanas said. "What we learn, too often, never makes an impact on everyday life and practice."

For example, two recent studies—on religious leadership in Christian churches and on how the Catholic Church is meeting the needs of Hispanics—provided a wealth of information, Bishop Kicanas said, but neither led to concrete pastoral practices suggested by the research.

A more successful case of the church using sociological research has come from the studies by the John Jay Center for Criminal Justice into the nature, causes and contexts of child sexual abuse within the church, he continued. As reports have come out, he said, "it is encouraging to see how bishops have moved from doubt and suspicion about the research to an eagerness to learn the results and what those findings can suggest for making the changes necessary to see that this will never happen again."

"The Old Testament is replete with prophets who were, often, ignored, shunned, disregarded, sometimes with dire results," Bishop Kicanas continued. "I wonder sometimes if that might be the lot of researchers who seek to assess what is, in order that we might better understand what now needs to be done. Building on research can be like building your house on rock."

In concluding his talk, the bishop said that Hoge's "greatest joy would be if some of his research found its way into the life of the church, resulting in a holier, more vibrant, more fulfilled corps of priests and a greater number of men inspired by the priests they see to seek a life of service to the church and to people as priests."

At the end of his address, Bishop Kicanas was presented with a copy of a new book of Hoge's research by professor Steve Schneck, current head of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, as the Life Cycle Institute is now known. "The Next Generation of Pastoral Leaders: What the Church Needs to Know," by Hoge and Marti R. Jewell, is published by Loyola Press.


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