DescriptionSince the late 1960s, roughly one-quarter of Roman Catholic priests in America have resigned, motivated mainly by a desire to marry. While several sociologists (e.g., Fichter, Greeley, Hoge, and Schoenherr) have studied the motivations and actions of resigned priests (who usually maintain their Catholic identity and take up some form of non-pastoral employment after their transition), this research seeks to describe a never-before-studied subgroup that chose to re-focus their lives towards Protestant ministry. The research offices of the five mainline Protestant Churches (Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian) identified 414 such ministers, of whom 32 percent chose to participate. All 133 respondents completed a 12-page survey either by anonymous return mail or during a telephone or a face-to-face interview.
The analysis plan, designed to answer the four research questions (outlined below), consisted of three parts: 1) a detailed reporting on the frequencies of the principal variables, 2) a series of cross-tabulations, and 3) several multivariate regression models.
The first major finding confirmed that marriage was their main motivator. The distinction between those who followed their "heart" as opposed to those who followed their "head," highlighted the fact that both emotion and intellect had a role to play. Although one could get the impression (by listening to their retrospective narratives only) that both head and heart had equal "pull," analyzing their concrete actions revealed that most followed their hearts first by marrying before switching affiliation. Results from the second research question revealed a definite period effect that can be traced back to the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.
The third line of inquiry verified the link between parental support for the transition and current levels of satisfaction, with the added nuance that such a correlation is stronger among former diocesan priests than it is among religious priests. Finally, results from the fourth research question support the hypothesis that the obligations of marriage limit the number of hours that a minister can dedicate to his flock. These "greener pastures shepherds" follow a work schedule that is more similar to their current denomination's average than it is to the Catholic priest model.