George A. Sprecace M.D.,
J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New
RIGHT WITH THE CATHOLIC CHURCH #57
ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
Study: Most Priests Are Happy, Appreciate Celibacy
Interview With Monsignor Stephen Rossetti
By Genevieve Pollock
WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 5, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Priests in general are
happiest members of society, says Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, and
secular opinion, most embrace celibacy as a positive aspect of their
These were some of the conclusions outlined by Monsignor Rossetti in
“Why Priests Are Happy” (Ave Maria Press), which will be released
The author, who is currently serving as associate dean for seminary and
ministerial programs at The Catholic University of America, also wrote
the Eucharist,” “The Joy of Priesthood,” and “When the Lion Roars.” As
licensed psychologist, Monsignor Rossetti previously worked as
CEO of Saint Luke’s Institute, a treatment and education center for
The author surveyed 2,500 priests, and made discoveries that modern
might find surprising.
In this interview with ZENIT, he explained some of these findings,
the correlation between a priest’s happiness and his relationship with
others, and the signs of hope for the future of the priesthood.
ZENIT: Your research showed a conclusion that the public might find
Priests are among the happiest people in the country. Why do we not
this happiness more often?
Monsignor Rossetti: There have been a number of studies in the United
over the last few years with exactly the same findings: About 90% of
report that they are happy. In my study, it was 92.4%.
In a similar study, when the National Opinion Research Center recently
its scientific poll of 27,000 Americans, they found that clergy in
the most satisfied and happiest of all Americans. This is especially
since over 50% of Americans report being unhappy with their jobs.
But this consistent and astounding finding of priestly happiness
Why? First of all, good news doesn’t make the news. Tragedies and
our front pages but the faces of our many happy priests do not.
Second, and just as important, the secularization of our culture breeds
of negativism toward organized religion. There is a secular belief
today that practicing the faith must be constraining and joyless.
Some modern thinkers suggest that the only way to true human happiness
is to be
freed from the constraints of religion. They see religion as repressive
one’s true human freedom and humanity. Thus, using this logic, being a
must be the unhappiest life of all.
Therefore, to hear that priests are among the happiest people in the
met with disbelief.
The fact of priestly happiness is a fundamental and powerful challenge
modern secular mind.
But for us Christians, it only confirms the truths of our faith. Jesus
“That my joy might be yours, and your joy might be complete.”
Joy is one of the unmistakable fruits of the Holy Spirit.
To be truly and fully Christian is to know God’s gift of joy. The
searches for this joy, but it is looking in the wrong place.
It only makes sense that those men who have dedicated their lives in
service of God and others in the Catholic faith as priests would be
gently filled by God with an inner happiness and joy.
Jesus promised us his joy and it is demonstrably true.
ZENIT: What have you found to be the key factors that contribute to a
Monsignor Rossetti: I ran a multiple regression equation to find the
important variables that contributed to priestly happiness. The first,
powerful predictor of priestly happiness was the variable “inner peace.”
Those who reported a good self-image and a sense of inner peace were
happiest of priests.
Upon reflection, this makes perfect sense. The most important predictor
anyone’s happiness is what they bring to their jobs and their lives.
If we feel good inside, we are likely to be happy with what is around
This also is a challenge to all of us: If we are unhappy with our
perhaps the place to begin is not to criticize what is outside of us,
Interestingly enough, my research demonstrated that the most powerful
of inner peace is one’s relationship with God. The correlation was a
r=.55, which is a very strong correlation in social science research.
So, where does inner peace come from? When one has a solid relationship
God, there is much inner peace.
Jesus promised us this gift. He said, “My peace I leave with you, my
give to you.”
It was exciting for me to see the truths of the Gospels displayed right
front of my eyes in these statistical findings. We find true and
only in God.
And, of course, one’s reported relationship with God was strongly
happiness as well. Again, there was a strong correlation (r=.53).
So we see our spiritual life as being a powerful contributor both to
peace and personal happiness.
If there is so much violence and unhappiness in our world today, where
My findings suggest that we will never find the inner peace and joy
that we are
searching for until we find a personal relationship with God. Most of
priests have found such a relationship, and they are happy men because
ZENIT: Could you say something about the role of interpersonal
with family, friends, cohorts, or parishioners -- in a priest’s
Monsignor Rossetti: There were several surprising findings in the
which upon reflection, made perfect sense.
For example, I ran another multiple regression equation and asked what
strongest predictor of one’s relationship with God, that is, what
likely contributes to a positive relationship to God. The response was
having close friends (the correlation was a strong r=.46).
Developing a healthy relationship with others helps us to connect with
Many times Jesus himself spoke of love of God and love of neighbor as
of the same coin. Or, as the Scriptures tell us, “For whoever does not
brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
And the statistical results confirmed this Gospel teaching: To love our
neighbors and to build a charitable relationship with friends, family
neighbors helps us to love God, and vice versa. All of these are
becoming happy people.
Isolation causes unhappiness. We are meant to be connected with others.
The good news here is that the vast majority of priests -- over 90% --
having solid friendships with other priests and with the laity.
One of the great joys and supports for the life of a priest is his
The secular notion that priests are lonely, isolated men is simply not
Indeed, priestly happiness has been rising over the past several years
likely rise even higher. In my research only 3.1% of priests were even
of leaving the priesthood. Given the enormous pressure on priesthood
the many real challenges facing these men, this is remarkable.
ZENIT: What about celibacy? How does it relate to a priest’s happiness?
Monsignor Rossetti: This was also an interesting finding. Those priests
felt called by God to live a celibate life and who experienced celibacy
personal grace, despite its challenges, were much more likely to be
The correlation between this positive view of celibacy and priestly
was a strong r=.47.
The good news here is that over 75% of priests have found celibacy to
positive part of their lives.
This percentage is likely to rise even higher in the future. It is the
priests who most strongly support mandatory celibacy.
So, contrary to a secular mentality, support for priestly celibacy will
rise in the future among priests in the United States. It is
disappearing as a
“hot button” issue among priests in the United States.
But this is challenging. It is one thing to accept celibacy as a
of a priest’s life, but it requires a much deeper level of spirituality
experience celibacy as a gift from God and a personal grace. It
depth of living that is profound.
As I sit back and reflect upon the findings of this study, I find
inspired by the commitment and spiritual vitality of these priests’
This is the real truth underlying the findings of the study: Our
happy and holy men.
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