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Abstract

Using Roman Catholic Priests as a test in order to control for deprivation in relationships of intimacy while maximizing the need for social network relationships, an examination was made of their differential experience of loneliness.

The evidence suggested repeatedly that priests were more likely to experience loneliness as a serious problem when they perceived that the social network which they regarded as most significant in their lives (the Church) placed some kind of structural limitation on the extent of their involvement in it. Factors, for example, which help determine the individual priest's place in the structure of the Church are: type of assignment, length of time ordained, and degree of integration into the network through mutual commitment; all of these factors correlate significantly with the experience of loneliness.

For priests experiencing serious loneliness, there were further significant correlations with a perceived deficit in intimacy, an expressed need for sexual intimacy, a desire to marry, and more frequent dating behavior.

While causal sequences could not be established with certainty, the use of Guttman scaling techniques and a logical ordering of the variables suggests strongly that an emotional response (in this case an exaggerated search for intimate relationships) may have been triggered by social deprivation (network exclusion) rather than by an emotional deprivation (in intimacy) as might have been expected.

Such a possibility has far-reaching implications and calls for further research. If an exaggerated search for intimate relationships can be triggered by social network deprivation, that might shed light on a variety of other phenomena such as promiscuity and rape, especially in urban, industrialized societies whose character is such that secondary relationehips become more pervasive and achieve such great importance in the minds and daily lives of the people.

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