Recently, my friend and brother priest Father John published a post on his website entitled "'Gay' Roman Catholic Seminaries". While I rarely trust Newsweek on anything (including sunrise and sunset), I read with interest a passage entitled, "The Death of a Catholic Seminary." It so resonated with my own experience in seminary in the 1980s that I felt compelled to publish it here along with my response to Father John.
The Death Of A Catholic Seminary
Due to the nature of the information contained in this article, it is necessary to protect the identity of the young author. The seminarian who wrote this story is known to the editor. The following is a truthful account of what has been going on in one of the major seminaries in the United States.
After spending four years in a Neo-Modernist Roman Catholic seminary, I have come to the firm belief that the source of the current crisis in the Church in the United States can be traced directly to the seminaries. The seminary is literally the seedbed of the faith.
Seminary education has traditionally been seen as one of the most important apostolates. Those charged with the formation in seminaries had upon their shoulders a very great responsibility: they were not simply forming a future priest, but the entire Church. Hence, the absolute necessity of quality spiritual and academic formation was clear.
One might argue that this sense has been lost in the torrent of the many erroneous interpretations of the "spirit" of the Second Vatican Council. It is not infrequent that one finds many aberrations in contemporary Catholicism, to the point where many of the faithful, even bishops, are unclear about what the Church really teaches.
Formation for the priesthood has changed drastically in most seminaries since Vatican II. In some seminaries, the changes were well implemented and orthodoxy was retained. In others, disaster followed, and has remained deeply rooted. Many embittered, frustrated priests and nuns continue to work in seminaries with an agenda for "reform" and "change" so that their corporate and personal ambitions and desires can be met. Many want to see priestesses, married clergy, allowance for dissent, and acceptance of homosexual and lesbian lifestyles, and believe the Spirit of the Council called for this kind of "openness" and change. Almost all of them are highly educated and experienced seminary educators.
The kind of formation one receives in seminary depends on the way the particular seminary leadership and faculty interpret the meaning of priesthood, and for that matter, ministry, worship, revelation, and even God himself. With the great political struggles going on deep within the fabric of the Church today, the essential meaning of our very religion is at stake. It is the same when one begins in seminary with the basic question of his vocation to the priesthood.
Because of this divisive crisis, there are now "correct" and "incorrect" ways to talk about priesthood.
Simply a "presider"
The "correct" version may involve a de-emphasis on the word "priest" because it is cultic and exclusive to some. It is more rightly referred to only as "ordained ministry," with an emphasis placed on the fact that some ministries are for regulating power. An "ordained minister" is commissioned in the name of the community to lead that community in worship. The "modernization" of the priest's role means that he is a social worker with religious politics, or a "community animator" with a dynamic personality and flair for drama and entertainment. He may also be simply "a leader of the community, " a "presider" who arranges worship and leads others as a conductor for an orchestra, and also runs the parish as another kind of business. He may also be the "counselor on call" who helps people feel better about themselves. In a time when pride causes us to so easily confuse personal ambition with vocation, it is becoming more and more common to find notions of priesthood that increasingly exclude rich sacramental definitions. Because of the inevitable and increasing envy and jealousy over the priest's unique ontological status and sacramental ministry, there is a mounting movement to demythologize the priesthood and remove its sacred and unique character, and have the priest be essentially no different than anyone else. If others cannot have what he has, then what he has must be removed. If it cannot be removed, it should be watered down.
In the seminary where I went, the more liberal and watered-down definitions of priesthood mentioned above would fall well within the acceptable parameters of a "correct" description of a priestly character. "Social Justice" was the key term to profess at all times. It was in an erroneous interpretation of this term that one could find considerable room within which to form his own notion of priesthood - as long as it maintained a prophetic witness against "unjust structures."
A man would inevitably find trouble, however, if he used language like "the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass." He would have two strikes against him if he in turn stood in opposition to the concept of "priestesses" in the Roman Catholic Church. Such a position would not be respected or looked upon as being even remotely reasonable in light of the experience of "modernity." To think and hold such ideas privately was considered allowable. To hold these things with conviction would not.
The course of formation I experienced, sadly enough, depended heavily upon the guiding principles of political, and especially theological, correctness. These principles controlled the spiritual and academic climate of the seminary institution and its faculty. They were opposed to an adherence (in a spirit of conviction and fidelity) to the authentic teachings of the Church, exhibited through the Holy Father, Magisterium, and Sacred Tradition. The Church's Tradition and traditions were studied from a certain subtle but consistently biased perspective, so that the meaning of many events and personal contributions would be perverted or cast in a negative, offensive light. The spirit of "reform" became most attractive and was perhaps best inculcated after the student could be substantially convinced of the overwhelming "unattractiveness" of the Church's past.
For example, St. Thomas Aquinas was rarely if at all used for our instruction in philosophy or theology. Instead, certain select writings were chosen or referred to for the purpose of exemplifying the limitations of antiquated medieval thought. Particularly underscored were Aquinas's "sexist and demeaning attitudes toward women," and his "erroneous" understanding of human biology. From there it was no difficult task to argue his disqualification from serious contemporary theological discourse. He was consulted as an authority, however, when he was shown to "deny" the Immaculate Conception.
Latin, Greek and Hebrew were deemed irrelevant or useless for the needs of parish ministry, hence these were not part of our seminary training. Patristics were infrequently mentioned and not encouraged, and the lives of the Saints and Doctors of the Church were implicitly written off as antiquated piety. The Rosary was looked upon as being suitable for those without the capacity to approach God intellectually, and it was beneath one of theological sophistication.
Through various erroneous interpretations of the "Spirit of Vatican II," a certain spirit of "sophistication" paved the way for many different "ecclesiologies," not all of which are from Christ. Many are laden with ideologies foreign or contrary to the Gospel. Moral theologies have collapsed into versions of proportionalism anchored vaguely in the "fundamental option" - to the point that mortal sin is nearly impossible to commit, and one may have allowance to live any way he chooses - as long as he is fundamentally "oriented" in the direction of God. An authentic Catholic spirituality of moral discernment may easily collapse into values wedded to the world, naturally heading towards moral and spiritual relativism.
All of these elements found their way into the fabric of our seminary instruction, one way or another. Even if one did not directly espouse pure relativism, there was still a pervasive, insistent demand for "dialogue" with various perspectives with relativism as a subtle philosophical basis. Faith could venture too close to a seemingly innocent, though mortal, compromise. It didn't seem far from the curb to the gutter. But to hold to "official" teaching, i.e., magisterial documents, was perceived as theological rigidity, disagreeing with certain dubious or erroneous philosophical positions was considered intolerance.
Built upon this drive was the relentless emphasis on the "oppressive and sinful structures" in the world, but perhaps mostly in the Church. This eventually led to the "patriarchy" of Sacred Tradition and contemporary Catholic culture. This form of "oppression" was considered to be the source of many great evils, especially in the Church (not to mention throughout Salvation History). The fury of the radically feminist ego, its lust for power, and ambition for rule was considered justified because of the pain caused by this ancient form of male oppression - as if this form of "activism" was what Christ came to institute. If one were to question how this was supposed to be a vision of good formation for the Catholic Priesthood, that man might find himself cornered with accusations that he was "self-righteous."
In some seminaries, this would not be a problem. The man would be evaluated against certain criteria, some of the most important qualities being personal character, moral fibre, prayer life, and fidelity to Papal and Magisterial teaching. Faculty should be more interested in supporting the teachings of the Holy Father, not dissenting theologians.
In other seminaries however, like the one I attended, this was not so. An attempt to identify the components of the Catholic priest and his spirituality in light of Papal and Magisterial documents, or the Church's traditional Doctors, i.e., St. Alphonsus Liguori, no matter how well articulated, would be deemed "inadequate."
The difference in perspectives was well symbolized by our way of worship. To begin with, we were instructed upon entry to the seminary that we could not kneel at the consecration during Mass, nor could we kneel after receiving communion. This would "break community." We were told that standing was also a posture of reverence on par with kneeling, and that it was more in keeping with Vatican II's "call to mission" of Social Justice - hence standing to be ready to "go out" to enact this justice. Kneeling was considered a "privatistic" worship disconnected from others. It also reflected a repressed piety, a spirituality of "Ghetto Catholicism." This was said to be incompatible with the theology of the Council, and the spirit of the liturgical reforms.
I learned early on that everything done at the seminary had reasoning behind it, although not always good reasoning. The reality behind the theory was that our worship and training were being watered down. We were in practice living a protestantized version of worship. What had always been distinctively Catholic in our Tradition was circumvented, de-emphasized, omitted or excluded. The way we pray is the way we believe.
Inclusive language was the most powerful of all corrosive agents. Not only were the most vocal "justice-conscious" seminarians rewarded for their attacks in class against "insensitive" theological language and oppressive liturgy in the Church's worship, they were considered "courageous men" and commended for their concerns for justice. All through our community Masses, one could not keep from hearing the deliberate and loud references to God in repetitious neutral or even feminine pronouns. The result was the total disruption of the Mass, transforming it from worship to a battle of words.
Collar was sign of "clericalism"
At Mass, the priest was often simply referred to as the "presider." He was the one leading us in prayer, "animating" the community. Many "presiders" improvised upon the Mass, adding their own touch to the eucharistic prayers. Making sure the readings were inclusivized was the responsibility of the reader for the day. The chalice was normally done away with (unless a visiting bishop or dignitary were present), replaced with a standard wine glass. Some priests often would either not attend the daily community Mass, or would cantor instead of concelebrate. Others would just sit in the congregation to show their solidarity with the feminist nuns, typically with their collar undone. The feminist nuns used to give their "communion reflections" (homilies) after the communion song; these were nearly always filled with a spirit of resentment and a call for "reform."
We, as Roman Catholic seminarians, were not allowed to wear clerical clothing. This was because the collar was a sign of "clericalism." Though the rector had been known to tell bishops he did not want to "confuse ministry with the wearing of the collar," the reality behind abolishing the collar in our seminary was that it was a cause of great anxiety for the feminists. In many ways it was, for them, a great symbol of oppression - it was a form of ministry that "excluded" women, and therefore an excessive wearing of the collar was unjust and insensitive.
We were told from the beginning that seminarians were not to refer to any of the faculty as "Father" or "Sister." We were not to be caught up with "titles," as this was another form of clericalism. These things would also offend against the "ecumenical" mission that the seminary was committed to. In terms of a "confusion of ministries," one might question the very practice inculcated in the seminary.
Another divisive factor in the seminary was the reputation of a large homosexual culture. Having gone there for four years, I had seen much that was demoralizing. This was a volatile issue in the seminary, as there were sizeable numbers of men on both sides of the issue. During a class conference, the question that was raised was the unchecked effeminate, scandalous behavior of some seminarians, the negative reputation of the seminary gained by this recurring image, and the kinds of role models the seminary was tacitly approving in recommending these men for orders. The Vice Rector replied by saying the seminary admitted men of both orientations, but the policy was that all had to be celibate. The general split of the house policy was toleration. On the other hand, I did learn through experience that what was not condoned was "intolerance" and "homophobia."
As soon as it was learned that I was one who disliked and criticized such behavior, I was labeled "homophobic." I was even criticized by some seminarians and faculty as being "too masculine." I was concerned what my friends and family would think of the priesthood if I invited them to see where I lived and studied. Because I found these things embarrassing or shameful, many who were charged with evaluating me felt I was the one who had the problem.
The sad thing is that a man can go into the seminary and be shocked by what he sees, and yet by the time he graduates he may be so desensitized that he may no longer see these things as a problem. It becomes just another facet of "the reality of the Church today." But was everything included in this "reality" of the Church necessarily good and fostered by the Holy Spirit?
Most of the seminary faculty felt my observations and concerns about the seminary to be "judgmental." Therefore, I was dubbed "pastorally insensitive."
To accentuate and build upon these spiritual and moral collapses, the textbooks we used for coursework nurtured and enhanced the growth in our minds of doubt. This brought the seeds of "false doctrines" to complete maturity. It was a hand-in-hand dynamic: the formation would confirm the agenda in the texts, and the agenda in the texts would affirm, enhance, and further strength the sour spirit of formation.
For our entire first academic year, we had to study Richard P. McBrien's Catholicism. This book set the most fertile foundations for doubt and intellectual departure from the true Catholic Faith. It was through subtle and clever deception by veiled, ambiguous language, that McBrien's book was so effective. It became the basis for the reasonableness and goodness of dissent. Some of his more exemplary ideas, implied and cleverly suggested throughout the book, are that we don't have to believe in the virginity of Blessed Mother; that we don't have to believe or assent to follow Church teaching unless it explicitly states it has dogmatic status; and that we must admit to Jesus having been ignorant and in error. McBrien expertly employed his language so that he remained within a "legal" framework, and made outrageous suggestions which to some appear compelling. I recall seeing the firsthand results of this book's use in a discussion I had with another seminarian - he was firmly convinced that "It's totally naive to think that Mary didn't have sex." He was not an isolated case - he was among a common class of seminarian that absorbed the philosophy of McBrien's book. So this seminarian's "openness" and capacity for "dialogue" was lauded; he was considered a "model" seminarian. As far as the spirit of this seminary went, it was permissible to believe as this man did. It was also acceptable to believe that Mary was a virgin; but what was not acceptable was a conviction that our Blessed Mother was always a virgin. To adhere to any orthodox position with fidelity and conviction would be perceived as intolerant of "dialogue," and would reveal some kind of unhealthy "rigidity."
A parallel magisterium
I had an important discussion with the Vice Rector regarding my evaluation, where he criticized my sense of fidelity to the Holy Father's teachings, and my position on the impossibility of priestesses. He said that my position was "inadequate" because the Pope could change the teaching at any time - and since I was so convinced of the impossibility of the ordination of priestesses, he saw that as evidence for my rigidity and how I did not know anything about the levels of authority in the Church. "When the Pope changes tomorrow," he said "and decides to ordain women - then where will your 'fidelity' be? Will you change also, or will you be a source of division in the parish? This is our concern with you."
Although the seminary faculty believed they did "technically" teach what the Church teaches, the reality was that they taught a version - and most seminarians innocent or ignorant of authentic Church teaching would have no reason to believe otherwise. Church teaching would be mentioned, but it was always "nuanced" or muted, or given a relative status with other, liberal theologians. A parallel magisterium of popular liberal theologians was often presented and considered with equal authority. We often studied Protestant theologies right alongside Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Kung, Boff (even on occasion Matthew Fox) and so forth. Since there was no reliance upon the Magisterium for guidance or point of reference in most theological discussions, we seminarians would be adrift in a sea of opinion and interpretations, both Protestant and Catholic. To bring Magisterial positions into a "serious theological discussion" was somehow an offense to "academic freedom" and was thus perceived as an insult.
The study of moral theology was characterized by Charles Curran and the fundamental option, proportionalism and the subtle ridicule of traditional moral theologies. Papal encyclicals and theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Alphonsus Liguori were bumped because they were "old," and because of a few examples of apparent contradiction in their writings, chosen without appropriate and necessary contextualization. The impression was that the Pope was very fallible, traditional theologies were irrelevant or ridiculous in light of modern science and psychology, and the Magisterium was an agent of the Vatican for control over theological discussion. The components that were attacked were precisely those pillars preventing the various agendas of "the world" from entering and taking root in the mind and heart of the Church.
Confronted with a choice
In the area of spirituality, we had workshops on "women's spirituality," or something about "collaborative ministry" and "social justice," because this was perceived as "where the Spirit was" in today's world. Devotion to Mary as "Blessed Mother" was allowed, but generally not encouraged, as such a "servile" image and traditional feminine values were seen by many as not in keeping with feminist theology and the "contemporary experience of women." The Rosary, prayed in the main chapel by a group of seminarians, was tolerated for a time. But eventually the tension created in the seminary over this group brought it to an end. However, to please bishops, and as a kind of token gesture to the conservative element in the seminary, the Rosary was suddenly allowed again - with official seminary approval - but then only in a small hall chapel where there was no Blessed Sacrament, one day a week, between breakfast and classes. The reason behind not allowing the Rosary in the main chapel was that "the chapel is for liturgical celebrations - not devotions." And yet the chapel was used for a number of functions outside Catholic worship, including on occasion the rehearsals of a local symphony orchestra.
The greatest of spiritual tests came in my fourth year, in a course of so-called "Pastoral Counseling. " A laywoman with a very vocal agenda taught the course. Not only did she proudly inform us one day that she'd be taking off a class to attend the Call to Action seminars in Chicago (where everyone joined in the Eucharistic prayers as a woman in stole "presided"-and with a Catholic Bishop in the congregation), but she openly canvassed for gay and lesbian rights, radical feminism, and even abortion. Because I openly questioned this woman's arguments, I was penalized. To add to the irony, I was paid a visit by the Vice Rector, who wanted an explanation as to the reasons for my "making trouble" in her class.
My question to the faculty of the seminary involved whether it was formation we were receiving, or deformation. And, in turn, the question the faculty put to me was whether I was "open to where the Church is going today." But was doctrinal confusion, homosexuality, feminist anger and destruction of the priesthood where the Holy Spirit was truly leading us?
Through a discouraging dilemma, I knew that what was being taught directly contradicted what the Church taught, and I knew that the bishop in my home diocese supported me. He always expressed support of my orthodox values and beliefs, and told me on more than one occasion, "Remember I'm the one who ordains you, not they."
After four years in the seminary of standing up for what was right, I was finally punished with dismissal. I was asked to leave at the end of the academic year and to not return. Even though I was pointing out direct cases where the seminary stood contrary to Catholicism in its spiritual climate, members of the faculty protected themselves and the institution by making it appear I was the one who opposed the Church, her authority, and seminary formation.
I did not compromise what I believed and knew to be true. It was no longer a question of being prudently silent here and there when necessary. Rather, I was being directly confronted with a choice: either I had to admit to the problems being mine, which would in turn mean seeing a therapist, or hold fast to what I knew to be the truth. If I didn't answer "correctly," if I continued to maintain my position, I would certainly be voted down as a candidate for Holy Orders.
I was called into board meetings and forced to answer to charges of being "narrow," "rigid," "not open to dialogue," "having problems with women," "not trusting of the faculty," and "combative."
In order, these things were reactions to the truth - "narrow" was another way of saying I was too much the "papist" in my thinking, and that I couldn't appreciate other "ecclesiologies." "Rigid" meant that I would not compromise the teachings of the Church, or water them down to accommodate theological correctness. "Not open to dialogue" meant that I did not entertain dissent as an option in my faith. "Having problems with women" simply meant that I was critical of feminism and feminist theology, and the feminist agendas being forced on me. "Not trusting the faculty" referred to my wariness around the thick duplicity I encountered in my dealings with nearly all the faculty at the seminary. It was wise to maintain prudence in what one told a frustrated liberal faculty member who asks pointed and probing questions, because it somehow always became "incriminating evidence" during evaluations.
If I were to deny my faith -what I believed to be true about the Church, indeed what all orthodox Catholics and even the Pope himself believes and teaches - I would in effect be denying Christ, the Church's Author and Bridegroom.
Because of the ramifications of the rector's rage, and to my surprise, the bishop in turn also "released" me, as the matter had become quite political for him. The man who once told me in private not to compromise my beliefs compromised me, even after I had made him aware of everything I experienced at the seminary through letters. I was disappointed that he declined to intervene on my behalf, and that he could look the other way after all I had told him. He compromised because he did not want confrontations with a pandora's box.
I began to think long and hard about the substance of faith. I knew that the price to pay for faith in our Church's history was sometimes death. The early Christians arrested by the Romans faced such a situation: all they had to do was deny Christ and burn incense to the gods. They could then go free. They could have done this and continued to worship in the privacy of their hearts. But they knew that a faith existing in the heart must also be professed on the lips - it could not be compromised. The reality of what was at stake was all too clear for them, and therefore compromise was unthinkable. I wondered if, in seminaries like the one I attended, men are in a sense still being placed before the images of various gods and told to make a choice. After the first few compromises are made, the rest are easy.
Perhaps the burning of incense to the gods is more common now than in centuries past. The externals may have changed, so we are fooled into thinking such situations no longer occur. And so they happen all the more. Today, compromise is not only permitted, it is a way of life. We don't want to "offend" anyone, and we don't want confrontations.
Let the fruits speak for themselves as we look into the history of our Catholic conscience and find the incense of compromise now billowing in the halls of Christ's seminaries.
Published in the May 1995 issue of The Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Dear Father John,
I think the title "'Gay' Roman Catholic Seminaries" is inaccurate. I think a better, and less polemic, title would be, "The Problem and Influence of Homosexuality in Roman Catholic Seminaries."
Based on my experience in a Roman Catholic seminary in the early to mid-1980s, I would say that the description presented in the piece, "The Death of a Catholic Seminary" is apt. The experience of the former seminarian coincides almost exactly with my own. The only way that I was able to make it through was by a careful examination of the evaluation system employed by my seminary followed by an exploitation of that system to keep from having my own theological "rigidities" critiqued.
The sad part is that, after ordination, the same liberal cabal that controlled the seminary was also in power in my diocese and many others. Here's an example of how these modernists would operate: There was a priest in our diocese who was "notorious" for fidelity to the magisterial teaching of the Church. Another senior priest who was highly placed within the diocesan structure said to me, thinking that we were in agreement, "We really need to send Joe [pseudonym] away to get his thinking straight." The idea was to send "Joe" to a place called the House of Affirmation, a psychological treatment center, to help "Joe" with his rigidity. This smacked of Soviet psychiatric practice and I told the senior priest so, which didn't help my position any.
I agree that "Joe" was quite rigid. However, it seems to me that if you had to deal with all the opposition that "Joe" dealt with on a daily basis and your views were constantly under attack, you'd be pretty rigid too.
The authors description of the problem with his spineless bishop is, sadly, also common. The problem there is that most bishops in the Roman Catholic Church believe that the authority of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops trumps there own authority even in their own dioceses. Like most people, they want to get along with their peers and so, when push comes to shove, they knuckle under to political pressure and go with the flow, sometimes for calculated reasons. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that the Roman Catholic Church does not hold exclusive title to spineless and calculating members of the episcopate.) If one doubts that the USCCB is a powerful organization that controls the local ordinaries, pay close attention to the treatment that Bishop Fabian Bruskevitz has received during his tenure as Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska. Bishop Bruskevitz has maintained a very faithful diocese that has been spared most of the damage that has been inflicted on the larger church by the abuse crisis brought about by the cruising behavior of gay clergy.
Do not get me wrong: There are very fine seminaries and there are very fine Roman Catholic bishops and priests. It is also true that Pope Benedict XVI has been appointing some very solid men to the episcopate during his pontificate. However, the damage that has been done to the Roman Catholic Church over the past several decades by modernists and a lavender mafia has been close to catastrophic. Further, it is foolishness to deny that these same people have established powerful networks that still insidiously function to advance their agenda in many dioceses within the United States and Europe.
To this I would say that, while the Anglican Catholic Church is not without its problems, it would be almost impossible to find a priest in the ACC who was not doctrinally solid, who did not hold have a deep respect for Sacred Scripture as the Word of God, and did not have proper Catholic understanding of the Sacraments. People who come to our church quickly discover this and are grateful that such a harbor as the ACC exists amidst the turbulent waters of the modern Christian world.
Fraternally yours in Christ,
The Shrinking Cleric+