Thursday, March 28, 2002

I read Amy's review copy of Goodbye, Good Men by Michael S. Rose (who has also authored a very good book that looks at Church architecture and what is wrong with it published by Sophia called Ugly as Sin).

First, I'm in a unique position when it comes to the subject of the book. I have both been a seminarian (in two different seminaries-one a college, the other a theologate) and a faculty member. As a faculty member, I also served as a formation director as well as a spiritual director.

With that as a backdrop, I would rate rate the book differently on several levels. It is very good when it comes to portraying the "gay subculture" that exist in Catholic seminaries, but a little weak when it comes to the point of who to blame.

There were some parts that even shocked me and there were other parts when I found myself somewhat shocked at the choice of a particular source who happens to be an incredibly effeminate priest (who himself had been kicked out a number of seminaries, supposedly for his conservativism, which is almost never the case in reality but often the "safe" excuse to tell everyone). I have learned from years of being around such individuals that truly spiritual people do exist in seminaries who are models of sanctity--but are hardly ever the "daughters of Trent", (a term that Rose acknowledges for those who wear cassocks and are conservative in seminaries but never delves any further as to why this term is used other than to mention it--since this obviously does not fit his agenda), who essentially are just the conservative flip side of the gay coin, and may be even more evil then their liberal counterparts (because at least you know where the others are coming from).

And that in a nutshell was my problem with the book. It is too much good bishop--bad bishop...conservative...liberal..., etc. The truth of this is that I have witnessed conservatives who act out sexually as well as liberals. For example, one of the bishops that Rose holds in high esteem has attracted more than his share of the "daughters of Trent" to his diocese and therefore has enjoyed a plethora of vocations who no doubt we will soon be reading about (in fact one recently made the news for dealing drugs out of the rectory).

Rose's central theme is that seminaries are a mess and themselves largely responsible for the lack of priests being ordained. Faculties are corrupt, (I would argue with this, but then again the Rector of the seminary I taught at is now defrocked after having a litany of charges of inappropriate contact with students brought against him some years ago. I also must add, that when I left the school, I was replaced by a faculty member who lived off campus with another man in a house that had mirrors on the walls and ceilings). So let's say that I would only offer that there are good and bad in the mess.

I would also add that in seven years as a student and two years as a faculty member I never witnessed anyone being thrown out of a seminary because they were too "rigid." I know of students who used this as their "reason" but in fact the reasons were often far worst, for example: a student was kicked out from the college seminary when he was caught having sex with a cow in a nearby farmyard--the farmer said he wouldn't press charges if the guy was kicked out, another student liked to masturbate in front of younger students (he was kicked out for this and then ordained by a "conservative" bishop)--there are a number of cases similar to this that I remember well--where someone was caught in the act with another student and kicked out, only to be later ordained by another bishop who bought the "I was kicked out because I was conservative," or far worst knew of the charge but considered it a sin (which it was--but one that was intrinsically evil and although forgiven had a lot of temporal effects to be dealt with in Purgatory--preferably not from a Church rectory).

I remember well a student in the college seminary, that I attended, who was very conservative--wore a cassock (in a place where most were clad in shorts and t-shirts), prayed the office in Latin and declared unfailing loyalty--that bordered on worship to the Holy Father. He received questions on his evaluation about "openness", but never was threatened with expulsion. He graduated and went on to a more conservative seminary and then was ordained. He lasted two years, before he left and began openly living with his male lover.

There is a big problem in seminaries and it is a homosexual problem but it is simplistic to think that it will be solved by having everyone clad in cassocks. Wearing something that resembles a dress is hardly the way to solve this problem.

Rose is right that prayer and orthodox teaching is necessary as well as not bending to every politically correct philosophy to come down the road, but these are no guarantee that deviant sexual practitioners will cease seeking out the priesthood. He is also right that extensive psychotherapy is not the answer either. In fact if someone is in need of therapy, they should be excluded from the seminary to begin with. Rose is right to condemn all of the sexual programs that under the guise to educate in fact seem more likely to titilate and lead to the spread of immoral behavior.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece that appeared in The Priest magazine, about a seminarian who had found a used condom in the seminary shower and wondered what it could mean. The unmistakable conclusion was that some semiarians were having sex in the shower and flippantly were leaving the evidence of the act behind.

I wrote that at that time the Pope had urged that greater screening for sexual problems be used to exclude problems from the seminaries. I concluded at that time that if the Bishops in the United States took that seriously that their would be very few men in the seminary, but at least the ones that were there would in fact be chaste and celibates.

Rose's book is the tale of someone from the outside looking in. The clerical culture does not allow outsiders (lay people) into their world, so necessarily Rose's tale is one of clerics on the fringe, and students who have left or been kicked out. The tale he weaves is sensational and not far from the truth. But the truth may in fact be far worst than any of us is willing or capable of believing. But whatever it is, it is greater than idealogy and we will make a great mistake if we believe that the conservatives have no problem in this regard and that it is just a liberal problem. It is a human problem, it is a problem of discipline, it is a problem of willfully ignoring a problem that has existed.

I witnessed both conservative and liberal priests fall, not only with regard to sexuality but with regard to prayer. I have seen conservative priests who resemble Jesus no more than the Pharisees did and liberals who do not even car to resemble him but seem terribly intent on mirroring some pagan deity.

What I crave are priests and bishops who are humble--not arrogant. I don't think humble priests or bishops commit these acts of indecency--it is the arrogant ones (liberals and conservatives) who do. Humble clergy will admit the sins that have and continue to be committed behind the sacred walls of seminaries. They will humbly acknowledge the mistakes and sins of the past and make restitution. They will turn to Jesus and follow his example. If they themselves are the cause of scandal they will resign. If their seminaries are filled with bad faculty and students they will ask them to leave.

The indelible mark placed on the soul of the priests is no reason to excuse their acts. Priests who leave to marry are not taken care of by dioceses in perpetuity (in fact they are seldom taken care of at all)--why should priests who cause the diocese to lose millions of dollars? Are other employees of the Church afforded this luxury? No.

Today is Holy Thursday. Tonight, we will hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. One will protest arrogantly that he will not allow this--he will deny knowing Jesus a few hours later. Another who also is recorded as speaking out against Jesus when a woman washed Jesus' feet with precious oil--will also now step forward in betrayal. One apostle will repent unto Jesus and become the first Pope, the other apostle will repent unto himself and commit suicide.

The question that Rose's book leaves unanswered is which Apostle will the bishops of this country model themselves after? In their arrogance they have all been complicit in allowing corruption and abuse to reign, will they repent and if so to whom?

What happens to the Church is in the hands of God, it will continue in spite of their answer.