Sunday, April 28, 2002

A seminarian, from a large midwestern seminary, responded to my query about the following items:

I noticed that you attend a seminary mentioned by Michael Rose in his book Goodbye, Good Men. Have you read or seen a copy of the book? Your seminary is one mentioned in the book and it claims that the formation team there is incredibly gay. Is that your experience?

I'd love to hear your comments on what your experiences are in there presently.

Are there a large number of homosexual seminarians?

How are you being formed to live celibately?

Do seminarians go out on weekends? Date?

Are most of the guys orthodox?

Here is his gracious answer:

First of all, let me say that I can't (and don't) speak for the seminary. I'm sending this to you to give you a quick impression that
differs markedly from the one you might have based on Goodbye, Good Men. I invite you and Michael Rose to come to visit if you want to investigate how things are here. I suspect that Michael Rose would be somewhat surprised by what he would find.

You asked if I had read the book. I have ordered it, but have yet to receive it. However, I borrowed a copy tonight in order to at least
read the chapter that speaks horrors referring to this seminary. I can't call the seminarian quoted in that section a liar because I don't know him, but I have been here for two years now, and I don't recognize the seminary of my experience in his descriptions.

There has been a tremendous turnover in formation faculty, so I can't speak of faculty members from the past. But today I would never describe the current formation faculty as "gay." Nor has that been the way men who have been here for five years speak. (They do say things are getting better and better on the formation front, but that seems mostly a matter of their active investment in their role as formators of seminarians, not their "orthodoxy" or "straightness".) I suspect that a few of the faculty members may be homosexual, but I have no suspicions that they are acting out or encouraging others to do so.

There is no tolerance for sexual acting out here, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The moral teachings of the Church are taught, and the expectations for students and faculty are that we will all live celibate, chaste lives. I have heard no rumors at all concerning
faculty acting out sexually with anyone, and no reports of faculty harassing students in any way.

As for the students, there are some who are effeminate, some I suspect may be homosexual, and some I hear are homosexual. But the sum of these impressions and reports does not add up to a large percentage. Those who are effeminate or who are assumed to be homosexual are not harassed, nor are heterosexuals harassed by them. To use common parlance, this seems neither a "homophobic" nor a "gay-friendly" place. No one speaks about changing Church teaching about homosexuality, even if there is an
acknowledgment by faculty and students that there are homosexuals as well as heterosexuals in formation here. In sum, I believe that the vast majority of men here are committed to living chaste, celibate lives.

There is no doubt that the current scandal in the Church has increased the explicitness with which we are attending to matters of sexual integration, human formation, and talking about pastoral responses to homosexuality. I count all of this as a benefit of the current situation.

The program of formation includes attention to matters of sexual integration, human formation, and other relevant topics, like the
ongoing challenge of celibacy. Teaching about celibacy is comprehensive, and focuses us on learning what it takes to live out our
"committed love" to Christ and the Church. It is not simply about ways to ensure continence and self-denial, but a holistic way for priests and religious to express their committed love.

You asked about "dating," and I simply don't hear about seminarians doing so. That is not to say that men don't do things socially with one other and with male and female acquaintances in the area, but "dating" is not an accurate description. It's what you might expect: friends doing things together, just as you would find in any social context.

I can't think of any seminarians who openly challenge Church teachings about faith and morals. And, to my mind, that makes them quite orthodox. Differences among seminarians are most conspicuous at the level of personal piety. The differences do not revolve around fidelity to the Magisterium.

I have never heard any faculty members say or teach anything that challenged or contradicted the Church's moral teaching. In fact, the academic faculty is exceptional. They provide both intellectual and spiritual nourishment in their classes. They are men and women (mostly priests and religious) of faith who know their subjects well and have great pedagogical skills. They teach from the standpoint of faith, with an eye to helping us become priests after the heart of Jesus Christ.

In sum, I am very glad that I am in formation here. It would be hard to imagine a better academic faculty at a Catholic seminary. And I see continued improvements in the attention that will be given here (and I suspect at every American seminary) to issues of human formation, celibacy, and sexual integration, among the other areas spelled out in Pastores Dabo Vobis.

I am glad that the heat is being turned up on the entire Church, and that increased attention (in part because of Rose's book) will be paid to American Seminaries. I count that as a potential benefit of the tragedy. If a seminary were in fact the sort of place Rose describes in his book, radical changes would be in order. And there may well be such places, and they need to be
reformed. But this seminary is no longer among them, in my estimation. If there have been major changes, that makes me think that this Archbishop and this Rector "get it." May God be pleased that the situation will be similar across all the dioceses and seminaries in our land!

p.s. I am admittedly a bit troubled by the salacious tone of Rose's book. After thumbing through it, I wondered if the book isn't a bit too sensationalist for its own good. The men who are informants seem, to a man, to have axes to grind.

p.p.s. FWIW, I think there are some men who are too rigid in their embrace of ORTHODOXY to have any sense of mercy in their role as priests. I know some men back home who are immature in their orthodoxy. They are unable to tolerate sinners (and differences of
opinion), and therefore would be ineffective in the work of evangelism and ministry. All of that to say that "kicking someone out" for being "too orthodox" may not always be as bad as Rose seems to think.

Those who have been here (especially those who have been here longer than I) and are aware of this book are angry about its contents. They feel (justifiably, I think) rather defensive. However, I trust that even this off-balance book will help us all in the long-run, even if I am troubled by his method, tone, and assumptions.