Monday, April 08, 2002

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation (the name of this blog). Normally the Feast of the Annunciation is on March 25th, but because that occurred during Holy Week this year, the feast is transferred to today. You may notice that the Scripture quote that I use to go with this page is from the annunciation to Zechariah, part of the reason I chose his annunciation is because like him I too have often been silent, awaiting the right moment to speak. Mary, on the other hand expressed faith at her annunciation and I ask her intercession on all that read these pages--that she might use these words to bring all to a deeper relationship with Our Lord.

Since reading Goodbye, Good Men written by Michael S. Rose, I have thought a lot about my own experiences as a student in two different seminaries in the 1980’s. Rose, in an email to me, criticized my comments and asked if I was so knowledgeable why I had not written a book about these experiences. He is right, and I commend him for doing the research and putting together an expose based on the accounts of those he interviewed, but I have decided to highlight the lowlights of my experiences in the seminary and then to offer my own critique of the current crisis in the Church. This is Part I of several to come.

Part I. St. Meinrad College

I attended Saint Meinrad College Seminary in southern Indiana in the early 1980’s. At the time the school had the reputation of being a “liberal” seminary. I would say, it was in some ways, but fairly orthodox in others. Staffed and owned by the Benedictine monks, one could find on the faculty monks who still celebrated the mass in Latin as well as those who barely believed anything at all. The college closed in the late 90’s, the School of Theology continues and enjoys a much better reputation these days. I will list my positive experiences first, then the negative.

Positive Experiences:

Located in a monastic environment, spirituality literally hung in the air at Saint Meinrad. The monks prayed regularly throughout the day; wore the recognizable Benedictine habit, the grounds were expansive and there were hundreds of places to pray and meditate.

The history and gift that the Benedictines were and continue to be to the area dominates my memories of St. Meinrad.

The faculty was first rate. The courses were excellent.

I mention several bad priests below, but the majority of the priests who I encountered in the classroom, in the confessional and lived with were great men. Some were very holy.

I used to confess to an eighty year old monk who was well known among conservative Catholics, a devote to the reported apparitions at Garanbandal. He was a great and holy priest who died about ten years ago.

Another good monk was my spiritual director and is now the Archabbot of the monastery there. He has remained a very good friend of mine and now also my wife. He authored a great book of mediations called Latin Sayings for Spiritual Growth for Our Sunday Visitor about a year ago (you can click on the Amazon link for a peak at the inside of the book).

I continue to treasure the way the monks pray there and try to visit the monastery at least once a year. All of the people connected with my negative experiences are no longer there.

I also sense a profound change in the spirit of the monastery as well as the seminary there now. It is important to note that all of those that I mention below were removed from any teaching or positions of authority (I can only assume because I was not alone and that others reported these activities to the proper authorities and they acted).

Negative Experiences:

1. I had barely settled in my dorm room when I received a phone call from another seminarian who was from my diocese. He asked me to come to his room. I had only met this student once before, during a summer get together, so I did not know him all that well.

Upon entering his room and after exchanging pleasantries, he asked me if I was gay. I told him I was not. He then told me that I would never last at the seminary if that was the case. He said that everyone was gay there.

At this point, I made my way to the door and I can only faintly recall how upset and unsafe this made me feel.

On my way back to my room, I met another seminarian from my diocese and told him what had just happened. He told me that I must have misunderstood. I told him that I had not, that X had been very clear in what he had told me.

The next day the seminarian was gone. Someone whispered that he had suffered a nervous breakdown. I breathed a sigh of relief, presuming that this explained what had happened to me.

Two priests befriended me rather quickly.

2. One was conservative and seemed entertained by my youthful idealism. He was in his mid-50's at the time. Always wore his habit (just about all of the priests did), and was in a position of authority within the seminary.

When I expressed an interest in relics, he showed up at the door with a gift of First Class Relics. A few days later, I mentioned a fondness for icons, later the same day a gift of an icon was waiting for me on my desk.

He would grab me in the hall and hug me in a way that made me very uncomfortable, but when I mentioned this to him, he said I was just too uptight.

When my birthday came in November he told me that he wished to offer Mass for me. I asked if a few of my friends might come too, he said no they should go to the community mass—this would be his special gift to me. He celebrated Mass, I did the readings and afterwards he invited me to his cell. He poured two glasses of wine and made small talk about his parents in South Florida and how he had a special place in his heart for the Florida seminarians. At some point, he asked me why I was sitting the way I was sitting. Confused, I asked him what he was talking about. He said, “you have your legs spread open.”

I looked down, only to see that I really didn’t and I couldn’t figure out what in the hell he was talking about. I told him he was crazy. A few minutes later I finished the wine and told him I had to go. He protested but I insisted, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable at even being in his presence.

Later that evening when I told a friend of mine what had transpired he said that it was clear that Fr. X was putting the make on me. I protested this, but from that day forward I kept my distance.

Fr. X for his part seemed hell bent on getting me thrown out. At this point I went up to him and told him that he had better stop trying to make trouble for me or I would go to my Bishop. This worked, but from that day to the present this priest who claimed me as such a “great” friend would not even look at me or return a greeting if we passed in a hall. In fact he was removed from his position in the seminary at the end of that year and blamed me for this (even though I had never told anyone other than my friend).

He is still a priest but presently not living in the United States.

3. Another priest, not a Benedictine and known to be rather out in left field (this seems a better description than liberal) also befriended me, although it would be fairer to say that he befriended everyone.

He invited several friends of mine to go out with him (if I remember right we all were in his class at the time), one night when he found us all deep in study. We took some beer and he drove around the countryside talking about theology. At some point someone in the car said they had to go to the bathroom. He stopped the car at a covered bridge and instructed the guy to stand on the bridge and to relieve himself off the side between the slats. The guy did it and the rest of us all did the same, except for the priest who held a flashlight shining it through the slats. One of my friends took me to the side and said he was checking us out. I asked him what he met. He said that the priest had been shining the light on our privates, checking them out.

A few months later, during spring break, this same priest took about four seminarians with him south to Fr. Lauderdale for Spring Break. When they returned they told tales of sun bathing nude with him on the roof of the hotel (and getting sun burnt). I believe that this priest was sent for treatment (alcohol abuse) and I know that he is now retired for medical reasons (not sure what the medical problem is, but I can presume).

4. The seminary community was very divided between those who flaunted an effeminate campiness and those who were macho. I think this is not uncommon in all male environments where certain males take on feminine roles. At the time I figured that most of the effeminate guys were homosexual and that all of the others were heterosexual. I know that this was not the case. Some of both groups were homosexual and the rest were heterosexual.

Also there was no sense that one group was liberal and the other conservative. When I arrived at St. Meinrad some of the outdoor shrines were overgrown. I made it my personal mission to clear the overgrowth and to restore them so that they might be used (happily this contribution has been continued by subsequent seminarians for over twenty years now). Among those who offered both physical and financial support to this project were some of the most effeminate students.

After the first year at Saint Meinrad, no one bothered me. I only heard about what others experienced. One young seminarian claimed that he had been taken by the president of the student body to an adult bookstore and shown homosexual erotic films. Afterwards the president of the student body and driven them back to the school and asked them if they were “horny.” When they claimed that they were not he said that he was and proceeded to masturbate in their presence and bar them from leaving the room. He was asked to leave the seminary at the end of the year, but was later ordained for another diocese and continues to function as a priest in the United States. One of the victims of his act who I recently heard from is happily married and a father.

What I Learned:

Before I came to the seminary another seminarian at another seminary had taken me aside and warned me that I would find the greatest sinners and the greatest saints living side by side in the seminary. This was the backdrop of my experience. I never confused the bad with the good and through it all my faith only grew.

It seemed for the most part, that the bad were dealt with at St. Meinrad, although bishops seemed at times reluctant to let go of guys who were very marginal candidates (not because of their orientation but because of their lack of integrity).

In Part II, I will relate my experiences at a more conservative seminary.