New study of US seminary formation exposes fundamental flaws

New study of US seminary formation exposes fundamental flaws

John S. Webster

Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church
by Michael S. Rose
Available from AD Books for $30.00.

Catholics in the pews in both Australia and the United States have been struggling to understand how the present clerical sex abuse crisis could possibly have occurred. In his latest book - Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church - American Catholic journalist, Michael S. Rose, sheds considerable light on the subject.

The central thesis of Rose's thoroughly researched book is that voiced by Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, Nebraska, that the priest shortage is "artificial and contrived", and that the crisis itself is symptomatic of wider theological and liturgical problems in the Church.

The author's conclusions are based on in-depth interviews with a large number of priests, seminarians and ex-seminarians.

Rose notes firstly that vocation selection programs for many US dioceses and religious orders have been designed to detect and prevent orthodox men from entering seminaries. Many candidates are rejected by selection staff favouring the ordination of women or 'gay' rights, and/or by psychologists whose understandings of the human person do not accord with the Church's. Such students are often labelled as "rigid" or "reactionary".

If orthodox candidates surmount this initial obstacle, they must then conform to the "new model of Church" promoted in many US seminary programs and courses, with formation staff quick to target anyone defending Church teachings. Students who attended such seminaries speak of Soviet Gulag-like pressures, with every move and statement monitored for evidence of "unsuitability" for the priesthood. Flagrant liturgical abuse might be the norm in many seminaries; but even being caught saying the rosary has been grounds for expulsion.

Central to the weeding-out process is a form of therapy which, for example, labels students defending the Church's moral teachings as "repressed and dysfunctional". Not only is such assessment unprofessional, as Rose underlines, it also constitutes a grave injustice.

Expelled from a seminary on spurious grounds, many decent, well-adjusted young men have had to contend with the unspoken suspicions or incomprehension of family and friends as to why they 'failed', while finding it almost impossible to gain acceptance in another diocese's seminary. Ironically, many "rejects" who did manage to gain acceptance by an orthodox diocese were reassessed by competent professionals as psychologically mature, despite being earlier labelled as "repressed" or "dysfunctional".

The most insidious aspect of the situation in America is that in many instances students identifying themselves as 'gay' have been given every encouragement to "come out", often by an equally 'gay' formation faculty - even to the extent of frequenting gay bars and "cruising" gay neighbourhoods. Such support of homosexual conduct has seen the priesthood, in some cases, identified as an essentially 'gay' profession, with a consequent deterrent effect on 'straight', orthodox candidates.

Who, then, is ultimately responsible for this deplorable situation? Clearly it is the US bishops, since they determine which seminaries candidates attend, appoint staff and decide which men are suitable for ordination. Not a few bishops have either endorsed the liberal agenda or failed to exercise functional leadership in their oversight of clerical formation.

While there have been a few distinguished episcopal appointments in recent years - notably Bishop Fabian Bruschewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska - one also notes among the names of new bishops several who had previously run corrupt seminaries. It is not surprising, as Rose notes, that the Vatican directed comprehensive 1980s "investigation" into US seminaries turned into a whitewash.

Fortunately, Goodbye, Good Men ends on a positive note, with an analysis of dioceses attracting good numbers of orthodox candidates, e.g., Lincoln, Nebraska, and Arlington, Virginia. A similar success story is the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado. Since the appointment of Charles Chaput as Archbishop, reforms to the seminary program have seen a significant increase in numbers, to the point where a second seminary had to be opened. These, and several other successful US dioceses (as also in Australia), underline the fact that the Church's celibacy rule is not a factor in the decline in vocations. Defective formation is central to the problem.

Attracting vocations

While Rose's book analyses the situation in the US, many of its conclusions are relevant to Australia.

Developments over the past decade or so have demonstrated that a solid, orthodox seminary formation is integral to attracting vocations. By contrast, dioceses that tolerate or encourage liturgical aberrations or allow feminist nuns to undermine Church teachings will have difficulty attracting recruits. In Australia, as in the US, many orthodox young men are prepared to travel great distances to find seminaries offering an authentically Catholic formation.

Goodbye, Good Men makes compelling, if disturbing reading. It should be studied closely by all involved with seminary formation in Australia - especially bishops. Though challenging and confrontational, the comprehensiveness of its docu-mentation and research makes it a work that cannot be ignored or brushed aside. It represents an urgent call for authentic renewal within the Church.

Given the recent scandals and distorted popular perceptions of the priesthood, the time for reform is fast running out.

'Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church' is available from AD Books for $30.00. John S. Webster is a Melbourne Catholic writer.

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