Still Hope for Seminaries
Francis Sullivan’s article on seminaries raises some important questions about the manner in which the Church presently prepares her clergy for orders. I read it with a more than typical curiosity, since I was myself, last year, asked to leave one of the seminaries he indicts: Theological College in Washington, D.C.
I, too, found a strong anti-intellectualism in the seminary, the formation process inundated with psychological models that were a poor replacement for Christian anthropology, the social climate vicious and gossipy, and the spirituality of the house impoverished. Voicing this, of course, amounted to telling the faculty that their baby was ugly, so I cannot say that I was surprised by their asking me to leave and pursue my “journey to maturity and wholeness.” I will go to my grave convinced that the faculty’s decision in my regard was wrong.
I will not go, however, as far as Mr. Sullivan in questioning not merely the opinions of those with whom he disagrees, but also their motives. This, I think, falls beyond the pale for all of us within the Church. It is one thing to say that another is wrong, and something else, and something dangerous, to say that another is bad. “Hate the sin but love the sinner” continues to be good counsel.
Nor can I believe that the type of seminary Mr. Sullivan envisions would be any more satisfying than those he condemns. Somehow it is hard to imagine that anyone will be party to a forthcoming Catholic intellectual restoration who thinks that by collecting horror stories and calling people “effeminate” he has made an argument.
It is obvious that horror stories lack all evidential validity. They attach to any institution that has been around for any length of time, whatever its ideology and praxis. But I must register a specific objection here: Mr. Sullivan relates a story that paints the unnamed rector of Theological College in a highly unfavorable light. The present rector, Reverend Lawrence Terrien, and his predecessor, Reverend Albert Giaquinto, are both men with whom I’ve disagreed often. But anyone who has had the privilege of knowing these men would dismiss the behavior ascribed to them as utterly false and absurd.
What is so disconcerting to me is that the ecclesiastical partisans of both left and right are more concerned with fighting each other over silliness than either party is with getting earnest about the challenges modernity is posing to the Church. Let’s take the touchiest issue as an example: homosexuality among the clergy.
The left, with freshman-like naivete, refuses to see the potential for scandal and attendant harm to souls, the debilitating effects upon anyone who lives a double life, and the possible negative effects upon the already fragile family structure that might arise from any alteration of the Church’s teaching.
The right, with sophomoric arrogance, rarely goes beyond name-calling, does not admit that we know more today about the nature and origins of homosexuality and that such knowledge must be integrated into our teaching, and that a priest who finds himself one day in love with another man needs our help and compassion, not our bitterness and condemnation. Neither side frames the issue correctly as one primarily of integrity regarding one’s public commitments. The U.S. bishops’ statement on AIDS will place the Church squarely where she belongs, on the side of compassion, but that fact has been lost in all the squabbling about condoms.
Like Mr. Sullivan, I have no answers to offer for solving the debacle which is the modern seminary. I do not share his myopic belief that the sad state of seminaries bodes great ill for the Church. Once in the parish, these young priests will be set right by the honest faith of their flocks. But I also offer a viewpoint and a plea that Mr. Sullivan does not, namely hope. Although the pain I felt when I was asked to leave the seminary was acute and still gnaws at me, I cannot believe that Providence ceased operations when the faculty meeting began. And, unlike Mr. Sullivan, I do not think that the problems facing the Church today are any greater than those of previous epochs. In fact, there is perhaps a greater degree of unity in our age about the essentials of our Catholic faith than at any previous time. Recall the breadth and depth of the schisms in the Church’s history and the points at issue today appear relatively minor.
Let none of us be afraid to hope that the contemporary silliness in our seminaries will give way to gravity. But we shall not get far by relying on gossip and innuendo of the variety offered up as an argument by Mr. Sullivan. His article would have been more worthwhile, and his ministry will prove more blessed, were he to remember always the sage advice of St. Augustine: “In essential things unity, in inessential things diversity, and in all things charity.”
Michael Sean Winters
The Importance of Humanae Vitae for Seminarians
To “Meet Father Freud” is to meet not only the scandal, but the primary cause of the scandal of Catholic seminary life in the U.S. The scandal is a faith that refuses to know what the Church knows; and the main reason that seminaries are milquetoast is that they are afraid of the true Catholic faith. It is not accidental that Humanae Vitae should figure centrally in the seminaries’ softness because Paul VI’s affirmation of the mightiness of true sexual love—it can make people!—is hard to confine and absorb.
We published this observation in Triumph magzine two years before Humanae Vitae was given:
The world deems the Church mad to have hitched its whole moral authority to this wretched piece of intransigence. Millions of Catholics and near Catholics and apostate Catholics over the years have felt the same way: if only the Church would give ground on this one, the rest would be easy to take. But this wretched piece of intransigence is the key to the mighty mystery of sex, which unlocks the door to the even more awesome mystery of life, which in turn reveals the reality of the supernatural. If the Church does not own this key, it does not own any keys at all.
The symbol of true sexual love is nothing less than the love the creator bears to man, and that man should bear to the Creator. Therefore, when Paul VI undertook to teach the Church and the world about sex, he undertook at the most sublime level to teach the men of the Church and the world about themselves and God.
No seminarian can sensibly pursue his studies without a familiarity with, and a fidelity to, Humanae Vitae. If this familiarity and fidelity cannot be acquired by the end of his first year of study, the seminarian should be asked to leave, to seek the deepening of his vocation.
L. Brent Bozell
Muddying the Waters
The attitudes and instances reported by the seminarian Francis Sullivan certainly square with some of my experiences in the American seminary scene; however, no mention was made of those seminary communities in which Catholic tradition, spirituality, and doctrine are maintained with a healthy respect for the findings and the values of contemporary sociology and psychology. Perhaps documentation of what the author reports is beyond the scope of your journal; nonetheless it is regrettable that the author wrote in such a way often to leave the impression that he was present at events which in reality he reports third-hand at best. It is regrettable also that the overall impression left by the article is that all American seminarians are wanting; the author consistently generalized from limited particular examples. He rightly objects to doctrinal or sociological cliches; and then uses terms such as “staleness of mind” and “pyschobabble” without defining them. In sum, there is far more editorializing than clear evidence in the article. Consequently the author muddies the waters he is trying to clarify and falls into the carelessness of which he accuses others.
Reverend James F. Kuhns
Bishop White Seminary
A False Characterization
I was vice-rector of Theological College from August of 1985 through June of 1988. I reject the characterization of Theological College and the Catholic University of America contained in the article “Meet Father Freud” as false at key points. I wish to comment on two of those points. First of all, knowing the rector of Theological College as I do, I am confident that the alleged encounter with a student of Theological College did not take place as described. Secondly, Theological College is in compliance with the promulgated prescriptions of the legitimate Church authorities over it.
It seems to me that if the author of the article were really confident of the truth of his claims, he would put his real name where his mouth is.
Reverend Cale J. Crowley, S.S., Ph.D.
Church Teaching Is Not Opinion
I am glad you published Francis Sullivan’s article about seminaries. I believe that in some seminaries and theological schools the students continue to get dissenting moral theology, and that they come away with the impression that the Church’s opinions on subjects such as homosexuality are going to change. That is not the case because what we have been getting from Rome is not mere opinion, but Church teaching.
Father John Harvey, O.S.F.
St. Michael’s Rectory
New York, New York
A Seminarian’s View
Crisis is to be congratulated for printing the article titled “Meet Father Freud” by the pseudonymous Mr. Sullivan. The author not only pinpointed the key problems which confront the orthodox seminarian but showed the frustration which results from attempting to deal with these problems in an open and forthright manner.
I myself am a student in an American seminary, and I can vouch for the accuracy of Sullivan’s observations. I would like to reinforce one point.
The so-called “vocation shortage” (meaning a dearth of interest in the priesthood on the part of men suited to it) is a fraud. In the first place, the term is a catchword of progressivist propaganda which is used to frighten the Church into relaxing the discipline on married clergy and allowing the ordination of women. As a pressure tactic this “shortage” is indispensable (indeed, several bishops have succumbed to this threat) and any evidence to the contrary is gently steered into oblivion by the apparatchiks of the U.S.C.C.
More importantly, the reluctance of capable young men of orthodox convictions to enter American seminaries is hinged precisely on that lame accommodationist approach to priestly formation which its champions claim to be necessary to “attract” vocations. Around universities in recent years I have met dozens of laymen, good Catholics, who exhibit a strong interest in the priesthood until they discover what priestly formation entails. I have seen their eyes glaze over time and time again when they learn of the pointless humiliations ahead: the dominance of pop psychology, the presence in key positions of vindictive homosexuals or angry women, the constant pressure to conform to the ideologues of the soft left.
The long and the short of the matter is this: a heterosexual young man who is well-read, who has a sense of humor and proportion, and who has a benign respect for Church tradition is precisely the type the present system is designed to discourage. Why? Because he is the most intractable to the kind of formation which has been so carefully crafted by the pioneers of the New Church. He is most likely to see through the sham psychology which has displaced pastoral theology and the shallow sociology accorded the dignity that belongs to patristics. He is likely to smirk at liturgical dance and shake his head at clown masses. He is unwilling to geld himself at the behest of a truculent feminism. If he’s a Catholic, and a man, well, he just won’t make it.
Like “Francis Sullivan,” I also have to resort to a pseudonym to sign this letter. Supporters of a “truly open Church” are as much in command at my seminary as they are at his, and they do not reward candor when it comes from this direction. That fact alone should cause some concern among the faithful.
Seminary Problems Understated
From my limited knowledge of the seminary situation in this country, I think Francis Sullivan’s article in your July-August issue was, if anything, understated. One of the greatest tragedies of recent years has been the excellent young men driven out of seminaries and denied a chance for the priesthood, even as the shortage of vocations is routinely decried. Fortunately, there are also some very good places as well.
St. Louis, Missouri
Substituting Sociology for Philosophy
Your article on the decline of the seminaries was interesting. One prominent Catholic lay thinker believes they started going downhill when they substituted sociology for philosophy. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, “If all sociologists were laid end to end they would not reach a conclusion.”
Reverend Fawley Myers
St. Joseph Church
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Thank God for True Vocations
Thanks be to God that true vocations flourish despite American seminary life, as described by Francis Sullivan in the September issue of Crisis.
When I joined the formation staff of a large seminary in the midwest four years ago, the summer Olympics had just ended. An athlete’s training for the Olympics seemed analogous to the seminarian’s training for the rigors of the “Christian triathalon,” and yet, I thought, the quest for the kingdom of heaven is vastly more demanding on the spiritual athlete than physical training could ever be. This mood of challenge and inspiration, of seeing the seminarian as a spiritual athlete and the seminary as training ground, was dispelled within the first week; we swam in a genial atmosphere of lazy comfort, distorted sentimentality, and foggy warmth that stifled clear thought and genuine sentiment.
The curious thing is that, generally, the faculty and staff did not know what was happening within their own institution; certainly they did not intend to deny “the lads” their religious heritage. Most of the staff assumed that the “old way” was no longer desired by this generation of young men. Their intention was to let the Holy Spirit work in the man’s life without influencing the process by expectations and demands. What the older staff members did not realize is that these seminarians come into the seminary with almost nothing of their tradition intact. “In the Spirit of Vatican II…” these same young men were expected to make their muddled ways through “self-formation” toward some vague purpose of becoming a “ministering person.” There were no objective criteria for judging the man’s progress, nor was there any clear idea among the staff members about the nature of the sacramental priesthood. The only united consensus among the staff was that the “new way” was so much better than the old.
Perhaps the old way of formation was harsh, but the modern way inflicts a greater burden on the men, for it is godless and demands nothing. No wonder that duplicity flourished among the seminarians at Francis Sullivan’s institution and elsewhere. The true wonder is that there are any true vocations surviving at all. I resigned my post after one year.
A friend once told me he dreamed that a friend of his, also a seminarian, was standing in front of his mirror in his room at the seminary. He was tying his necktie and preparing to attend a seminary soiree. As he finished tying the necktie, he looked at his face reflected in the mirror and was suddenly, dreadfully, overcome by despair. As the dreamer watched in horror, his friend hooked his necktie over the top of the mirror and hanged himself. The confusion of priestly self-image that is the central crisis in religious life could hardly be imaged more precisely: a mirror reflects who we are and how others see us, the necktie is the trademark of the secular businessman, and by this tie the young religious meets his death.
Thank God some young men still follow true vocations to the sacramental priesthood, some seek the rigorous training for the triathalon of Christ. For the love of God they continue to be consecrated in chaste and righteous lives, protecting and serving the mysteries and sacraments of the Church, caring for the souls of the faithful, and praying for the conversion of the world. Through great courage, suffering, and integrity, many men do find the fullness of their vocations as priests. But it is sad that so many are discouraged, remain untrained, and, worse, hang themselves from the mirror by their neckties. May God continue to bless men like Francis Sullivan, and the many that I knew, and may John Henry Cardinal Newman (who would not have fared well in American seminary life) pray for them all.
R. D. Lasseter
South Bend, Indiana