by Rev. John Trigilio, Jr., Ph.D.
Michael Rose's controversial book, Goodbye! Good Men, concerns the up-to-now secret crisis in American seminaries which has lasted for a quarter of a century. Most on the left and a few on the right have attacked, repudiated, chastised, ignored, vilified, or denounced the author or at least have attempted to challenge and/or discredit the data and testimonies contained in the book. Many liberals and some conservatives have jumped on the bandwagon to condemn the author, criticize the scholarship, and rebuke the narratives.
Despite these efforts, those of us who actually survived the seminary experience know too well how true those tales really are. The problem is that no book can address all the issues and propose all the solutions. The horror stories Rose relates brings back many painful memories, but also sheds light on dark secrets which until now have been kept locked up in the basement. Like the pedophilia scandal, the seminary scandal was swept under the carpet for too long. Sadly, without the pressure of the media and the threat of impending lawsuits, this demon may not get the speedy and serious response as was given in Dallas by the Episcopal conference. Even though the Holy See has ordered a thorough investigation of all seminaries and their formation programs, whether or not it disintegrates into an impotent "visitation" like the last one may be an easy bet.
Were a sequel or volume two to come out, it could concern the improvements made by some of the previously bad seminaries and include more on the current good ones. The first book told stories from 10 to 20 to almost 30 years ago, and many of those places are now closed, the faculty members are deceased or have left the priesthood, or some seminaries have been pretty well cleaned up by subsequent rectors and bishops.
Even during the "dark ages" when dissident theology, liturgical abuse, and sexual immorality flourished at an all-time high, there were always in every seminary and diocese some champions of orthodoxy and decency who, although the minority, gave those of us who were in the trenches the courage to keep going and never quit. The good, orthodox, and holy priests (albeit a few), be they diocesan, Vincentian, Divine Word, or otherwise, who sustained us in some of the bad seminaries, or who now run the improved places, should never be forgotten or abandoned.
The most distressing aspect of this affair is that many good bishops, priests, and laity refuse to believe the magnitude of the problem. As Jack Nicholson said in the movie A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth." Goodbye! Good Men only scratched the surface, so a second installment could equally reveal more of the cancer infecting the Church. There were other seminaries not mentioned in the book and many tales not told. While it is true that the situation has improved in general across the nation and that the 1970s and 1980s were the absolute nadir of seminary life, nonetheless, theological dissent, liturgical abuse, and elements of homosexuality still permeate many places, though at a more subdued, discreet, and covert manner.
The lawsuits of today mostly concern crimes of the past, yet sins of the present are still being done and left untouched. The premise in Goodbye! Good Men is that many good men were sacrificed to the wolves so as to promote mediocre and in some cases bad men in their place. Good men who were manly, orthodox, pious, and obedient would often be targets while androgynous, heterodox, flamboyant, and very liberal "men" sailed through the seminary with flying colors. As long as the student accepted and embraced the theological lies being told and as long as he supported liturgical innovations and had a distaste for traditional and reverent ritual, then he would get sterling evaluations from faculty and peers alike.
This did not happen in every seminary nor all the time, but in enough of them and often enough to cause great harm to Holy Mother Church. Like Soviet sleeper spies or moles who would infiltrate the United States, dissidents from magisterial teachings on doctrine, liturgy, and morals tried to plant agents among the various dioceses, parishes, and religious communities to bring about the "revolution." This one, unlike the Russian Revolution of 1917, is barely political, but is predominantly theological, liturgical, and social. Proponents of married clergy, women priests, homosexual marriages and homosexual clergy, pedestrian worship, nontraditional ceremonies, erosion of the sacred and glorification of the banal, and independence from Rome are as much around in 2002 as they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
There is a second danger that since many good men who probably had a genuine priestly vocation were nevertheless turned away, thrown out, or converted to the "dark side," then another target will be many good Catholic faithful. Goodbye! Good Catholics might be the next book to hit the market.
Ironically, some at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) spend much time and effort trying to restrict and contain EWTN through complicated canonical regulations, while dissident theologians are not even remotely intimidated by the mandatum required by Ex Corde Ecclesiae. A bishop may or may not revoke or grant a mandatum to a particular theologian and he or she may or may not possess one, yet there is no mechanism to demand that only theologians with a mandatum can and ought to teach in Catholic colleges and universities. Having or not having the mandatum has little if any consequences for theologians, whereas getting the proper permissions from bishops and superiors just to broadcast a radio or television program is much more intrusive, manipulative, and will be done with more severity, you can be sure.
Teach heterodoxy at a Catholic college and you may or may not get your mandatum revoked, but you will still have your job, even though parents and students are paying obscene amounts of tuition for an allegedly Catholic and orthodox education. On the other hand, if you are on TV or radio and explain the unadulterated authentic faith as taught by the Magisterium, you still need permission slips from one to three bishops.
Good Catholics are being intimidated and discouraged when nothing or very little is ever said or written by the bishops concerning Catholics who do not regularly attend Mass, who live together before marriage, who use contraception, who openly support abortion and/or political candidates who also deny the right to life of the unborn. Politicians who are pro-abortion are never excommunicated, yet priests who validly and licitly celebrate Mass ad orientem are threatened with suspension. Cohabiting couples are allowed to have elaborate weddings with white gowns et al., while traditional Catholics who legitimately ask for the indult (Ecclesia Dei) Tridentine Mass are either refused or only given a token permission for one day a month on a Saturday evening.
Documents on global warming, nuclear weapons, economics, and so-called church art are prolific. Issues like waning belief in and reverence for the Real Presence, the abuse of general absolution, sporadic Mass attendance, gross ignorance of the faith among the post-confirmed faithful, rejection of papal and magisterial authority are never addressed.
Good Catholics who devoutly come to church every week, if not every day, and who reverently kneel before their Lord and God are now being bullied and insulted and harassed for not standing instead. Bad enough that the bishops approved of an emendation to the rubrics of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (IGMR) n. 160 which, as approved by Rome, will make standing the normative posture for receiving Holy Communion. Kneeling or genuflecting will be discouraged, but those who do so cannot be denied Communion.
Instead of beating up the few faithful who devoutly kneel, especially at a Communion rail, or who momentarily genuflect, why not spend the effort and energy going after the faithful who show no reverence whatsoever? Communicants with dirty hands, sometimes with tattoos or pen writing all over them; those who refuse to observe the one hour fast before Communion; non-Catholics and persons invalidly married coming to Communion; and those who truly do not believe that the bread and wine have substantially changed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ — these are the people the bishops need to correct, not the pious and reverent who give proper adoration to the Real Presence.
There are even parishes and dioceses which blatantly violate rubric n. 21 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (also n. 43 in the IGMR) which mandates the posture of kneeling for the consecration and in the United States, for the entire eucharistic prayer. Yet, nothing is done to enforce that law. Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez has clarified that each priest may celebrate Mass versus apsidem and not only and just versus populum, but see what happens if the local parish priest faces the tabernacle instead of the people.
The cover-up over transferred pedophiles eroded much confidence the laity had in general for the American hierarchy. The sex scandals themselves diluted a lot of respect and admiration for the priesthood. The only constant our people have is the true faith. Leaders, being human, will inevitably sin and make mistakes, but the divinely revealed faith is perennial, constant, and unchanging. Seven sacraments and the Deposit of Faith keep us all, clergy and laity, grounded in the one true Church.
Bad examples have always been with us. Even the first bishops were less than exemplary: Peter denied Christ, Thomas doubted, Judas betrayed Him, and 11 abandoned Him as He died on the cross. Yet, the Catholic Church survived. She endured the Eastern Orthodox Schism of 1054, the Avignon Papacy, the Western Schism and Three Popes, the Protestant Reformation, and so on. She will endure our current crisis as well. Those of us living in these times, however, cannot be inactive bystanders, either.
Pray for our bishops, show them respect, and obey all their lawful and licit commands. We are not Protestants who make themselves their own pope, and so, we must follow the chain of command but know what we are obliged to do and what we are encouraged to do. The Holy See (the Pope and the Vatican) and universal law outrank lower authorities. Hence, no priest or pastor can countermand or revoke a lawful order or decree of the local bishop any more than the local bishop can circumvent or ignore the legitimate authority of Rome.
If Rome says something is permitted, it is permitted all over the world unless Rome has specifically allowed local bishops to say otherwise (very rare). If the local bishop makes a lawful policy for the diocese, no individual pastor or priest has the authority to change it. If the diocese says no weddings on Sundays, then no priest can ignore that. If Rome says we kneel at the consecration, then no bishop or conference of bishops can say otherwise.
Before more good men with genuine vocations to the priesthood and diaconate are prevented or discouraged from being ordained and before more good Catholics are disgusted and discouraged as well and perhaps even stop going to church, why don't our shepherds fully commit themselves to an aggressive and thorough investigation and reform of our seminary system; to a comprehensive removal of all theological dissenters, liturgical abusers, and homosexual clergy and faculty, in all Catholic colleges, universities, and seminaries; to a renewal and renaissance of reverence and reaffirmation in the belief of the Real Presence by showing more respect for the Blessed Sacrament, i.e., moving the tabernacles back to the middle of the sanctuary (n. 314 "a noble, worth and conspicuous" location), allowing the option of receiving Holy Communion standing or kneeling (just as they currently have the option of in the hand or on the tongue), and enforcing the rule on kneeling for the consecration (and in the United States for the entire eucharistic prayer)?
Bad theology is supported by bad liturgy and both promote bad morality. Orthodox theology is supported by reverent liturgy and both promote holiness as well as good morality. Sound doctrine and reverent worship of the Real Presence always produce abundant vocations. Check the dioceses where many vocations flourish and examine the parishes those men come from. Places where the Blessed Sacrament is prominent and highly respected and where the authentic teachings of the Church as defined by the Magisterium are defended and promoted — these are the fertile grounds for priestly and religious vocations.
It is no secret that colleges like Christendom, Thomas Aquinas, Franciscan University in Steubenville, and now Ave Maria are doing well since parents and students are assured of a high-caliber, authentically Catholic education and environment. Dioceses and bishops who are known for their orthodoxy and send candidates to solid seminaries which have reverent Masses, frequent if not perpetual adoration of the Holy Eucharist and thoroughly Catholic catechesis from children to adults, will provide the vocations for these dioceses as well as students for these colleges.
There is an old saying that it is superfluous to preach to the choir. It is also dangerous to beat up the choir as well. Instead of harassing devout Catholics for showing sincere eucharistic piety and rather than persecuting orthodox seminarians and instead of attacking priests loyal to the Roman Pontiff and Magisterium, why don't the successors of the Apostles correct the real offenders and culprits?
Dissent from doctrine is no different than dissent form the moral law. Dissidents who teach erroneous theology are on the same plane as perverts who prey on children. The former corrupts the innocence of the mind and the latter contaminates the innocence of the body. Zero tolerance for pedophile priests should include zero tolerance for heterodoxy as well as zero tolerance for sacrilege — which occurs whenever liturgical abuse and aberrations are consciously performed.
Fr. Trigilio is president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.