IN 1998, shortly after I had started working for David Horowitz at FrontPage magazine, I once expressed surprise at a report about radical faculty at a local, nominally Catholic university. As a recent convert, I still lived under the happy illusion that any institution professing to be Catholic would, in fact, be Catholicthat is, it would uphold and defend the teachings and traditions of the Roman faith.
Horowitz, dismayed by my naiveté, gave me a blank stare followed by a much-needed warning about the corrosive nature of the radical enterprise: "The rot runs deeper than you think."
"The rot," as he described it, is the extent to which the left has undermined and despoiled various American institutions, from unions to academia to much of the mainstream media. The Catholic Church in the United States is no exception, and in his important new book, Goodbye! Good Men, Michael S. Rose painstakingly and masterfully plumbs the depths of its corruption.
In thorough detail, Rose documents the sorry state of American Catholic seminaries, where men discerning a vocation to the priesthood receive the formation that willor at least shouldprepare them for and sustain them throughout their ministries. It is here where the left has waged its assault most aggressively, in the hopes of creating enough sympathetic priests to form something of a fifth column within the Catholic hierarchy.
The goal is to do away with the elements of Church teaching that contradict the radical social agendaespecially Catholic proscriptions on contraception, abortion, and extramarital sex. In the same vein, the self-styled "reformers" or "progressives" also seek to "re-envision the priesthood" by ordaining women and eliminating the discipline of priestly celibacy. To that end, the radicals within the Church have effectively seized control of most major seminaries, where they brazenly abuse their power and authority in the service of ideological ambitions.
The process begins with seminaries’ admissions programs, in which officials diligently try to identify and reject "orthodox" candidates (i.e., those who believe and espouse Catholic teaching as articulated by the Pope and contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). In Los Angeles, for example, Rose reports that the nun who administers the Archdiocesan vocations program routinely asks would-be seminarians about their position on women’s ordination. A response matching 2,000 years of Church tradition and the expressed opinion of the Pope invariably results in a rejected application.
Once in the seminary, most aspiring priests can expect the steady dose of leftist scholarship that one typically associates with the modern secular university. Professors, who are supposed to be passing on authentic Catholic teaching, instead offer the latest trendy theories, even those that are outright heretical.
Not even some of the most fundamental tenets of Christian theologysuch as the divinity of Christ or the inerrancy of Scriptureare safe at some seminaries. For the progressives, the purpose of such heterodox instruction is twofold: First is the attempt to sway young seminarians over to their way of thinking. Second, and perhaps just as important, is to scare the more entrenched and orthodox seminarians away from the seminaryand their vocations.
Should that fail, seminary administrators have other ways of purging the ranks. Chief among them are psychological evaluations, which are often administered by experts who aren’t even Catholic, some of whom are openly hostile to Church teaching. In one egregious case, a prospective seminarian in Covington, Kentucky, was faulted by a psychiatrist (a practicing Mason, which Catholicism forbids) for becoming "rather ego-involved with some ideas, values, and moral positions, and (holding) some of them quite tenaciously." In other words, he had the nerve to believe in absolute truths and universal morality.
Often, potential vocations are denied admission to a seminary due to perceived "rigidity" (read: orthodoxy) in their psychological examination. Once in the seminary, any demonstrations of further "inflexibility" (such as defending Church teaching or practicing traditional Catholic devotions) can result in a trip to the shrink for reprogramming. Rose cites the case of many a "rigid" seminarian who, on the basis of a damning psychological profile, was asked to leave the seminary altogether, seemingly for no offense other than fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
Rose also unearths significant evidence of a "gay subculture" at many seminaries, where Church teaching on homosexuality is not only ignored in theory, but flaunted in practice. The subculture "is so prominent at certain seminaries," Rose writes, "that these institutions have earned nicknames such as Notre Flame (for Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans) and Theological Closet (for Theological College at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.). St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore has earned the nickname, ‘The Pink Palace.’ "
The result is a seminary environment that gives rise to immature and predatory homosexual behavior. As such, it should come as little surprise that so many priests have taken to preying on adolescent males. The institutions that are supposed to be teaching future priests the virtues of sacrifice and self-restraint are instead selling them on the false gods of self-fulfillment and self-indulgence, in a culture that treats morality as optional or subject to personal revision.
Rose is not the first to allege widespread theological, psychological, and sexual abuses in Catholic seminaries, but he has investigated his work more thoroughly and comprehensively than anyone before him. He names names, quotes reliable sources, and lists several examples to substantiate each charge. For the honest reader, it is impossible to read his book without embracing his conclusionthat most modern American seminaries are in a state of crisis.
After tormenting his readers with page after page of real-life seminary horror stories, Rose mercifully ends his book with good newsthat the seminaries, although in woeful condition, are improving. The radical reforms have produced a predictable (and, Rose convincingly argues, intentional) "vocations crisis," with fewer and fewer men pursuing the priesthood. Consequently, many of the country’s weakest seminaries have had to close their doors. But several of their more orthodox counterpartssuch as Arlington, Lincoln, Peoria, Wichita, Bridgeport, Omaha, Atlanta, and Rockfordare seeing an explosion in vocations, and their success is setting the standard for what seminaries must do to improve their prospects.
And despite the efforts of radicalized seminary administrators throughout the country, many good men, committed to a life of service, ministry, and loyalty to the Church, still manage to pass througha testament both to their endurance and divine providence.
The majority of new priests today, Rose reports, are far more faithful than the radicals who teach them, which bodes well for the seminaries. When the holdouts from the 1960s and 1970s finally retire or move on, that should make way for the young breed of orthodox priests to assume control.
Until then, though, the damage wrought by the radical assault on the Church has been devastating, and its effects will be felt for generations. As Rose shows, the rot has run deepfar deeper than most Catholics care to admit.