Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Seminaries: Where the US Abuse Scandal Really Began...

...according to a friend of mine in the USA who once was in a Seminary.

In 1984 he was asked to leave the Seminary in Western USA. He was popular among other seminarians, a confidant to many. He cared for sick and elderly priests tenderly when a flu pandemic broke out and many were taken ill.

Yet, as a seminarian he was witness to many things. I will say categorically that he maintains he never saw anything which would nowadays be called 'child abuse'. But, he says there was a lot of homosexuality going on in the seminary in 1984 and that was, he knows, very much, covered up and this is instructive of a wider institutional crisis since it appears that the US abuse crisis had a very high incidence of abuse of pubescent, teenage boys.

He was never ordained himself in what amounts to a cruel and confusing paradox. He was greatly loved by other seminarians because he was faithful to the Magisterium and brought to his aspiring vocation a great compassion and understanding of others. Many seminarians confided in him of their personal struggles and in particular of their trauma at events going on inside the Seminary, but he himself was chaste. His dream was to be a Priest for Christ. As a chaste person of a homosexual orientation, he upheld the highest moral standards for himself and set an example to others, but, he also showed the compassion of Christ to his brethren.

"Since I was the oldest," he says, "and, very respected by the younger seminarians, they came to me about what was going on in the Seminary. They were highly traumatised. One seminarian was seduced by a particular Deacon. The worst thing is that a seminarian from a neighbouring State had been seduced by this Deacon also. The poor kid was a nervous wreck and when the Deacon would come out to the seminary for Mass or some program, he would make it his business to sit right next to that student in the Chapel! You could see the poor kid's hands shaking! The two seminarians seduced while I was there were first year seminarians. Both quit, their vocations ruined by the Deacon."

Unfortunately, he was not liked by the Rector of the Seminary who was by nature it seems, a 'liberal'. From his account of goings-on in the seminary, the Rector heard a great deal of reports about the state of affairs at the Seminary. At least one report was made to the Rector of a seminarian frequenting a gay bar in the region. The same Rector also heard, he insists, of accounts of young men being taken back to the seminary for homosexual encounters. The man involved, he says, was careful to take back young men 18 or over, so as not to be considered in any way a pederast, or predator.

Bizarrely, this seminarian was ordained, despite reports known to the Rector of his activities, after the Rector had sent him to have "therapy" at a hospice that treated "drugs and alcohol addicts", in what amounts to an eerie corollary with other accounts of sexual abuse of younger teenage and pubescent boys in the US.

"The Rector", says my friend, "considered himself to be a new Sigmund Freud." Later on, after his 'recovery' the man was ordained. The Rector, it appears, did not listen to or, at least, did not act appropriately on "second-hand" evidence of sexual impropriety and most certainly 'covered up' these allegations against seminarians who were in his favour, who were, my friend says, more 'liberal' in their theology, some of whom, he says, "...didn't believe in the existence of devils and demons, nor even Hell!"

"The Rector," he says, "made it his business to be my 'inquisitor' there. Finally, he knew I had reached the breaking point when I myself got the flu and it developed into pneumonia." Looking back at his time, he says of the man with such great influence in terms of who was ordination...

"It seemed  preferable to recommend the ordination of practising homosexual priests, but not the ones who have the orientation but are celibate."

Incredibly, when my friend confided to his Rector of his own sexual orientation, even though he was totally chaste, he says that, "At the end of the conversation, he told me I must leave, with his right arm upraised like Moses on Mount Sinai!" The morning after having been told he had to leave, he attended Mass and when the Priest lifted the Blessed Host, he felt he was being crucified with Him. The day he left the seminary he shook the dust from his shoes from the Seminary which had both embraced him for his virtue and spat him out for his honesty and his integrity.

His sense of injustice is still palpable. How could it not be? He does not give his name since he maintains that he would be "crucified" were his identity to be revealed. As far as his personal experience of life in the seminary in the 1980s is concerned this is a scandal enough. The greater scandal, however, he maintains, is the charges being levelled against Pope Benedict XVI. Concerning the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he says, "If they err, they wish to err on the side of being cautious and thorough," rather than acting out of malice, secrecy and cover-up. Theirs is an exhaustive and extensive, investigative task, of sifting through any allegations, therefore when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was in charge of the CDF, around the same time, "He patiently and thoroughly was sifting through all this, although people didn't know it at the time, making sure charges and evidence was correct."

Pope Benedict XVI, my friend says, was not responsible for the current problems which afflict the Church in terms of abuse and scandal. What he does say is that the now gloriously reigning Pope "foresaw" what is now happening to, from within and without, the Church, because as Head of the CDF, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger read about some of the allegations of which we are now hearing. He himself was not guilty of a 'cover up', but those in other senior positions in vast swathes of the Church, especially in the US, very much were guilty of exactly that. It is precisely because of his time at the CDF that as Pope, Benedict XVI stated in his Pontificate his desire to rid the Church of "filth". Reading over our conversation which has taken place online, I wonder whether what those who did cover up these allegations were protecting, was not so much Holy Mother Church, but 'liberal theology' of the 1960s and those who were its advocates.

Meanwhile, those who were not its advocates, those who were faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and the Holy Father, those who took seriously the words of Our Blessed Saviour, those who lived the Most Holy Faith, men of heroic virtue, were deliberately excluded from the Priesthood because they did not fit the mould of the more fashionable and very loose interpreters of the 'Spirit of Vatican II'.

His words are daunting.

"It is," he says, "a crisis that has been building up slowly, with great craft and very sly! There can only be one being who is 'master' of it all. Pope St Gregory I the Great said: 'Hardly a bishop, but a veritable army of priests and laity will join sides with the Antichrist.'" 

There can be no doubt that the abuse scandals that have rocked the Church amount to a fierce and deadly weapon of Satan in his efforts to destroy the Church and to make it as ugly in men's sight as he can. My friend says that even Pope Paul VI, so often derided by those who see the Second Vatican Council as a wound in the Body of Christ, recognised the disaster looming ahead, when he said that the 'smoke of Satan had entered the Church'."

His story lends weight to the argument of some Catholic commentators, such as Gerald Warner, that the roots of the abuse crisis lies not at the door of Pope Benedict XVI, nor the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but at the curse of liberalism, heresy and a potentially explosive schism within the Church because of seeds that were planted are now bearing rotten fruit with disasterous consequences, in terms of both the heterodoxy of senior hierarchy within the Church and the scandal caused by woefully bad teaching and instruction of seminarians in the post-Vatican II period, and ordination of men who were known by their superiors to be unsuitable candidates for the Priesthood, many of whom are now Catholic Priests.

It is in many ways a story which reflects the current position of Pope Benedict XVI and Priests, Bishops and Cardinals loyal to him. Those who hold fast to the Truth of the Most Holy Gospel are made as outcasts, whereas those who do not, appear to have flourished. Yet, in the Church's hour of greatest need in the future, will those who promoted or do promote liberalism, those who perhaps caused this great crisis to unfold, hold fast to the One True Faith, or leave, taking with them not just 'Bishops but a 'veritable army of priests and laity, too'? This story, after all, will not go away, since more cases of abuse will emerge, each time, like this time in Norway, the Catholic Church and the Pope innocent of any wrongdoing in this regard, will come in for even more fierce criticism.


Ronan said...

Let's not blame this on 'liberal' theology. It's wrong to give these predators something to hide behind and blame for their crimes. I've heard similar accusations that 'conservative' theology is to blame. This isn't a stick for either wing of the church to be beating the other with, and I don't believe catholics of goodwill on either side were theologizing for pederasty. I don't want this filth whining 'it's cos of 60s psychology, guv', nor 'it's cos of the celibacy, guv'.

The Bones said...

If men who did not believe in Hell were being ordained in the 1980s, then how can we be surprised when they behave, as Priests, as men who do not believe in Hell!

The Bones said...

Or Heaven, for that matter!

Ben Trovato said...

Good Post!

The book to read to understand the rot in American Seminaries is Goodbye Good Men by Michael S. Rose

It would seem your correspondent's experience is by no means atypical.

I also disagree with Ronan: I don't want to rush to judgement, but I do think there should be a thorough investigation as to whether particular approaches to the selection, training and formation of seminarians played a part in developing a culture in which such sinful behaviour came thinkable rather than unthinkable...

Patrick B said...

Well put Ronan, I agree entirely. This is but one man's subjective experience of the (admittedly bizarre) Catholicism practised in the US during the 80s. It doesn't explain the pattern of abuse in Germany, for example, where liberals were not in the majority. This is not a liberal or conservative phenomenon, it is merely a product of innate human weakness and a propensity to sin. Priests are not inherently less disposed to sin than anyone else, and it should not surprise us that they do. Rather than blaming ideologies for the scandal we need to blame sin and show forgiveness. I know Christ would

Antonio said...

The blame must lie where it should: ultimately with Pope Benedict's predecessor, who appointed such bishops who oversaw these atrocities and did not call them to question. The example of the Fr. Marcial of the Legionnaries is just one case of the late pontiff wilfully turning a blind eye. Now Benedict XVI has to deal with the mess.

Physiocrat said...

There is a book called "Jesuit Child" by Macdonald Hastings that describes life at Stonyhurst College in the 1920s. One of the points made is that the rules were carefully designed, first, to ensure that there was no opportunity for hanky-panky, and second, to ensure that nobody could be accused of having engaged in it.

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