FAITH Magazine January-February 2003
Timothy Finigan on the claims that a liberal conspiracy has deprived the Church of priestly vocations; Joanna Bogle enjoys a reprint of a Malcolm Muggeridge classic and James Prior on the teaching of bishops and cardinals in England, Ireland and Wales.
Goodbye, Good Men
by Michael S. Rose, Regnery Publishing Inc. 276pp $27.95
The problem with analysing why men are rejected by seminaries or asked to leave is that there are so many factors involved. Seminary staff need to be sure that a candidate is suitable in terms of his human maturity, his theological knowledge, his pastoral sense and his spiritual life. If it is asserted that a man has been turned away because of his orthodoxy, it needs to be shown that the other measures of suitability were all there and that he would have been accepted if they had been used alone.
It might be possible to analyse past cases using as much information as possible to assess all the different factors. A book based on such research would probably show some interesting results – but it would not be a gripping read.
Michael Rose has taken the other approach. He has gathered horror stories from around the USA and boldly made various claims about seminaries and concluded that the shortage of priests in many areas is the direct result of selection policies.
He goes through the whole process from initial vocations gatherings that intimidate and discourage candidates of solid traditional piety. He looks at the process of selection and the way that orthodox candidates are rejected. He tells of a “gay subculture” in seminaries and discrimination against heterosexual seminarians. He tells of seminaries forbidding students to receive Holy Communion on the tongue and celebrating Mass in a way that can only be described as sacrilegious. He analyses the impact of militant feminism and discrimination against candidates who accept the teaching of the Church that only men can be ordained to the priesthood. He speaks of how candidates are sent for psychological counselling because their orthodox views are seen as evidence of a rigidity in personality andof psychological immaturity. And he tells of orthodox seminaries that have an abundance of students. Hence he quotes approvingly the opinion of Archbishop Curtiss that the shortage of priests is “artificial and contrived”.
In response, various seminary rectors and others have taken some of his individual examples and stoutly refuted them. For example, Fr Kevin Codd, the Rector of the American College at Louvain, has protested that the charges cited by Rose that were made by a student dismissed from Louvain were “wholly without merit or foundation” and that the college does not have a “gay subculture” but is a healthy seminary community.
Father Canary, the rector of the Mundelein Seminary and Father Cameli, the director of ongoing formation of priests for the Archdiocese of Chicago writing in the Catholic New World (June 2002), point out, quite fairly, that Rose’s evidence is mainly from ex-seminarians and complain that “He did not check with those who are named and blamed”.
Fr Robert Johansen, writing in Culture Wars (May 2002) makes the perfectly valid point that a seminarian he knew was rejected for spending all his time in the chapel and neglecting his studies. Such a person might, of course, claim to have been thrown out for his piety.
However, even if the methods of Michael Rose were flawed in all these ways, that would not make all his more general assertions false. Time and again, at gatherings of priests, stories are told from seminaries across Europe and America of discrimination and psychological pressure brought to bear against students for their supposedly rigid, psychologically immature, right-wing, backward-thinking, pre-Vatican II, turn-the-clock-back views. Everyone has their own tale of being carpeted by the Rector for disagreeing with a feminist nun, for wearing a clerical collar, for going to a conference run by Opus Dei, for agreeing with the Pope in Veritatis Splendor, for kneeling during the consecration at Mass or for coming back from the Vatican without changing out of the cassock in the toilet onthe way.
So how did we survive? The truth was for the most part more nuanced than appears from Michael Rose’s book. It is very likely that some excellent men have been lost to the priesthood. It is also likely that some of those who were dismissed or rejected may have been unsuitable anyway. It is also true that few staff were personally vindictive and students were not generally barred from ordination for their views alone, even if they had a rough ride along the way. After all, none of us is perfect
And, of course, students fought back; the reality was not all one-sided. The cleverly-argued, heated, sometimes hilarious debates, alliances, small victories and defeats and, underneath, a shared commitment at least to basic Christian charity made the experience of the eighties seminary a heady one if not exactly conducive to sacerdotal recollection.
It is impossible to have an accurate idea of life in the seminary from the outside. We have all had embarrassing experiences of priests and others totally misunderstanding what was going on and passing woefully inaccurate judgements. Cringing under this caveat, I timidly dare to say that in many places, seminaries have changed greatly in the past few years and the place of solid piety is recognised more and more. Students seen as “neo-orthodox” do not seem to be under the same pressure. It is less necessary to give new young candidates the sort of talk you might need to give them if they were going away to sea.
It could therefore be argued that Goodbye, Good Men is twenty years too late, shutting the stable door just as the horses are coming back in again. But even if this book had been written in 1980, it would have had little effect. Fr Holloway’s Faith editorials in the seventies and eighties occasionally criticised the seminaries. The effect was for Faith to be banned from seminary libraries and for its readers to be ridiculed. I well remember the fury unleashed in 1976 when he asserted that homosexuality was a problem in the seminaries. His suggested solution was not, in fact, repressive but very much along the lines that are now becoming commonplace – a clear acceptance of the teaching of the Church (including its moral teaching), a positive and joyful acceptance of the celibate vocationand a strong life of prayer.
Fr Timothy Finigan
Our Lady of the Rosary
A Third Testament
by Malcolm Muggeridge, Plough Publishing, Sussex, 172 pp
I have never forgotten the pleasure, and slight terror, with which in my late teens I first read Malcolm Muggeridge’s writings. The impact of one piece – it was an hilarious account of a weekend spent at a conference of the World Council of Churches – was so formidable that I remember I had to stop reading halfway through, and walk about for a bit. I didn’t know that one was allowed to say things – such obviously true things, such extremely down-to-earth things – about bogus groups like the WCC. I thought you were only allowed to think them.
Unknown to me, another young person, half a world away, was reading Malcolm Muggeridge with similar delight. A few years later we met. Relish for Muggeridge’s astringent writing was one of the many things we found we had in common. After our marriage, we made some happy visits to Sussex and enjoyed wonderful talks with Malcolm and Kitty, and these are among our most important memories.
It is a delight to savour a fresh edition of Muggeridge’s ‘Third Testament’, a fine collection of essays each focussing on an individual whom he deemed to be one of “God’s spies” – people whose faith and conviction gave them that fervent link with the Divine which enabled them to pass on, with real conviction, something of His truth to the rest of us. Not all of Muggeridge’s choices would have been mine, but his analysis of St Augustine’s life and message is superb, and his account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s is simple, striaghtforward, and moving.
Muggeridge’s Introduction reminds us that these essays – like so much of his writing – are essentially journalism. He loved to explain how peripheral, how transient, was his trade as a communicator – how little of lasting value is produced by most modern media-people. It is true that reading journalists’ outpouring of thirty years ago is mostly dreadfully embarrassing. But these essays read as freshly and stirringly today as when they first appeared in print, and we must be glad that the excellent team at Plough Publishing has reproduced them. This paperback is pleasing to handle – a comfortable size and with an attractive layout and design. Reading it gave me almost as much pleasure as that first encounter with Muggeridge over thirty years ago.
Teachers of the Faith. Speeches & Lectures
by Catholic Bishops Forward by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, edited by Tom Horwood,
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, £6.00, 159pp
Teachers of the Faith is, as the name suggests, a selection of addresses by bishops, archbishops and cardinals delivered in Britain and first published in Briefing. The subject matter ranges from social issues in Africa and Northern Ireland to ethical concerns in the modern world and spans a period from 1975 to 2001. As such, one must question why the compilers decided to lump together these speeches which are neither thematically linked nor contemporaneous. Moreover, there is no obvious connection between the authors, other than that they are all eminent bishops and that the speeches appeared in the same magazine. The contrasting speeches are, however, an interesting insight into the diverse challenges that have affected the Church and the world in the last quarter-century.
The first address was given by Bishop James Sangu of Tanzania in 1975 on ‘Justice in the African Context’. From the outset it seems to be a vehicle to reproach the Western World and, in particular, the British for their attitude towards Africa. The bishop in fact goes as far as to admit this in his conclusion, before challenging the British to commit to justice in Africa. The speech does, however, reflect his personal frustration and fears and is discerning of Africa’s deeply felt resentment of western exploitation.
Bishop Alan Clark in ‘Ecumenism – a growing point of unity’, presents an objective if at times complex account of his hopes and designs for Church unity in 1978. The main thrust of his argument is that only through renewal can one begin to make progress in church unity, through recognising our differences that the common Gospel might be proclaimed.
In ‘Ireland – from impasses to initiative’ the then bishop, now Cardinal Cahal Daly discusses the political deadlock faced in Northern Ireland in 1979 soon after the murder of Lord Mountbatten. He attributes the cause of the problems to socio-political imbalances rather than the religious divide. His coherent analysis is particularly astute and farsighted in the light of the Good Friday Agreement.
Cardinal Johannes Willebrands considers the question, ‘Is Christianity anti-semitic?’ He initially addresses the matter linguistically, analysing what the words ‘Christianity’ and ‘anti-semitic’ mean, before using examples from the New Testament to argue methodically each side of the debate.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Cahal Daly both deal with morality in the modern era. Cardinal Ratzinger’s philosophical approach is at times hard going and is in contrast to that of Cardinal Cahal Daly, who presents a lucid discussion on the role of conscience.
In ‘What the Butler did not see – the changing face of education’, Archbishop Derek Worlock describes the progress made in establishing Catholic schools after the 1944 Education Act. There is little admission of any of the modern day problems facing Catholic schools but it is full of informative and witty anecdotes of his experiences and is a joy to read.
The theme of Cardinal Basil Hume’s address is ‘Jesus Christ Today’. In his typically self-effacing manner, he describes how he found God and through quotes from the Bible he illustrates the fact that Jesus is still the necessary medium to discover God in the new millennium.
Cardinal Thomas Winning examines the challenges facing the Church in the third millennium. He suggests that being a Christian today is like swimming against the current. By looking at the past, notably at the Reformation and the Enlightenment, he explains how the Church has weathered storms and will continue to do so in the future through the parish, modern communications, dialogue and being courageous.
This collection of addresses will no doubt appeal to those have a nostalgic fondness for such bishops as Cardinal Basil Hume and Archbishop Worlock. Others who have an interest in modern Church history and its associated social challenges may enjoy dipping into the selection and use it as a reference book rather than a comprehensive opus.