In Formation

Saturday, May 25


Who's Catholic now?

Peter Nixon at Sursum Corda sent me an email last night, asking whether he was wrong about something. Well, at least not this time. He saw my comments on yesterday's Office of Readings, and thought he must have been wrong. Well, as it turns out, I had my ribbons all mixed up. I was in the 6th week of ordinary time, and any good Catholic should have known it was the 7th. It wasn't that I was going by the Zoroastrian calendar or anything. We just started back into Volume III after the Easter season, and away I went, with nary a clue that I was off by a week.

A small word in my defense. The Liturgy of the Hours, though not brain surgery, is not for the simple of mind, even if it ought to lead to humbleness of heart. Anyway, it's complicated.

But I'm ready to take the correction from Peter. I'll also count my mistake as another sign of God's providence. I think I needed to read that text yesterday, in light of my friend's struggles. Speaking of that, thanks to those of you who have written with encouragement and assurance that you are, indeed, praying for your priests and seminarians.

By the way, there's a whole passel of priests-to-be being prayed over and ordained today. Why not join your voices with those of the Heavenly Host, rejoicing that Christ is grafting men more deeply into Himself for the sacred duties of the priesthood?

With that, I say have a great weekend, everyone. I'll be being blog-free.

Not that it matters at all

You are Kermit!
Though you're technically the star, you're pretty mellow and don't mind letting others share the spotlight. You are also something of a dreamer.

Am I wasting time, or what? Go ahead, I know you want to hit that link! Remember, it's the weekend. Jim Hensen, RIP.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/25/2002 |

Heat and Light

Amy Welborn has turned her keen eye to a couple of books by Michael S. Rose. Of special interest for those in formation is her treatment of Goodbye! Good Men, an expose of life in Catholic Seminaries. I briefly mentioned in an earlier post how easy the Situation makes believing every word of this troubling text. Indeed, the book seems to confirm all our worst fears.

It's a page-turner. One can read through it quickly, wondering page after page what new outrage awaits. Yet, it is covered in the mantle of science. It is based on first-hand accounts and news reports, both of which are valuable sources. But, in this case, they seem to mark the limits of his method. He compiles horrific tales and draws easy conclusions. The stories and his conclusions shock and appall. So much so that many good Catholics might be loathe to believe. Or would they?

Tragic times make it tempting (almost irresistable) to look for culprits. (And there surely must be some!) So this book could not have come out at a better time, especially for Michael Rose. People are ready to read and believe the worst about Catholic Seminaries. And though seminaries are implicated in the current crisis, they ought not be the sole scapegoat.

Rose seems to provide enough evidence to convict, but there are reasons for pause. Some are nicely captured in the reviews and comments on Amy Welborn's site. They are must reads, especially for those who find themselves eager to believe all that Rose reveals. These reviewers don't sugar coat the problem. They believe that there are problems in screening procedures, diocesan chanceries, and formation in the seminaries. But solutions to these problems should not be primarily based on the partial picture Rose paints.

I am a seminarian at one of the seminaries (Mundelein) that is panned by Rose's pen. I am no apologist for this or any seminary, but can say, in brief, that the Mundelein I attend bears little resemblance to the one he describes. Sure, improvements can (and should) be made. But, from what I see here and what I hear from men studying elsewhere, seminaries are not as bad as he describes. At least not now. Having said that, if practices in places are still as bad as Rose describes, they should be exposed and must be addressed.

Rose's book sounds a warning cry of crisis. And, as troubling as it is, I hope the book forces a re-evaluation of policies, attitudes, and practices surrounding the formation of priests. However, if it is to serve the Church, the heat Rose's book creates must be transformed into Gospel light. The point is to purify places where priests prepare, so the seminaries (all of them) need to be seen as they are, not simply (or even primarily) as they were.

Rose raises some red flags, but he's not the final referee. His voice needs to be complemented by others. These critical reviews broaden the view, and help temper the temptation to see the seminaries of today as the cause of problems that have deep roots in the past.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/25/2002 |

Friday, May 24


He's more Catholic than Zoroastrian

I'm sure of it. Here's a follow-up to the mini-row about women's ordination and who's Catholic and who's not. For the record, I voted for "more Catholic than Zoroastrian" when evaluating whether Peter Nixon of Sursum Corda was "thinking like a Catholic."

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/24/2002 |

RCIA not required

I suspect these bloggers have been attending for awhile, but are now just officially enrolling at St. Blog's. First of all, Michael Shirley, an emailer turned blogger (at my suggestion, no less). Also of recent membership are Dave Pawlak, who offers Pompous Ponderings, and our newest (is that right?) priest at St. Blog's, Fr. Jim Tucker. There are also a couple new Latinate blogs: Ad Orientum, by Mark Sullivan, and Alexandra Baldwin's (let's hear it for the women!) Oremus: Adventures in Orthodoxy (let's hope they're not too adventurous).

As usual, the place to go to list a blog or track one down is, aptly enough, Some Catholic Blogs.

A big welcome also to the scores of others who have followed these fine folks into the fellowship hall of St. Blog's parish.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/24/2002 |

Any friend of Newman's is a friend of mine.

Check out this summary of one of John Henry Newman's sermons on Sean Gallagher's Nota Bene.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/24/2002 |

Lord, have mercy

More prayers, please. One can only imagine what his seminarians must be going through.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/24/2002 |

Behold the Lamb of God . . .

At Mass this morning, the seminarian friend I mentioned in my earlier post was on my mind and in my heart. When the priest lifted up the consecrated host, and bid us behold, I was consoled. But not completely.

That Lamb, our Lord, certainly has a lot of work to do today. He's busy taking my sins away, and yours, those of Archbishop Weakland, and those of the entire world. But taking away those sins doesn't as quickly erase the suffering the Body of Christ endures for the wounds caused by the current scandal.

I spent time in adoration after Mass, and prayed the Morning Office. In the Old Testament Canticle (Habakkuk 3:2-4, 13, 15-19), we pray:

For though the fig tree blossom not nor fruit be on the vines, though the yield of the olive fail and the terraces produce no nourishment,

Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God.

God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of hinds and enables me to go upon the heights.

I was consoled by these words. But my friend, he is in a crisis of faith. Even (and perhaps especially) these words of hope and faith in the Office, like those of concerned friends intended to encourage, ring hollow.

You may be tempted to judge him for his lack of faith. But to do so, you would have to discount the seriousness of the Situation or the depth of this man's Love for Christ and the Church.

Instead of looking for weakness in his faith, please pray for him. Pray also for the men and women who risk missing out on his future ministry--generations of them. I do not write this as some glorified prayer request. Instead, I share this man's story because it points out what might be a growing phenomenon. Countless other good vocations may be similarly put at risk by this great scandal. May God have mercy on those who caused it and allowed it to fester unattended! "Heal with steel." Indeed!

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/24/2002 |

Troubled in formation

A good friend of mine in seminary is really going through it. He's one of the good ones, among the best seminarians I know. You'd love him, trust him with your kids, even in these crazy times. He passes the "creep test" with flying colors: he's a well-adjusted, godly, wise, and holy man.

But now the scandal has struck very close to home. He converted four years ago, and the priest who brought him into the Church told him the bad news will soon break: this priest, his mentor, has been accused. There are also rumors and accusations swirling around his bishop. And other priests are thought also to be guilty.

Now he's back in his diocese, in the hopes that he will enjoy parish life. Any guesses on how it's going?

Now, he's obviously not the problem. But he's feeling the stares of non-Catholic friends that seem to say "Why in the world would you become a priest?" And he is wondering. He fears that people are looking at him and asking: "Are you one of them? What have you done?" And his fears aren't proof of paranoia. No doubt, people are wondering.

This sickness in the Church, in the priesthood, is threatening vocations--good vocations. God help us. This news is hitting him hard. And me too. This friend of mine sold his medical practice to become a seminarian. His comments to me before he went home, in reflecting on the Situation? "Heal with steel; cut out the cancer." I only hope he's around to see the priesthood--and the Church he so recently joined--restored to health.

Pray. Please pray hard for this seminarian, all the men in formation, and those contemplating it, that they won't believe that this scandal is proof that the Church is unworthy of their sacrifice. We know, in our theological or mystical moments, that it is. But it's sure painful here and now. God help us all!

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/24/2002 |

Thursday, May 23


One Week at St. Blog's

I like it here. Thanks for supporting me as your junior seminarian (the other is nearly a deacon), for stopping by, reading what I write, and occasionally sending comments my way. I can't always respond as quickly as I'd like, but I do read what you write.

Emails, like the blogs I read, encourage me in my conviction that the Catholic mind is alive and well. That's good, because we're going to need all of this and more in the future.

Even with the minor squabbles, I'd take this parish as a first assignment any day. But at the earliest (and God willing), that's three years off. By then, who knows? There might be a much larger congregation of bloggers. But blogging or not, even this week at St. Blog's gives me plenty of proof that the Church is full of faith-filled, Church-loving, politically-aware, courage-fortified, reticence-free men and women.

And that's a reason to celebrate.

Blogs, shouts, and whispers: Talk in blogdom

Okay, I just said that I'd only been a member of the parish for a week, but that's not exactly true. I chimed in by email, probably more often than was good for me or for those I peppered with my thoughts.

As a blogger convert, it seems we've got a couple different discourses operating in blogdom. There's the public discourse, those words bloggers blog, day-in and day-out. Their words are clever, sharp, angry, curious, profound--pick your adjective. The range is wide. The text is out there, in the public domain. However, no one reads blogs unless someone chooses to take the risk, to click that link. It's a choice they make. In a sense, blogging is like public speaking, without the stage-fright. But, without an audience, stage-fright-free public speaking is a big waste of time.

But there's a very different discourse in the emails. Sometimes they're from readers, at others, they're between the bloggers. Either way, the discourse is more active (and interactive). One person plunks down some text, hits "send," and off it goes. Perhaps to alert the recipient instantaneously of its arrival: important message from important reader.

Emails place demands that blogs can't. To email is to oblige. Recipients have no choice. It's not like they can go to some other "inbox." This one's theirs. So they read what gets sent. Sometimes, it's gibberish; but more often it's smart. Sometimes, it's sheer genius. So bloggers open email with anticipation.

And I've read the mail posted in others' blogs. You emailers, you're good. So keep it up. Or (as I did) start your own. If you enroll as official members of St. Blog's, don't worry. You'll pull others in by the side-doors, and they'll take your places in those prime emailing pews. They'll become the intimate voices that inspire bloggers to give the world a bunch of Catholic blogger-options. With the power of a few keystrokes, emails are whispers in the background or in your face expressions of frustration and anger. Either way, we need them. They're fuel for the fire God is using to transform His Church.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/23/2002 |

Milwaukee and Lewisiana

I was going to blog on this book later, but the opportunity presented itself today. Earlier, Mark Shea was really giving it to Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee. And some of his thunderous prophecy put me in mind of a quote from C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, a magnificent novel that shows the insidious workings of evil, self-deception, and self-pity. I just finished re-reading it. It is powerful and engaging. It's especially relevant if you've somehow forgotten that you're a sinner, too.

Lewis retells the myth of Cupid & Psyche with real genius. (By the way, I recall hearing that his wife, Joy Davidman, was a major influence on his writing of this novel. That makes sense; it is very different from his other works. If that's true, the book offers one more example of how wives can make good men even better.)

It is truly a great novel, well-worth reading. For some relevant teaser quotes, and a link to purchase the book, check out Mark's wonderful blog.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/23/2002 |

The Marshall Plan

A reader, Marhall, offers some criteria he would use in screening seminarians (edited):

1. They should be believing Catholics. Dissenters should not be allowed.

2. They should be practicing Catholics . . . . And I don't just mean fulfilling their Easter Duty.

3. They should be free of serious psychological problems.

4. [They should have] a decidedly masculine bearing and manner.

5. [They should have] an understanding of "manners." A certain "polish."

6. On the one hand, [they need] to have the virtue of obedience--to [the] bishop, the Pope, etc. But, on the other hand, [they need] to know when to correct someone . . .

7. [They need] courage.

Even if you disagree with Marshall's list, it seems sensible for all of us to think hard about what we want and expect from our priests and seminarians. Once you've done so for yourself, look around. If you see good men you think would make good priests, then pray hard. And if it seems wise, make a gentle suggestion that they consider a vocation. It's that simple. Okay, maybe not that simple. There's a lot of the Holy Spirit at work too.

One final thing. Formation involves figuring out what barriers we create to a wide-open ministry to those around us. On this point, St. Paul's plan seems best. In order to preach the Gospel and win converts, Paul sought to "become all things to all" (I Cor. 9:22-23). It was about them (and Christ), not him. That's the program. As that relates to Marshall's fourth point, Paul's advice might be that a seminarian or priest would need to "turn down" his effeminacy or machismo to more effectively preach the Word.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/23/2002 |

Back to bantering with "Enemies"

A lot of virtual ink has spilled since I sent an email to Mike Hardy about a possible link between homosexuality and ephebophilia, most of it not my own. (Which is good, because I really should be doing other things.) Anyway, he posted a reply, specifically addressing questions I raised in light of things I had read at the Narth (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals) website. This and this might also be of interest in this context. He almost completely dismisses the assumptions and the practice of reparative therapy. I don't have the competence to weigh-in on that question, but it seems an important area of study to pursue in light of our Church's teaching on homosexuality.

One thing though. Mike says "It's [reparative therapy's] dismal record makes me doubt its core assumption that homosexuality can be traced back to broken relationships." He admits that his life experience doesn't settle the matter, but I wonder if anything in the socio-sexual and spiritual aspects of our lives cannot ultimately be traced back to relationships, broken or otherwise. And it seems doubly the case in the area of our lives that sacramentally points beyond itself to the relationship of relationships--that of Christ and the Church and the divine life into which we are welcomed, in Christ.

Mike includes helpful insights from a Dominican priest who is in charge of formation, who believes that "the issue of gayness is moot." The point of formation, he said, was to "help the candidate discern whether he was, in fact, called to a celibate life." But this troubles me. Our Church teaches (as difficult as it is, and as insensitive as it sounds) that those with homosexual inclinations are--all of them--called to the celibate state.

I don't know what this Dominican priest's counsel would be to those homosexuals (or unmarried heterosexuals) who discern that they are not called to a celibate life. I hope he tells those who are heterosexual that they need to get married if they want to be genitally expressive, and that he tells homosexuals that they will need to purpose always to live the life of chastity appropriate for unmarried men. All of that to say that we probably all need a refresher course in chastity--its theory and its practice.

Taking off from the discussion of maturity, Mike offers two ways he thinks homosexuals could live so that their "homosexuality [w]ould not be a big deal." They could a) be in denial, thinking that the vow of celibacy will make everything better or b) acknowledge and accept attraction to other men . . . Mike is surely right when he says the only way that a person's homosexuality doesn't become a big deal to him in the future is if he faces it before committing to the life of a celibate priest. But I don't think he's exhausted the possible solutions. Might I offer a third way (there may be many more)? Isn't it possible that some candidates could "work through" same-sex wounds in their past, and then no longer want to view themselves as "homosexuals" or "gay." This, I think, is the goal of reparative therapy.

I am not saying that all homosexuals should be forced to undergo it, but I think those priests and seminarians who struggle with same-sex attraction ought to be given the full story on what healing is possible. If they have been wounded in their past, it seems cruel to tell them to get "comfortable" or "accept" it. Don't we all desire to have Christ make us whole?

I think these issues will need to be explored (and are being explored) in formation houses and seminaries. And I believe the Church will be wiser about counseling those with same-sex attraction because of the debate that is underway. The cure for the Church is not as simple as banning (or ejecting) homosexual seminarians or clergy. One thing is becoming clearer, though: we need to ensure that those who teach and study for the priesthood embrace all the Church's teaching's, even those they find personally challenging--perhaps especially those.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/23/2002 |

A Cardinal a whole Church can love

An Amy Welborn reader (and there are a few!) offers a summary of a meeting about the Situation where the Cardinal answered tough questions. Chicago's Cardinal Archbishop listens and he speaks, always with a clear mind and open heart toward the people and His Lord.

One more thing. As a seminarian studying at Mundelein, I can add my voice in support of the Cardinal's claim that the faculty here is "100% orthodox." I have never been taught anything that challenges the teaching of the Church, even if we often discuss how others may dissent, what their arguments are, and why the Church's view is what it is. All-in-all, it seems, a very sensible approach. So please don't worry about Mundelein (or believe everything you hear or read about it), but never stop praying for it, the faculty, and the men who are in formation here.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/23/2002 |

Wednesday, May 22


Not intending to offend

A reader, Michael, asked me whether I was intentionally using the term "priestess" to address the question of women's ordination. The answer is yes and no. Yes, because it was the title of the C.S. Lewis essay I cited. However, I didn't purpose to offend those men and women who argue in favor of women's ordination, or to write-off their concerns or arguments. I apologize if anyone was offended by my use of the term "priestess."

My comments in an email to Peter Nixon at Sursum Corda were aimed at the type of argument he was making more the conclusions he was drawing. The heart of his post seemed to center on the awkwardness he would feel having to justify the teaching about women's ordination to his daughter. My point in referencing Newman's Development of Doctrine was that I don't think those sorts of arguments reflect the way theologians or bishops would hammer out questions of dogma. And they certainly can't guide us in discerning whether a proposed change is a corruption or a development.

If our assent on matters of faith and morals is dependent upon our ability to demonstrate Church teachings completely, we won't get very far. Take a fundamental tenet of our faith. We Catholics believe that the Eucharist really is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. But why? It is not simply because we read John 6 or have other "definitive proof." We know that many Catholics and most Protestants doubt the teaching. And they may doubt it even though they believe the scriptures are every bit as inspired as we do. There is no "best argument" that will settle this matter. No rational proof can dictate our assent or dissent on this or other matters of faith.

Nevertheless, the play of lively minds (like those of fellow bloggers) helps us all refine our understanding. When we disagree, and when questions need to be resolved/defined, we need to look to the "referee" or "judge" in the theological game. And that "referee," what Newman called the Infallible Authority is, for us, the Holy Spirit working in and through the Magisterium.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/22/2002 |

Other Views

Integrity offers another perspective on the Chicago Listening Sessions, and the soon to be Reverend Mister Todd Reitmeyer offers a different take on Goodbye, Good Men. It's good to have another seminarian on-board, Todd. By the way, check out what Todd writes about the confessional seal. What he says is what all the men I study with believe. Seminarians today believe in the sacrament of reconciliation. Many say they look forward to being able to be the sacramental voice of forgiveness to the prodigals who will, inevitably, come their way. It's worth a read.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/22/2002 |

Is the problem malformation?

It was a strange thing, being at the Chicago Forums last night. The mood was subdued and very civil. There were a few expressions of outrage and anger, but frustration and incomprehension seemed the general tenor. There were a few statements of hope and expressions of love for the Church. There was no shortage of recommendations, especially regarding the governance of the Church and life in seminaries.

Overall, though, there was little emotion, even when five or so speakers mentioned they themselves had been abused. The most emotion--tremendous anger--came from a man who talked about the pain his adopted son has endured after being abused. He was also outraged that there was a case within the past 18 months where a priest "raped" a woman who was over 18. He said the Chicago Archdiocese is not doing anything about it, because it doesn't involve children. (This was the man who urged us to stop giving money to the archdiocese altogether.)

All but one of the victims of sexual abuse said their abusers were non-priests, but the fifth, a man in his late 60's, simply ended his time saying "I was abused myself." His was an interesting case. He said that when he first read the reports about abuse, he hoped that no one would see it in the press. "That paper that hates us [Catholics]," the Tribune, was at it again. But as he read report after report, his attitude changed. He became angry, and was looking for the cause. Toward the end of his remarks, he demanded that the seminaries give us healthy priests: "What is the root problem? The seminary has just pushed them [seminarians] through, because the Church has slots they need to fill. . . . We need to expand the pool [of candidates for the priesthood]. We need to allow married priests, women, healthy people."

Sitting there last night, listening, I was of two minds. First of all, I could have imagined myself saying many of the things I heard these men and women saying. But, knowing a bit more about what's happening inside the seminaries, I realized that even the highly educated people speaking out last night are not fully informed. Many seemed to be basing their recommendations on partial knowledge, rumor, and innuendo. And who can blame them?

Another man spoke up, as well. He had studied for the priesthood thirty years ago, and had even been ordained a deacon. He was never ordained a priest, but became a psychologist instead. He said that 50% of his clients were priests, religious, or seminarians. He claimed that there are "serious problems in seminaries and formation houses, and that men are not being prepared adequately for the celibate life."

Inside, part of me suspects there may be some truth to these concerns, that men aren't always being adequately prepared for the celibate life. Then again, how many of us are adequately prepared for life? I'm not talking about seminarians. I mean all of us. The celibate life is hard, to be sure. But so is the married state.

I'm not saying we shouldn't expect more from priests. Indeed, we ought to be able to expect that four (or more) years of formation would have an effect. But I was troubled by the way the men in formation were described as well as the seminaries where they are being formed. There were hints and claims that the problem is the men who are "in the pool." "We need to allow married priests, women, healthy people." The implication is that men who are in formation are not healthy. I beg to differ (okay, that could sound a bit self-serving . . .)

But I'm not blind. In fact, I mentioned in an earlier post that I have some concerns about a few of the men in formation, but the vast majority are good, solid, orthodox men. For that reason, I found myself becoming a bit defensive--for myself, for my seminary, and (perhaps most surprisingly) for the priests and bishops who have been a bit defensive themselves. I can only attest to my experience in seminary and reports from men studying at a few others, but the men who are in formation now are committed to the Church's teaching. They desire to learn what it means to live the life of committed love, which is celibacy. Could improvements be made in formation? Sure. But they've already begun.

Overall, my sense from last night was that concerned faithful feel so betrayed by the leaders of the Church that they are now willing (and perhaps eager) to believe even (and perhaps especially) the worst reports about seminaries. Goodbye, Good Men is a prime example of the horror stories in circulation. I won't deny that Michael Rose's book will focus attention on some problematic seminaries, and the results may be helpful. But the book makes it too easy to blame seminaries. I do not believe that seminaries are "forcing men through," even if a few bad ones get by. Filling slots is not what formation is about, even if the needs are real.

My suggestion to those who want to expand the pool is to raise some vocations of your own. Don't look for another "bucket" (see post below for reference). Fill this one up. There are good men studying at good seminaries. Pray for them. And encourage good men to discern and persevere in the path. Seminaries are out to get good men, but not to get rid of them. They want to form the good men you send and then send them back to you, to minister in Christ's name and way to you, the Body of Christ.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/22/2002 |

Tuesday, May 21


Chicago Forums on Clerical Sexual Misconduct

Tonight I attended one of 38 listening sessions (link requires free registration) held throughout the Chicago Archdiocese. It occurred in one of the northern suburbs, and there were approximately 130 people in attendance. The crowd was pretty evenly split between men and women, with a median age of probably 55. It was sponsored and moderated by representatives of the Catholic Lawyers Guild. People signed up when they arrived to get a chance to address the crowd for up to four minutes. People in attendance were given a Forum Questionaire, and asked to submit it this evening or mail it in later. The session was scheduled from 7-10 p.m., but the last person finished at 9:40 p.m.

After each speaker, there was polite applause. Some of the speakers praised the Cardinal for leading them well, while others said he didn't "get it." One man doubted that anything would come out of Dallas. "They knew it was a systematic problem in 1989, and they kept it private." One speaker contrasted the "sick priest perpetrators" who need "humane treatment" with the "slick bishops" who protected them. Several blamed the broader culture for causing this mess, one saying "We have allowed the society to pollute us instead of being the light of the world." Many of the speakers said their faith in the Church was not compromised, despite the problems. And they certainly wanted to talk about some:

On the hierarchy:

"There's one big omission in the questionaire: there are no questions about the bishops. They deprive themselves of the benefits of lay voices . . . . Ten people chosen at random from the Boston phonebook would have gotten it right on Goeghan. The bishops got it wrong."

"Why aren't our priests up-in-arms about this? Why haven't they spoken out? . . . . How could priests have given Cardinal Law a standing ovation when he said he would not resign?"

"We need to have input into who our bishops will be, just as they did in the Early Church . . . . There needs to be something like the parish council at the highest levels of the hierarchy."

"If they [the bishops and cardinals] don't get it right, we need to help them. We are the Church, not the bishops, not the Cardinal."

"I have a difficult time trusting anyone in the hierarchy right now."

On the seminaries and the clerical culture:

"What is the root problem? The seminary has just pushed them [seminarians] through, because the Church has slots they need to fill."

"We need to expand the pool [of candidates for the priesthood]. We need to allow married priests, women, healthy people."

"When one bucket [celibate men] is empty, you need to look for other buckets: those who are married or women."

"The celibate culture is isolating, and they just don't get it."

"Yes, the problem is celibacy. Priests are not keeping their promises!"

"Even Jesus didn't bat 1000 when he picked his disciples."

On victims:

"Not enough attention is being paid to the victims!"

"Do not contribute a penny until they make it right for the victims. Don't give a penny!"

"We need to pray for the victims, both primary and secondary, for their healing."

That's a selection of the comments I heard tonight. I'll offer some reflections tomorrow about the tone of the session, and how I view it in light of my vocation to the priesthood and my remaining (3) years in formation.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/21/2002 |

Philosopher goes Theological

When Karl Schudt was teaching me St. Thomas Aquinas last year, it was obvious that he was eager and able to engage texts and ideas. And now he's applied his close reading to a thorny question: priestesses in the Church. A very Catholic way of doing theology, it seems to me. Though a Protestant, I think Lewis would be happy to know Karl agrees with him. I suspect the Holy Spirit is less impressed, but no less pleased.

Provocations and courtesies

Peter Nixon at Sursum Corda offers a nice survey of new Catholic Blogs today, mentioning that the verbal scuffle with him about women's ordination drove me to do this thing, this blogging thing. He's right. That helped push me over the edge. He's also correct that I challenged his Catholic pedigree. What does he do in reply? Suggests that people check out my blog. Not simply because it's the polite thing to do, I recommend you read his too. I can even recommend you read the three Protestant authors he names. Important, all of them, but perhaps most especially, in these times, Stanley Hauerwas.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/21/2002 |

Blogger ethics and the "Dubruiel debate."

Admittedly, I'm a newbie. Not even a week-old, this humble blog. And I was welcomed warmly. A pleasant place. Friendly as any Blog-side Baptist might hope to be. But now we've got ourselves a minor brouhaha. Perhaps some of the bloggers are turning up the rhetoric a bit too high, pushing envelopes, and risking (or committing) the sin of detraction.

Not to discount that possiblity or it's seriousness, but what's blogging without debate? What's blogging without rival perspectives? And, in this particular case, what's the point of Catholic blogging if it doesn't keep us abreast of the breaking (and heart-breaking) news about our Church?

Whether some bloggers are pushing the rhetoric a bit or showing off their sources is an open question. But, if it's true, I'd say that's par for this course. Think about it. We all (for some reason) think our reflections are important enough for general consumption. So, we're all implicated when one of us is accused of soap-boxing.

I'm not taking sides here, because there seems a lot of sense in all these blogs. But, as painful as it is, I'm glad that Michael and other bloggers are working overtime (add yourself to that list, you blogger, you) to shine a spotlight on this problem. In an earlier post, I said I'd welcome the heat being turned up, if it could lead to purification. I'd say we're cookin' now. And my newbie notions tell me that means it's the perfect time to pray hard. I'm wiser because of St. Blog's bloggers. So, please. Keep on bloggin . . . it gives me more to take to prayer.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/21/2002 |

Blogger bogged down.

I don't know what the problem is, but it's an up and down day. It's probably a reminder (at least to me) that there are other things I ought to be doing!

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/21/2002 |

Doing good by doing wrong.

Mark Shea links to a description of the Law & Order episode we've all been expecting and dreading. A fellow seminarian emailed me, asking if I had seen it. (I hadn't.) But he confirmed my worst suspicions. He thought the majority of the episode was fair, but he didn't like the ending. Again, as they did before, they had the priest violate the seal of the confessional.

What's the message here? I'm not the subtlist analyst, but it's tough not to conclude that the writers think violating Church law=doing right.

Overdue Thanks

I continue to be overwhelmed by the generosity of members of St. Blog's parish. If anyone's reading what I'm writing it's because friendly fellow-bloggers have given me a plug on their sites. Though I'm sure they know they can't expect to get many referrals from my humble site, here's my quid for their quo. Thanks to Michael Dubruiel, Amy Welborn, Mark Shea, and Emily Stimpson for deigning to read my musings and (after that!) suggesting that others do likewise. Thanks to all the other bloggers, too. Send me a note; I'll add a link.

This also seems a good time to note that a few of our bloggers, Mark and Amy among them, have joined up with other notables as contributors to a blog called Heart Mind and Strength. It's well-worth a regular visit.

Another Witness to Hope

Gerard Serafin at A Catholic Blog for Lovers offers his own reasons for hope in the face the Situation. He has been filled with hope after talking with seminarians studying at seminaries with problematic pasts. Things are changing, and for the better. He even references me, your unworthy blogger, as proof that God is still in the business of calling faithful men to study for the priesthood. May it please God to do so more and more.

Bantering with Mike Hardy, a.k.a. the "Enemy of the Church?", will have to wait. Check back later.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/21/2002 |

Monday, May 20


Enemy of the Church?

Today Mark Shea explained why he has a link to Mike Hardy's Enemy of the Church? It seems prudent to do the same thing, lest persons wonder. I added a link to his site because I had emailed him. Here is what I wrote him about a possible connection between homosexuality and ephebophilia:

Much has been made of late that these perpetrators never grew up; they never "dealt with" their sexuality. They are stuck at an adolescent, narcissistic stage. As I'm sure you know, some scholars make similar arguments when they look at the sociological and familial roots of same-sex attraction. In fact, that is part of the assumption of reparative therapy.

I suspect you would agree that some men and women have gaps in their development and/or wounds that mark them and their maturation as persons. Sometimes that lack of maturation marks their sexual attractions in homosexual ways. At others, it leads to pedophilia. At others, (name your paraphilia here). Within this paradigm, it seems possible (and perhaps likely) that there is a connection between homosexuality and ephebophilia. Indeed, after reviewing papers and studies at the NARTH website, it seems at least plausible that some of those men who experience same-sex attraction are also those who are "stuck" emotionally and sexually fixated on adolescent boys.

Whether you investigate or reflect on that question, I am curious what program of formation you recommend for seminarians and priests who struggle with same-sex attraction. How should they view their own and others' sexual attractions in light of Catholic teaching, and how should they counsel those who come to them seeking advice? You seem to advocate, in part, "coming out of the closet." To what end is that helpful? Is that the end or the beginning of their development and maturation?

If you agree that there is some developmental block in those who are perpetrators, I suspect you would argue that they should be helped. You would not, I suppose, say "that's just the way God made them." If it is possible to help persons past developmental blocks of various kinds, would it make sense to you to encourage homosexual priests (and perhaps even require homosexual seminarians) to attempt to work for healing in any same-sex wounds they may have encountered in their past?

Mike told me in an email that he will offer his recommendations for priestly and seminary formation on these questions. If anything is clear from the press's attention to the Situation, homosexuality in seminaries and the priesthood will feature prominently in discussions about change. Paying attention to Mike's perspective seems smart, even if I often disagree with him.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/20/2002 |

A theory no longer.

LA Times reports (requires free registration) ordination of Catholic Female Priest. Of course, this isn't the Roman Catholic Church, but rather a schismatic offshoot of a half-million worldwide. Still, the article offers this group as hope for the future of the Roman Church.

Giovanna M. Piazza's dream is to sing backup with the Rolling Stones. Her calling is to be a priest, one that she fulfilled Saturday when she was ordained as the first Catholic woman priest in Orange County . . . .

Five years ago, she realized that her values diverged from those of the Catholic Church, she said, and she felt compelled to leave. She said she could not belong to a religion that excluded "so many people," including divorced couples and homosexuals, and that did not allow married men and women to be ordained.

Piazza's ideology is catching on among Roman Catholics eager for reform said the group's bishop, Peter Hickman."The days are numbered for an exclusively male Catholic priesthood," he said."And not to mention a celibate one. The Holy Spirit is talking to the Catholic Church through us."

"For us to expect that this would have a great impact on the church would be unrealistic," said Marvin Meyer, religion department chairman at Chapman University."But if the Roman Catholic Church is going to survive, this has to be the wave of the future."

There's no doubt this ideology is catching on. But whether the Holy Spirit is the ideology's Author is a different question. The Church is always reforming, but true reform comes from within the Church, not from schismatics who "reform" by withdrawal. Even if pressure from outside the Church often pushes the Church to reform, schism is never God's way. Augustine makes that crystal clear in his treatment of the Donatist controversy. Schism is a wound to the Body, a wound the Holy Spirit would never inflict.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/20/2002 |

What about Priestesses?

This morning I went to daily Mass at Marytown. Mass was in a side-chapel, and the altar was set against the wall. It's a beautiful chapel. Anyway, the inevitable happened. The priest had to turn his back to us during the consecration. He faced us as God's representative in the proclamation of the Word and the invitation to come receive our Eucharistic Lord. But he faced God, praying with us and on our behalf, when he prayed the Eucharistic Prayer.

After I got home, I read Emily Stimpson's post on celibacy, which reminded me of an essay by C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock, called "Priestesses in the Church?" His article does not settle the matter, but, as usual, Lewis brings his keen analysis to bear on a thorny question, with the usual result: he defends the Tradition. See some teasers at Fool's Folly or check out the entire essay for yourself.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/20/2002 |

Smoke gets in my eyes

In my Doctrine of God class this past quarter, my priest professor said that one benefit of incense is its irritating quality (the link takes you to archives of his radio sermons). As with all things Catholic, incense has layers of meaning. It helps us remember our prayers rise to heaven. Perhaps more importantly, it helps us see that we can't see. At Mass we're in the presence of the sublimist mystery of all. So, when people complain that they can't see, we should say, "exactly." We can't understand the mystery. And the proper response is adoration. Catholic Blog for Lovers gives us a picture.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/20/2002 |

Sunday, May 19


Poynting to Problems and Prayer

Most days it's with a heavy heart (and sometimes a bit o' shoutin') that I scan the day's dirty laundry. So I paid close attention to a homily this past Thursday at our daily Mass at the seminary. A sage of a priest was the homilist. He knows well that the news is getting to us. So, in anticipation of our leaving for the summer, he gave us three things to focus on.

First, he said we needed to immerse ourselves in the Gospels, slowly meditating on all four, to learn what it takes to walk as Jesus did, to gain his heart, and mind, and will. Second, he said if we were spending time reading news reports, on the internet, or watching the TV with an eye on the scandal, we needed to spend even more time in prayer. His ratio? 2:1. Spend two hours in prayer for every hour of scanning news reports about the scandal. He has sensed that the endless assault can dispirit us, and we may come to believe that somehow the vocation is not worthy of us. We need, he said, to keep close to the One who is calling us, to spend time with our Brother-Friend. Finally, he suggested that we keep focused on the task at hand. He warned us not to let the summer slip by without growing in our vocation.

It was a great exhortation, and I'm going to follow that plan. The only problem is I can't quite figure out whether blogging belongs with the 2 or the 1. Any thoughts?

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/19/2002 |

No Passes Please

In an earlier post, I talked about the importance of priests having people in their lives who would be able to (and would) hold them accountable. If I can speak for other seminarians for a moment, you need to hold us accountable. Oh, that doesn't mean we need you to criticize us relentlessly when we fail to live up to your expectations. But please don't give us a "pass" on socialization, on spiritual and human maturity, on our love of Christ and the world.

I am not writing this because I have concerns about a lot of fellow seminarians. But I do know a few who seem a bit childish, a bit too angry, or a bit too weird for me to be excited about them becoming priests of Jesus Christ. Some of these men are "weeded out" in the process of formation. But not all.

Which brings us to you. Please don't let the "vocations shortage" make you desperate. Formation can help, but as St. Thomas says, grace builds on nature. Please remember that if men are selfish when you send them to the vocations director, they're apt to be selfish when you get them back. If they're judgmental and "holier-than-thou" when they start, they may be insufferable after they put on the collar. If they seem "odd" or give you "the creeps" before they're in formation, they'll probably seem that way to others later on. In short, formation works best when you, the Catholic faithful, do a lot of forming before men get here.

Many dioceses are much more rigorous in their screening today than they were in the past. But you know us better than they do. So don't give us the gentle nudge unless you really believe we could be good and holy priests. Don't encourage those who seem wandering, aimless, looking for meaning. Though some great priests may come from those ranks, I recommend you give the nudge to men who seem to have it all going for them, those you think would make the best husbands and fathers.

On this birthday of the Church, please be encouraged. Many good men are studying for the priesthood. Thanks for your prayers and your encouragement. And please keep encouraging the best men you know to give up all to serve the Church. For many of us, studying for the priesthood is not a burden, but a privilege. I'm confident that some of the men you know will think so too.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/19/2002 |

Tragic Benefits

On this day, when we remember the fulfillment of Christ's great promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, I thought it might be helpful to offer one seminarian's perspective on The Situation. So here goes . . .

Those of us in formation (like priests, bishops, and all who call themselves Catholic) are feeling a bit (okay, a lot!) of heat right now. But, part of me is pleased the heat's getting turned up. That's because I'm beginning to see its potential (good) fruit.

During these past months, there has been increasing light on the Church, the scandal, and the array of Catholic teachings about faith and morals, along with Church disciplines (e.g., celibacy, women priests, homosexuality) at play in the debates. And, with heat and light comes the possibility of purification. The seminaries need purification, to be sure. But so do parishes, and dioceses, religious orders, and the entire Church.

This is a time of suffering for victims and members of the Church, and part of me can't imagine a worse time to be a seminarian. But look what's happened. Sin and evil have been resurrected in the national vocabulary, and there is a plaintive cry for a moral voice that can speak the truth about sex, money, and power. Tragically, the only institution with the correct answers is the one that's suffering under the weight of its own moral failure. But, God be praised, the Church founded on the Rock is not without answers, even if it sometimes fails to live by them.

Perhaps--and this is my prayer--the present humiliation will reveal to even the proudest among us our need for conversion. We claim we've got the answers, but we need to live by them. Lamentably, a few of those with the special charge to preach the gospel, to be Christ to others, have failed miserably. But now the light of truth has revealed the ugliness of their (our) sin. The invitation Christ always offers is conversion. So now is the time for repentance and reparation. But until that happens, I say, turn up the heat!

I also hope that the humiliation of this scandal will change the Church's basic stance toward the media and the world. God knows, Catholic preachers will need to strive anew to gain a hearing for the Gospel. They will no longer be able to assume they have moral authority or the right to be heard. From now on, if they want to be taken seriously, bishops and priests will need to live transparent lives of integrity. They will need to appeal to others, persuading them, and showing them (by their lives) that the Gospel life really is the way to human fulfillment and true happiness. If bishops and priests don't live the Gospel or take their hearers seriously, then unbelievers might, in fact, be wise (and not just eager) to dismiss their moral voice.

Seminarians like me hope and pray that the end of this long ordeal will be a transformation of ourselves and of our Church. Recognizing the profound needs of our time, we are depending upon the Holy Spirit to keep us humble and make us shepherds after the heart of Christ. We believe we have been called, and in that sense have nowhere else to turn. But we are hopeful because we believe in the Paschal Mystery. We trust that God will marvelously exchange the great evil of our time for a greater good in Christ, as we offer ourselves in union with Him for the sake of His Body, the Church.

Veni Sancte Spiritus!

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/19/2002 |