"What some refer to as a 'vocations crisis'' is, rather, one of the many fruits of the Second Vatican Council, a sign of God's deep love for the Church, and an invitation to a more creative and effective ordering of gifts and energy in the Body of Christ." So wrote Roger Cardinal Mahony in As I Have Done for You, A Pastoral Letter on The Ministry, issued last year. According to some, though, the vocations crisis in the archdiocese of Los Angeles is the fruit of a concerted effort to weed out orthodox applicants to the local seminary.
Younger priests and dismissed seminarians have complained that St. John's routinely questions applicants about their approval of women's ordination, dismissing those who express their opposition to it. One former archdiocesan seminarian said that seminarians must face a "litmus test" before they can hope to get through the door at the seminary.
Kurt (not his real name) was one of many seminarians asked to leave St. John's seminary for "psychological reasons." "I was dismissed for my doctrinal views -- my theology was suspect," he said. "What was really frustrating was, that in the seminary, you have no rights, because nobody has the right to Holy Orders. The seminary faculty holds all the cards."
One of the seminary's major 'card-holders' is vocations director, Sister Kathy Bryant. "The archdiocese, back in the 80s and early 90s, had the team of Father Dick Martini and Sister Kathy Bryant," said Kurt. "They were the co-directors of vocations. Officially, Sister Kathy oversaw women's vocations, but at the time, Cardinal Mahony had her as co-vocational director and co-screener for male vocations as well -- a case of reverse-discrimination. If a man from a parish wanted to be on the screening committee for the Sisters of St. Joseph or another order, of course, they would scream bloody murder; yet these women, who know absolutely nothing about what it is to be a priest, are judging the worthiness and fitness of candidates for the priesthood.
"Sister Kathy had an agenda about what kind of priest they'd be sending out into the field and what kind of seminarian they wanted at St. John's -- you know, 'collaborative ministry,' 'empowered laity' and all that stuff. [Seminarians] were asked, 'do you receive communion on the tongue or in the hand?' 'Do you genuflect?' 'Do you say the rosary?' 'What do you think about the pope?' 'How do you feel about women priests?' 'What would you change if you were pope for a day?' These questions, for somebody who was not 'seminary-wise,' somebody who was just coming off the street -- Joe Sixpack, who has no idea that there is such a battleground in American seminaries -- if he answers honestly, as most young men will -- he's screwed. If he indicates in any way that he's loyal to the magisterium of the Church, or to the Holy Father as the Vicar of Christ, that he doesn't have any problem with defending the moral teachings of the Church, that would definitely make him suspect. He wouldn't even make it past the starting gate."
Kurt said that "some of the seminarians just learned to play the game. It's a liberal regime that demands absolute conformity to their likes, preferences, whatever it might be. This wonderful self-proclaimed era of liberalism and renewal has actually become a very oppressive regime in the seminary. They don't just want your bodies; they want your souls. Faculty members would say, 'we want you to be open with us, share your views, think critically, don't just accept everything we say...' and all that. But what they said and what they practiced were very different things. Even though pluralism was one of the banners from Vatican II that they flew whenever it was convenient, they did not live it. They felt themselves completely free to dissent from Church teaching; but there was absolutely no room for students who dissented from their views and their positions.
"It's rigid liberalism. The caricature of the conservative seminarian for the last 20 years has been that he's 'rigid,' 'reactionary,' and 'unbending -- this litany of monstrous, unforgivable sins against the Holy Spirit that the liberals are forever lamenting. But for them, it's 'do as I say, not as I do.' It's like a concentration camp. By and large, from the most liberal to the most conservative seminarians, there was a spirit of fraternity, because it was 'us against them.'"
Kurt said that spirituality at the seminary "has been completely replaced by the secular science of psychology. (Now you have the encroachment of eastern religions and eastern mysticism because people are hungry for an authentic, classical spirituality. Psychology just doesn't nourish the soul.) If a seminarian exhibits doctrinal or theological tendencies that are regarded as 'dangerous,' spiritual counseling or guidance is not used, but psychology. It is actually an abuse of psychology. The faculty's agenda for what kind of students they want and do not want is brazen. Students are dismissed, not told the real reason, and not allowed to see their file.
"There was a story in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, called, "The Vocations Crisis: A Self-Inflicted Wound." The writer was a psychologist for the New York City police department and, for a time, was one of the screening psychologists for the archdiocese of New York. This doctor writes that seminary students are sent to a psychologist because they are 'rigid' or 'have problems dealing with women' or 'have problems with homosexuality.' The writer points out that psychology is abused, because the archdiocese pays the psychologists that most seminaries use, so these psychologists are not going to bite the hand that feeds them. In other words, the rector, vocations advisor, whoever, tells the psychologist, 'what we want your findings to be is this. This is what we want you to hear. Do whatever tests you want to; what we want from you is something that, as a professional, says what we're saying.' I wasn't the only one dismissed for 'psychological reasons.'"
Kurt relates that he came from "a pretty traditional background." "I never regarded myself as a traditionalist," he said. "I saw myself as orthodox, as loyal to the magisterium of the Church and to the teachings of the Holy Father. I didn't see that as being conservative before, during or after my time at St. John's. Conservative, to me, was a fringe, fanatical extremist -- maybe their hearts are in the right place, but they just don't know what battles to fight. But I was labeled as a conservative; they asked me to leave for psychological counseling because they said I had 'problems with authority.' It wasn't problems with authority in the Church, but problems with their authority as faculty. I did not fit their vision of Church; the type of priest they were looking for was not the type of priest that I was showing signs of being.
"The seminary sent me to psychologists and I had to sign waivers saying that whatever I shared in confidence could be shared with the faculty. I received bad evaluations saying that I was 'rigid' and 'reactionary.' I also had 'issues with the role of women in the church' -- not with their legitimate role but with [the faculty's] idea of what that role should be; I didn't dissent from the Church's teaching on women's ordination."
Kurt said that, to one psychologist, "I was a frothing-at-the-mouth conservative, but he was able to sympathize with me because he was a liberal student when he was in the seminary in the 60s. He said, 'There was a group of us who were excited because of the council and the changes in the wind -- a lot of it was euphoria. We were looked at and regarded with a hermeneutic suspicion by the faculty. We were the group being persecuted and placed under the microscope. The faculty regarded us as nonconformists. Now the conservative and traditional students are the nonconformists -- and nonconformists, whatever their platform might be, are not any more welcome in today's seminaries than they were 30 years ago.' He said the entire dynamic and environment had completely changed."
Kurt said, "when they asked me to leave, they acted concerned and solicitous; [they told me] that it was just killing them and was agonizing for them to do this. Out of 'concern and love' for me as a person and for my welfare, they had decided to ask me to leave."
Kurt said "the majority of seminarians at St. John's were of a mindset that defied categories like 'liberal' or 'dissenting.' I would describe them as the 'Catholic Generation X. They were too young to remember the old days, but old enough to have received absolutely nothing in the way of religious education and catechesis."
In spite of his bad experience at St. John's seminary, Kurt is confident that the future of seminary formation will improve. "The situation of the Catholic Church in the United States has been a battleground for the last 30 years. We are entering into a period of reconstruction," he said.
Tomorrow: Part Two