Father Y, an archdiocesan priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insists that the practice of screening out orthodox seminarians is subtle. "They try to weed them out before they even get to the seminary -- at the vocations office level. They'll never specifically ask, 'do you agree with women priests?' or anything like that. What they'll ask is, 'how do you feel about women in ministry or collaboration with women in ministry?' If a guy gives an orthodox answer, he gets a definite 'No.'
"I have heard of a few people who have been specifically asked, 'have you given any thought to women priests?' continued Father Y. Not too long ago, one guy told them, 'that's a closed issue. The Holy Father has made that very clear that that's not possible.' Then he backed off on it, but he was not accepted. Usually, at the seminary interviews, they don't ask those types of questions. Most of that stuff is asked by the vocations office."
Father Y said that interviewers purposely ask "nebulous" questions so that their agenda cannot be pinpointed. "In my own case -- it was quite some time ago, but the people who were in charge of vocations then are still in charge now -- I was asked what I thought of women's ministry and so forth. I know that they were asking that, but they'll deny it to the hilt. The specific one who was asking was [Sister] Kathy Bryant and she's been the vocations co-director for 10 or 15 years now. The cardinal put her in about a year or so after he took over and she's been there ever since. Her role has been to weed out as many people as possible -- anybody who's orthodox of course. Now they won't say that they don't want any orthodox students; they'll call it other things. They'll say someone is 'rigid in thought' or 'closed-minded or 'not pastoral' -- whatever that means. They're very proud of the fact that they are unlike other dioceses who are having a lot of vocations, like Lincoln or Peoria; they say, 'those are not the kind of people we want.' They have no qualms about saying that at all.
"I'm fully convinced that these people are absolutely committed to a priestless church. The whole new pastoral associates program that they are implementing in Los Angeles is basically lay people taking on the role of priests in everything except the sacraments. We were actually told that they are envisioning one priest per parish, assisted by several pastoral associates. You cannot promote vocations to the priesthood and prepare for a priestless church at the same time, and that's what they are doing."
Who is behind this drive for a priestless church? "I hate to say it," said Father Y, "but who else could it possibly be but the cardinal himself? He doesn't want the 'model' of church that we have had up until now. I don't know if he would say 'priestless;' he would say we don't need this number of priests. For instance, he readily will accept the resignation of any priest for retirement without asking any questions or trying to talk him out of it. Even if they are not at retirement age, he accepts every single one that comes in. It's as if they are hoping we have as few as possible, so that we will be forced to use these pastoral associates."
Like Father Y, many seminarians are wise to the practices of vocations screeners and play along with the questioning, showing no leanings toward orthodoxy so they can be ordained. "I would say the vast majority of priests in Los Angles are good, solid, Catholic, orthodox priests," said Father Y, "but they are keeping it to themselves. There are quite a few priests of my generation who managed to get through the seminary, but we know that there is nothing we can do for the time being. So we do what we know we're supposed to be doing -- administering the sacraments, planting the seeds and, hopefully, in eleven years when things change [Mahony's retirement], it will be better."
Father Z, a graduate of St. John's seminary who has since left the diocese, is not surprised at these allegations. "In my day," he said, "there were still a number of very orthodox priests on the faculty. From what I understand, it's very different now (at St. John's). They really screen you out. I was never asked those kinds of questions. We had some feminists on the faculty that pushed the idea, but we'd just laugh at them when they'd carry on about that and we never got in trouble for it. Now I hear it's a whole different world. Sister Kathy Bryant was after my time. I don't want to be uncharitable, but she's very bad -- for the whole diocese.
Like Father Y, Father Z believes the majority of priests in Los Angeles are orthodox without trying to broadcast it too loudly. "Most of the priests are good, holy men. They really want to exercise their ministry in the way they' ve known it in their life. There is a very small group -- from the late 60s and early 70s -- who are brainwashed. They believe whatever went before was bad, and that particular crowd comprises the real liberals. They don't even know why they do liberal things. They just do it because they think they have to; it's 'what you do now,' and they don't want to be 'out of touch.'
While Father Z isn't sure about Mahony's plans for a priestless Church, he believes the archdiocesan hostility to traditional Catholicism has taken its toll on vocations. "I do know that a lot of priests have left. The cardinal likes a certain kind of priest. You can tell that they don't want vocations, because they do nothing to inspire vocations. He's purposely put a very liberal, feminist Sister (Kathy Bryant) as the vocations person.
"I think if we got a reasonable archbishop of Los Angeles, all of a sudden things would just switch. There's such a small minority of the real liberals and 'protestantized' Catholics that things would switch right away."
If Father Z's assessment of Mahony seems to contradict the Cardinal's gentle public image, Father Z is not alone in his view. Both Father Y and Father Z are frightened of Mahony and spoke only on assurance of anonymity. "The cardinal is a tough man," one explained. "He will just crush you. He won't stop. I know of a priest who spoke out against something the cardinal was behind and he would not back off until the priest resigned. He even threatened to withdraw financial support. He has a lot of power because Los Angeles is one of the richest dioceses in the world and money is power. That's one of the biggest ways he throws his weight around.
"I pray for a real conversion (for Mahony). If he were to convert he would just be a powerhouse for the Church. He is a very engaging person. When he's in your presence, he really wins you over. He has a way of gauging you and he holds all his cards to his chest. He lets you break the ground and, once that happens, he's very agreeable to whatever you say. Everyone walks away from him saying, 'what a wonderful man!' When you're with him one on one, he really does fool you. It's when you find out what he's done later that you realize what you're dealing with, and it's not gentle. I know a lot of priests who have suffered under him. If you want holy priests, you need a holy bishop."
I attempted several times to reach Sister Kathy Bryant for her response. She did not return my phone calls.