Crisis Magazine 1999

Sed Contra: Catholic Bashing- The Reasons

Deal W. Hudson
November 1, 1999

In the past six months, Bill Donohue and the 350,000 members of the Catholic League have been battling movies like Stigmata and Dogma, the smear campaign against Pius XII, and the sin against both faith and beauty at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Mayor Guiliani’s decision, surely prompted by Donohue’s growing influence, to defund the museum is a major step toward breaking the silence about pervasive anti-Catholic behavior. The question remains: Why have most Catholics put up with Catholic bashing for so long?

I recently polled Crisis writers on the subject, and their responses paint a picture of American Catholics caught between the habit of disappearing into the fabric of American society and the assumption that the ancient Church will easily weather the rages of its despisers. Some trace the indifference to assimilation, others to ignorance, others to history, and others to an essential disconnect between Catholicism and America.

Certainly, poor catechesis has taken its toll in encouraging assimilation: As Fr., Schall comments, “So many are weak in their faith they do not see the very fact of Catholic bashing.” Hadley Arkes further argues that Catholics have not only succeeded in disguising themselves but also handed over the substance of their interior beliefs: “So many Catholics are untutored in their faith that they respond positively to the cultural cues of modern liberalism.”

Everyone knows the catechetical training of the last 25 years has been a disaster: Catholic morality has been reduced to squishy axioms about unprincipled tolerance, it’s social teaching to statist remedies for the poor, and theology to a rejection of anything labeled “pre-Vatican II.”

No wonder, thinks Ralph McInerny, that American Catholics are now infected by a deep “self-loathing” disposing of them “to start apologizing the moment you hear any criticism.” Everything they have been taught breeds doubt about the truth handed down through the centuries. It is as if a young man born to great wealth were suddenly to find out that all the millions handed on to him by his parents were the product of criminal activity. That young man would very likely live the rest of his life trying to atone for the sins of his father. Catholics, as Fr. Rutler says, cut off from their history, find it “very threatening to be considered countercultural [or to] rock the boat any more than is necessary.”

The situation in America is aggravated by the Protestant character of its founding. Without forgetting the contribution of Maryland’s Catholics, Michael Uhlmann rightly points out that “nativism” has always been alive in our political culture. For Uhlmann, the problem lies in the historical roots of America: “Nativism resurfaced with the Blaine amendment to the pan-public funding of private schools, but the real target was Catholic schools.” This attitude still shows its head in the resistance to school voucher programs, which are presently being challenged on the grounds that they breach the “wall of separation” by funneling children into religious schools.

Beyond the history of this country, the Church, as Michael Novak says, has become the pivotal point and measuring stick of civilization: “It would be surprising if they didn’t hate the Church. Most people define themselves in relation to Catholicism. They call themselves ‘enlightened’ in relation to the Middle Ages. ‘Protestants’ are defined in relation to the Catholic experience. Both unbelievers and other Christians define themselves in relation to the Church. All of our history books have a built-in anti-Catholic bias.”

This transcending notion of the Church’s presence to history and culture leads several of our writers to speak, rather surprisingly, of high- mindedness toward Catholic bashing. For example, Ann Burleigh comments, “Catholics are often confident that they have a fuller truth, so bashing doesn’t seem to really matter…. The prejudice is very real, but you can’t allow yourself to get bitter.”

This confidence points us in the very direction that most elicits the hatred. The Church attracts hatred because its very existence proclaims an Absolute standard to all. Cultural critic and Holocaust scholar George Steiner once said this belief in the Absolute was the essential cause of anti-semitism. The revelation to the nation of Israel of one God and one Law in the midst of polytheism made them a target for all times. Catholics are kidding themselves if they think the prejudice aimed at them comes from any lesser source.

Sed Contra: John Wayne Grows Old

Deal W. Hudson
October 1, 1999

He was the strongest man I ever knew. He had will-power of iron. The doctor said to stop smoking. After that day he never smoked another cigarette. Years later a different doctor banned alcohol—not another drink passed his lips for more than thirty years. Of all the money he inherited from his mother and aunt, not a penny of these assets was spent on himself; all of it was saved and reinvested for his three children. Now after heart failure and a stroke he lies in a hospital bed. I have just returned from his bedside, where I cut up his dinner and placed it in his mouth, piece by piece.

I guess you could call my dad part of the Saving Private Ryan generation. Fresh out of Texas in his early twenties, a captain in the Army Air Corps, he flew his missions over Germany and Yugoslavia and, I was told by my mother, never lost a man. Dad never talked about the war, but over the years it became clear his soul had suffered much from the experience. After seeing the Spielberg movie, and listening to the reaction of many World War II veterans, it was also clearly an emotional catharsis of sorts had been long overdue.

I took the occasion of that film for my daughter and I to interview him about his war experience. Dad seemed finally ready to talk about those years where every morning these young men wondered if they would survive another day. No wonder, he said, they all learned how to drink, pretty hard. His best story was about his plane being shot down in Yugoslavia and the local women who hid the flyers in hay wagons until they were rescued.

I already knew that story because a few months earlier providence had arranged for Dad to play golf with my friend and Crisis supporter, the late Jim Matthews, who turned out to be the captain of the plane that swooped down in that field to take them back to the base in Italy.

Age did not diminish Dad’s will-power. In the summer of 1998, I went to Rockport, Maine, to play with him in a two-day golf tournament at the local country club. This had become a yearly ritual for us—we had never played that well but we knew we were running out of time, and we were determined to make a good showing.

Dad was 78 that summer but still a solid mid-80s player. After the first day’s scramble format, we were in the lead. We always liked scrambles, where you pick the best shot and play from there since I usually drive well and Dad has always been an extraordinary putter. The second day was the best-ball of our twosome. I played well for about 13 holes but then started to fall apart. My trusty driver was letting me down. We knew we were probably in the lead for the championship flight but could not afford a single bad hole.

To this day I have no idea where he summoned the strength. While I looked for my lost game, Dad parred the last five holes. We had been teaming together since I was eleven, and now father and son had finally won a golf tournament.

Two weeks later, at a hospital in Houston, my father would be told he suffered from congestive heart failure, and his heart was pumping only 20 percent of the blood his body needed. How did he do it? As Tom Brokaw explains in his book The Greatest Generation, these men had guts, acquired in the midst of unprecedented self-sacrifice—in the fight against tyranny they learned that God, country, and family outweighed personal satisfaction.

Many readers, I am sure, have been down this road of watching a father, or a mother, become child-like through the ravages of age and disease. Michael Novak told me that losing a father is like standing in a clearing where all of a sudden the last row of trees are blown away and you feel a storm smacking you in the face. I have gone back to that image many times to understand the strange reversal of roles. My father is still with us but already I feel the force of the wind rising against me. To be the son of the father I must pray and persevere.

Sed Contra: Bringing Closure to Closure

Deal W. Hudson
September 1, 1999

Maybe I’m hard-hearted. But, except for rare occasions, I don’t consider feelings newsworthy. I distinctly remember the period during the early ’70s when reporters began interviewing people about their emotional reactions to events rather than about the event itself “How did you feel when the plane burst into flames?” I considered making some form of protest, but like everyone else in the nation, I quietly went along.

Now we hear about nothing else. Spurred on by generations of journalists educated more with psychology than history or politics, the reorientation of this national attention toward feeling and away from fact has multiplied tenfold. Our periodic preoccupation with the deaths of celebrities sadly testifies to our voyeuristic appetite for the trauma of strangers. The media event—from Princess Di to JFK Jr., from Littleton to Atlanta—has become ritualized. Beginning with 24-hour coverage, it slowly morphs into the “bringing of closure.” Like the wedding scene in the traditional romantic comedy of the ’30s, pronouncements of closure provide a happy ending to our grieving. In point of fact, closure really means that we have exhausted our attention span—the show is over.

Media commentator Brent Bozell thinks these fixations stem from the boredom of those who find most of their reality on television. Closure means less the attenuation of grief than the need of the media and its audience to move on rather than face themselves. Closure appears to be about involvement when actually it’s just the opposite. It’s the old escapism wrapped in new garb. The so-called psychological closure is nonsense. Anyone who has had to deal with the serious grief of death and suffering, and its real after-effects, experience it as cyclical rather than linear. The upsets of life do not pass into oblivion, chased away by incantations of closure, but are transposed over the years into a variety of emotional keys. Freud described this as the experience of “repetition.” We constantly relive the past; our success in life depends on our ability to deal with its scars.

Closure is a kind of emotional abortion. In a culture of death, we have grown accustomed to using abortion as contracepting solution to profligate sex. Now we invoke emotional closure to leave behind a momentary superficial infatuation with the suffering of strangers. We cared a lot last week, but now we don’t have to care anymore. We are like the young St. Augustine who cried more at the suffering of actors on the theater stage than his friends in real life. Unlike Augustine, however, we don’t wonder why.

As we sit in front of our televisions listening to the voice of Dan Rather crack, we feel our own grief as a sign of our own deep capacity for compassion. We feel ennobled, even uplifted. We look good in our eyes, especially if they are momentarily filled with tears.

In fact, like the compulsive philanderer, we have been spiritually dumbed down. We have spent ourselves on what is safe and without cost. Now we face what novelist Walker Percy would describe as the problem of re-entering our own, real world: How to turn from the sublimity of grieving for Princess Di to attending to the messy and demanding sorrows of your own aging parents?

One final thought: How many people being interviewed on camera ever sound articulate about their feelings? As many times as news reporters have heard people talk about feeling “great” or “sad” or “upset” you would think they would start digging deeper. It’s one thing to hear a Churchill discuss his passions and quite another to hear the man on the street.

Group hugs are not very interesting as entertainment, but, more importantly, over time they affect what events mean to us. A plane crashes, a madman opens fire at the office, children are drowned by their mother, and the story is about a “community in mourning” or “shock waves of grief and outrage.”

Notice how these versions of the story move attention away from the event itself toward those who merely witness it. And how convenient it will be to announce the time for “closure” when the sameness of reporting becomes boring. Meanwhile, those who truly suffer will be left to cope with a memory that will stay with them forever.

Sed Contra: Baiting Pro-lifers

Deal W. Hudson
June 1, 1999

In a recent Washington Post op-ed (May 6, 1999), Richard Cohen unveiled a strategy that pro-life forces will need to resist before the next presidential election. Like Cohen, abortion advocates are likely to bait pro-lifers over the next 18 months, preaching that their presidential candidates lack integrity if they don’t make abortion the major theme of their candidacy.

Cohen describes several of the Republican candidates—and I assume this is meant to be derogatory—as more “pro-winning” than pro-life. Cohen complains: “If I called myself ‘pro-life,’ I could not take a casual attitude toward abortion…. How can they [Republican candidates] be so moderate, so temperate, so coolly pragmatic about the taking of so-called innocent life?”

Cohen is a smart guy: He knows that, when pro-lifers sound fanatical, they lose votes, even from their own moderate supporters. And he also knows how to appeal to our moral vanity. A weakness of many good men is this need to keep up saintly appearances. The last thing any pro-life supporter wants to be accused of is cowardice in the face of a moral outrage. Leaders in the pro-life movement periodically accuse each other of lack of purity. The initial scuffling between pro-life groups over the credentials of various candidates was widely reported in the media. Cohen figures, Why not just keep pro-lifers fighting among themselves?

Pro-lifers squirm when you accuse them of putting politics ahead of principle. Point out, as Cohen did, that they are adopting, oh boy, a strategy to win an election, and pro-lifers start dropping to their knees to ask for forgiveness. Why the guilt? What’s wrong with pro-life candidates having a strategy that gets them elected and puts them in power? Abortion supporters would like nothing better than to bait us into the narrowness and stridency that leads almost inevitably to defeat. Whether or not pro-life leaders will take the bait remains to be seen.

There are still some in the pro-life movement who seem unwilling to distinguish between a commitment to principle and an election strategy For them, a “pro-life candidate” wears only one cut of clothes and gives one kind of stump speech. One would think that after the last eight years of an antagonistic White House, all the pro-life leaders would be ready to pull together. A mere glance at the number of Supreme Court justices who will soon be retiring should wipe away any guilt about the practical politics of the next election.

There are times when avoiding to speak out on life issues for strategic purposes would raise doubts about a candidate. This dilemma makes it all the more necessary for pro-life candidates to create solid, back-channel connections to pro-lifers through their leadership. This leadership should be told, in detail, what policies will be pursued after power changes hands. Of course, there are no guarantees in politics, either for the candidate who holds his cards close to his chest or for the one who lays them on the table.

Cohen assumes that the very existence of a political strategy as such evinces a compromise of principle, but it may be that the development of such strategies is evidence of the political maturation of this pro-life generation. And Cohen’s miscalculation leads to a mistake at another level as well: “You cannot tell me that most of the candidates now in the field would deny an abortion to a 15-year old daughter, one month pregnant and constantly be crying. Maybe at five or six months, they would take a stand. At eight or nine certainly…. But in the early stages? Forget it.”

Politics aside here is where Cohen’s understanding of principle fails him: Having principles means practicing what you preach when it affects you, and your family, in a personal way. The coming year will show that Cohen, and others who misunderstand principle, underestimate both the savvy and the commitment of the pro-life candidates and their constituencies.

Sed Contra: The Strategy of Separation

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 1999

It is always a temptation to read the facts through the lens of the pervasive mood. Paul Weyrich, prominent among religious conservatives, has become progressively depressed over the fate of our culture. In February, Weyrich sent a four-page letter to conservatives. It is a much more thoughtful letter that has been reported and deserves our serious attention.

Weyrich, who coined the term “moral majority,” has come to the conclusion that politics can no longer be trusted since the culture that sustains it has become bankrupt, a “sewer.” He seems to have been shocked into this conclusion by the evident sloth of the American public toward the president’s behavior and the toothless response of most Beltway politicians in the impeachment trial.

Weyrich thinks the time has come for conservatives to seek a “quarantine” from the culture, to “turn on, tune in, drop out” in the style of ’60s radicals: “what seems to be a legitimate strategy for us to follow is to look at ways to separate ourselves from the institutions that have been captured by the ideology of Political Correctness….”

He is right when he declares we have lost the culture wars. He is right when he says that the culture has infected our politics. He is also right to suggest we should be creating new institutions that reflect the old, traditional values. But Weyrich is wrong, however, to encourage us to leave the political fray.

Certainly, the reaction to the impeachment proceedings was no revelation, but only a graphic confirmation of what we all should have known much sooner—than a vast sea change has taken place in American society over the past 25 years. That change has been described under various rubrics—narcissism, self-absorption, autonomy—so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that politicians are mirroring that change.

Our culture no doubt needs serious attention, and there are conservatives and Catholics alike who have been making this their priority for many years. Even the heyday of the moral majority, religious conservatives, were never proposing that politics held the final answer. Religion is the heart of our culture, and if a cultural problem exists then the vagaries of religious belief and practice is the place to look for answers.

At the same time, this is not the time—it is never the time—to withdraw from the public square. To be a citizen is a vocation, just as being a lay Catholic is a vocation, and vocations do not change simply because the odds have been turned against you.

To be a Catholic means many things: For one, it means having an impulse to create a culture that reflects and expresses faith. Catholics, at least traditionally, have not viewed their faith as something private. The Catholic faith is something that can be embodied in education, art, architecture, music, poetry, fiction, manners, and even mystery.

We may not succeed, but we cannot retreat into the ghetto of interiority.

To be Catholic, I think, means moving beyond the temptation to isolation and individualism, the private solitude of brooding upon the truth that few people seem to recognize. To premise your action on the assumption that you are part of a majority, as Weyrich admits he has done, is to lose the evangelical perspective that governs any religiously-guided enterprise: “the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7.13-14)

No, we are no longer a moral majority, but we are misguided if we thought we would remain so. The signs have been clear for over a decade that the cultural trends were not in our favor. Merely to notice what passes for TV entertainment during the family hour on the networks, 8 to 9 p.m., makes the point beyond debate. Open homosexuality, sexual coupling as sport, flagrant disrespect toward traditional religious values—all are broadcast every day into millions of American homes.

This is the cultural air we breathe, and it has become poison to the Catholic faith. Because of this, much of Weyrich’s counsel make sense and should not be dismissed. He speaks prophetically when he says, at the conclusion of his letter, that it is time for conservatives to disengage from the culture and “create a little stillness.”

As a good priest told me recently, alluding to the book by Josef Pieper, “leisure is the basis of culture and the interior life.” What we need is not separation but engagement reinvigorated by the freshness of souls that have created some space to rest. And we must remember always that our true triumph remains elsewhere, in being enfolded in the arms of God.

Sizing Up Our Seminaries

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 1999

They are beautiful and imposing when you actually see them. Sitting like castles, resplendent atop prime real estate, these Catholic seminaries make you wonder, “How many men fill up those buildings? What is being taught there? How can the diocese afford the heating bill?” You may have noticed them while driving by From the Cross County Parkway in southern Westchester County you see St. Joseph’s in Yonkers, New York; St. Charles Borromeo can be found at the end of the East Line running out of Philadelphia; St. Mary’s in Baltimore is perched high atop a hill overlooking Roland Park.

Next, to the leadership of the Holy Father and the bishops, Catholic seminaries are probably the most important factor in the future of the Church. Yet the average Catholic layperson knows little about them. Ask yourself if you know to which seminary your bishop sends most of his vocations. The seminaries are largely invisible, as are the staff, faculty, and students inside them.

This article is the third in a series of CRISIS articles about the state of U.S. Catholic seminaries. In the first two articles, Fr. John-Peter Pham discussed some basic demographic and curricular issues, such as the foundational role of philosophy, patristics, and the Latin language in the intellectual development of the seminarians (Ousts, November 1998). Pham also pointed out that while the overall numbers of seminaries and seminarians are declining, the seminary population is getting older: Fewer than 13 percent are below the age of 25 (December 1998).

Certain distinctions about seminaries must be made in order to understand these statistics about, and the reality of, Catholic seminaries. First of all, seminaries can belong to a local diocese or to religious orders. For example, The Official Catholic Directory Anno Domini 1998 lists a total of 197 diocesan and religious seminaries in the United States. The numbers have been gradually declining. In 1988 there were 250 seminaries; in 1995, 218. Of the present 197 seminaries, 75 are diocesan, while 122 are administered by religious orders.

Also, when Catholics talk about “seminaries” they include those institutions with high school and college programs, as well as theologates, but not necessarily both. Only 35 of those 75 diocesan seminaries offer a theology program. A few new seminaries are cropping up, including St. Gregory the Great in Lincoln, Nebraska, a college seminary founded by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, founded in Scranton, Pennsylvania, by the Society of St. Peter. Archbishop Charles Chaput is also considering founding a new seminary in Denver.

The curriculum and spiritual formation offered in Catholic seminaries are far from uniform. So some shopping around is in order. A bishop can and will send his candidates anywhere he wishes, including the North American College in Rome. Bishop Eugene Gerber of Wichita, Kansas says it is the responsibility of every seminary to be “true to the Church, express the mind of the Church and the live spirit of the Church.” Bishop Gerber—who this year has sent eight seminarians to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland; six to the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio and six to Conception Seminary College in Conception, Missouri, as well as four college students to Immaculate Heart Seminary College in Winona, Minnesota—insists, “Seminaries have got to think with the Holy Father and put on the mind of Christ.”

When Bishop Gerber chooses a seminary, he looks for “a program that is educationally excellent and orthodox and draws upon history; a formation that is rooted in the authentic spirituality of the Church and teaches the seminarian what to do with liturgy. He should have the theory, history, and practice of liturgy. This is what usually gets overlooked. It can’t be, because that is where the priest meets the people.”

As we will see among the 14 theologates we have surveyed, some of Bishop Gerber’s concerns are being addressed by seminary curriculum, some are not. The fundamental soundness of seminary curriculum and spiritual formation is becoming a prime consideration as the number of seminarians declines and competition among seminaries increases. They depend upon the tuition paid by the bishops to meet their expenses. Of the fifteen seminaries, tuition, room, and a board can cost between $10,000 and $16,000 a year. Compared with the price of other graduate school programs, the seminaries are subsidizing a great deal of the cost. As the total number of seminarians has declined, the cost to the seminaries has risen dramatically.

Rev. Msgr. John A. Close, a vice rector for institutional advancement at St. Charles Borromeo, says that 35 to 40 percent of the overall costs are subsidized by the seminary. Since the number of students at St. Charles has declined over the past few years, the level of subsidy is a serious concern.

It is clear from reading some seminary catalogs that these institutions are reaching out to different audiences: The pages in the catalogs contain few pictures of clergy in collars, but many of women in the classroom and at the altar. Though seminary enrollment appears to have stabilized, it seems many seminaries are meeting their budgets by admitting more and more students who are not training to become priests. If these graphics tell a story, it would appear that these non-ordination programs have already changed the campus culture of the seminary.

Period of Secularism

Contrary to the general impression, the large seminary enrollments in the United States experienced in the ’40s, ’50s, and early ’60s were an aberration (see “Priest Shortage Panic,” October 1996). In the 1820s, despite large immigration of foreign-born Catholics, the enrollment at St. Mary’s was less than a dozen in any given year. In 1829 the seminary’s administration stated with regard to their enrollment:

[F]ormerly, there was a larger number of seminarians because a large number of Irish were admitted; experience proved that those subjects, in general, proved unsatisfactory, that many thoughts of the Seminary only as a stopping-off place, and they left as soon as they found something to do in town; others misbehaved; so it was decided that they would admit subjects of that nation only with discretion and fitting precaution.

The faculty at the seminary wanted men of “more refinement,” but here again encountered difficulties: “As for the small number of subjects actually in the seminary, the main reason is that the mentality of the country, especially in the upper classes of society, is hardly favorable to the ecclesiastical state.” This sounds like a very contemporary lament. Seminaries are having a hard time finding students who are prepared for the intellectual and spiritual challenge of a Catholic seminary education.

The Washington Post recently reported on the marketing effort of the Milwaukee archdiocese, where at present only 13 students are enrolled at St. Francis Seminary. The diocese is using donated billboard space to present messages like, “Work With the World’s Greatest Boss,” and “Wanted: Doctor of Souls.” As CRISIS has already reported, seminaries like Mount St. Mary’s have been enjoying great success by putting their resources not into marketing, but into a demanding formation program and an orthodox educational curriculum.

Changes in marketing, not substance, however, are widely considered the appropriate response to a secular culture. Just as the would-be seminarian has changed with the culture, so has the seminary. The response of seminaries to the decrees and directives of the Second Vatican Council and of the Holy See in the post-conciliar period has been mixed.

Some seminaries virtually abandoned their distinctive identity as seminaria, or “seed-beds,” for diocesan clergy by admitting nonseminarians, including women, into the regular academic program. In some cases, this was done to maintain the economic viability of the institution; in others, it was done for more “philosophical” reasons, such as to respond to what was seen as the emerging role of the laity in the “new,” postconciliar church.

Indeed, the unrest that followed the Second Vatican Council prompted a tremendous process of secularization in the seminaries. Prior to the council, seminaries were usually structured along monastic lines, with the seminarians subject to a very disciplined daily horarium: the wearing of the house cassock, the absence of outsiders, and fairly ascetical practices. Despite the benefits of this system, there was clearly a need for reform, since the men were attending seminary to become parish priests, not monks. A discipline and spirituality needed to be developed that were more suited for preparing men for the rough-and-tumble of parish life.

Furthermore, after the council, there was the perceived need for significant improvement in the academic program. Catholics in the United States had become highly educated and generally literate through the very impressive educational establishment of the Church in America. It became essential that priests be better educated to articulate the truths of the Faith to a more highly educated laity. The former Latin manuals were simply no longer adequate to the task.

However, as seminaries attempted to find ways to adapt to the new social conditions, many of them jettisoned their distinctive “sacral” character and became thoroughly secularized. Some seminaries preferred to see themselves as comparable to graduate or professional institutions such as law or medical schools. The response was conditioned by the surrounding changes in culture. The sociologist of religion, Peter Berger, describes the postconciliar Church as letting loose its “repressed impulses” toward secularization after Vatican II: “In the Catholic intellectual milieu, the very milieu in which the theological enterprise must be socially rooted, there have of late emerged noises of a fearful modernity sufficient to put the most ‘radical’ Protestant to shame.”

Effect on Religious Practice

The bishops of the Second Vatican Council noted the process of secularization; however, they did not anticipate the extent to which secularism would influence the life of the Church. Even less did they anticipate its impact on seminary life, since seminaries were often directed by those in the intellectual milieu of the Church who were particularly vulnerable to the allures of secularization.

Thus clerical garb disappeared, even from liturgical worship. One seminary rector was heard to brag in the ’80s that a cassock could be found nowhere on his campus. Fr. George Rutler thinks this has led to a decline in vocations: The clerical garb of the priest and religious is a kind of billboard advertising the fact of the consecrated life; “Without it, people lose the consciousness of the clergy.”

Contact with some recent seminary graduates has provided evidence that there are men from some of the leading seminaries in the United States who do not know how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours or say the rosary. A priest is not required to say daily Mass, but he is required to recite the daily office. Other recent seminary graduates have never even heard of the Angelus, much less prayed it. This situation exists in spite of the clear dictates of the council in Optatum Totius: “The exercises of piety which are commended by the venerable practice of the Church should be strongly encouraged.”

Many seminaries no longer require attendance at daily Mass. At the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, daily Mass was described in the catalog as a “currently expressed expectation.” The catalog continued, “Each Tuesday during the semester, there is a celebration of the Eucharist or other communal worship service. . . . This prayer time develops to parallel the awareness of the importance of the prayer life of the community and the growing linguistic and musical abilities of the participants.”

In the past at the Josephinum, the seminarians could choose laymen or laywomen as their spiritual directors. When the Holy See forbade this practice, the rector of the seminary told the men to list a priest faculty member as their spiritual director and then go to the one they actually wanted, even if it were a layman or woman. The Holy See insisted on priests for spiritual direction because of the sacrament of penance; it wanted men who were to be priests to be formed by those who had been living a priestly life.

With an increase in lay teachers, the mingling of lay students in academic classes, the elimination of distinctive clerical garb, and the abandonment of communal spiritual exercise, the distinctive identity of the priest grew ever more confused.

Rome Comes to Visit

In September 1981, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education had called for a visitation of all the seminaries in the United States. This effort was coordinated by Bishop John Marshall of Burlington, Vermont, who was assisted by 40 bishops, 19 religious superiors, and 57 priests who had experience as seminary educators.

After the visitation was completed a letter was issued on October 5, 1986, by William Cardinal Baum, which concluded that the state of the 38 diocesan and religious seminaries that were visited was “generally satisfactory.” But the cardinal went on express concern about the identity of the priest has become obscured in the Church and particularly in the course of seminary education:

Our most serious recommendations have been about the need to develop a clear concept of the ordained priesthood, to promote the specialized nature of the priestly formation in accordance with Vatican Council II’s affirmation of seminaries, to deepen the academic formation so that it becomes more properly and adequately theological (with more convinced and convincing attention to the Magisterium in some courses), and to ensure that the seminarians develop a good grasp of the specific contribution that the priest has to make to each pastoral situation.

The letter went on to urge that there be a preponderance of priests on the faculty and a clear majority of seminarians in the student body of the theologate. Some seminaries, however, such as the Oblate School, have a very high percentage of laity and even offer the master of divinity degree to the laity, despite the fact that the M.Div. is usually understood as the professional degree for ordained ministry. The Oblate School is far from alone is urging laypersons to enter the M.Div. program. It is common for seminary catalogs to have a three-year M.Div. track for those not seeking ordination and a separate four-year ordination program.

Fr. James Gould, director of vocations in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, worries about the impact of finances on seminary programs: “In the old days we worried that seminaries were sacrificing dogmatics to pastoral concerns. Now we worry that both dogmatics and pastoral theology are being sacrificed to economic factors.”

The letter from Baum went on to address the problem of lay “spiritual directors.” It insisted, as the Holy See had done previously, that the spiritual direction in seminaries is done only by priests, not only because they alone can administer the sacrament of penance but also because this would constitute a way of providing a clear identity for the seminarian as a future priest. The rector of the seminary who permitted lay spiritual directors was eventually replaced.

The results of the visitations to the seminaries have been kept confidential by the Holy See. But at the time of Cardinal Baum’s letter, there were still expressions of the secularizing influence. For example, Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy of Seattle, former chairman of the Bishop’s Committee on Priestly Formation, called attention to the communal dimension of nurturing priestly identity:

The question, “What is a priest?” is of tremendous significance today because when we are able to articulate a theology of priesthood that is appropriated by the Christian community, then we will have a clearer idea of the direction of seminary education and formation today in its task of preparing ordained leaders for the church of tomorrow.

This is rather surprising: An archbishop wonders about the “theology of the priesthood” to be “appropriated by the community,” rather than finding a way to articulate the nature of the priesthood given to the Church by Christ—the theology of which has already been articulated in such conciliar documents as Presbyterorum Ordinis, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Christus Dominus, Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, and Optatum Totius. It is the task of the community to appropriate the true theology of the priesthood that has been taught by the Church.

One of the crises in seminary education is attributable to the belief that there is a plurality of theologies applicable to every doctrine. The decision to eliminate philosophy as a prerequisite to theology has created considerable confusion. Few ordinaries have had the courage to do what Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua did upon becoming archbishop of Philadelphia— he eliminated all undergraduate majors in the St. Charles Borromeo college seminary except philosophy. Bevilacqua also expressed a clear preference for the perennial wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Indeed, those seminaries that have the clearest understanding of the nature of the priesthood—expressed in terms of house discipline, academic standards, spiritual exercises, and clerical attire—seem to be the ones that are flourishing. Recent enrollments at Mount St. Mary’s and the Josephinum bear this out. These institutions also benefit from the strong vocations sent to them by various bishops, but there is also an indication that the increased discipline, including the institution of Saturday classes, night prayer, and a spirituality year, had a positive impact on the number of seminarians and the overall satisfaction of bishops and seminarians with the program.

Academic Life

The visitation of seminaries found considerable unevenness among the theologies. There was little outright dissent—but there was not much in the way of clear, convincing presentation of magisterial teaching either. As Cardinal Baum wrote, “Dissent, in fact, is not a major characteristic of U.S. free-standing theologies for the formation of diocesan priests. However, a more common phenomenon does not dissent from the Magisterium but confusion about it.” Of course, confusion about magisterial teaching can be as problematic as dissent, especially in the area of morality. The cardinal specifically mentioned the need to bring the teaching of Catholic morality into closer conformity with magisterial teaching.

There is a considerable variety among seminaries in the academic requirements. This can be seen by looking at a representative 14 of the 35 theologies. These are all prominent seminaries with significant enrollments situated across the country. The total number of credits required for graduation from these seminaries ranged from 100 to 131 semester credit hours, a difference of six-semester courses!

It is interesting to note the different number of credit hours required by the respective seminaries for the various disciplines. Although there appears to be agreement on the general template of seminary education, there is far from a consensus on how to allocate those hours within departments:

•             Doctrine: 12-25 credit hours

•             Morals: 8-18 credit hours

•             Sacraments: 8-25 credit hours

•             Scripture: 7-18 credit hours

•             History: 8-18 credit hours

•             Pastoral/Field Education (includes liturgy, canon law, homiletics, music): 24-48 credit hours

•             Electives: 8-33 credit hours

Scripture might seem to be overemphasized in some cases if one looks at the number of credit hours and wonders how the “higher” biblical criticism usually taught in those courses is significant in the life of the average parishioner. However, if morality, sacramental theology, and doctrine are combined into systematic theology, the overall ratio of semester credit hours of Scripture to systematic theology becomes more plausible.

Fr. Rutler agrees with Bishop Gerber that far too little history, three or at most four courses, is taught in the seminaries. “Christianity is the historical religion. Teaching the faith without a historical sensibility is to make it seem Gnostic. History is the handmaid of theology; they have to go together.” (A Gnostic understands the faith abstractly as a series of propositions, not as the revealed Word of God embodied in history and in persons.)

The greatest deficiency in the academic programs, generally speaking, is in the area of moral theology. Since this discipline touches so profoundly on the daily life and struggle of Catholics, one would have expected more emphasis placed on this subject. A mere eight required credit hours in morality for a professional degree in ministry, as is the case in several of the seminaries reviewed, hardly seems adequate to the preparation of a parish priest. It also does not address the concern expressed by the Holy See that particular care is given to the discipline of moral theology. For example, one will look in vain for an explicit emphasis on the sexual morality of Humane Vitae except at a few seminaries—St. Charles Borromeo; Kenrick-Glennon; St. Mary’s; Mount St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart; and the Josephinum.

There is also a considerable variation in the courses required by each department. For example, St. John’s in Boston and St. Francis has no required course on medical ethics. Seminary catalogs, however, do not tell the whole story. Fr. Romanus Cessario, professor of systematic theology at St. John’s, reports that his students receive instruction in medical ethics during a special course in pastoral-moral issues, required in the fourth year of theology. At St. John’s, the students purchase Ashley and O’Rourke’s Health Care Ethics, which serves as the standard text.

One has to be struck by the disparity in the curricula of various seminaries and the different numbers of hours given to the subjects in the curriculum. As mentioned earlier, the area of study that would be of greatest value for the pastoral ministry would most likely be moral theology. Everyday Catholics are having to make tough decisions about family issues, sexual matters, health care, and professional confidentiality. The Catholic moral tradition provides invaluable assistance in making such decisions. But moral theology is a scientific discipline that requires hard work and scholarship to master. In a day of such confusion in moral questions, this is one subject that needs particular emphasis, as was stressed after the Vatican’s visitation of U.S. seminaries. More work clearly is required here.

The Holy See has also asked the seminaries to place greater emphasis on the study of the “Church fathers,” the great theologians from the first five centuries of the Church’s life. This appeal seems to have received very little attention in our seminaries. And the study of patristics (as it is called) is not unrelated to the need for more work in the area of moral theology. The response of early theologians and spiritual masters to the perennial dilemmas of man’s fallen nature engendered some of the most profound moral and spiritual texts ever written. Rome seems to be convinced that a greater familiarity with the Church fathers would actually contribute to the desired renewal of moral theology. In large part because of the controversies with Protestantism, Catholic moral theology became heavily legalistic after the 16th century. In the patristic and medieval periods, the approach of theologians to morality was much more grounded in the teaching of virtue rather than in seeking conformity to law. Also, in this period spirituality and moral theology were seen as virtually inseparable. Patristics studies would help retrieve this tradition for the ongoing renewal of moral theology.

There is a great deal of work still remaining in fostering a clear understanding of the priesthood, and the education for the priesthood, in our seminaries. This understanding could be assisted by distinctive garb, set spiritual exercises, and a commitment to the centrality of the Mass in the life of the seminary community. Seminaries will be effective means of transforming the world and of preparing effective agents of change for subverting the old order when they embrace the distinctiveness of the priestly calling.

Sed Contra: A New Year’s Wish

Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 1999

My “Notes Toward Unity” (Sed Contra, October 1998) elicited more response than any column I have written in the past four years. Catholics around the nation are frustrated; they want their voice heard in the culture. More and more Catholics are tired of being invisible. We can only hope that the airing of the Kevorkian murder tape on CBS 60 Minutes may have been the last straw.

For the past two centuries, the story of Catholics in America has been one of deliberate invisibility, a steady assimilation into the fabric of society. Since Bishop Fulton Sheen, most of the Catholics who have succeeded invisibility have been the dissident and near-dissident darlings of the mainstream media. Mother Angelica, now Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, are welcome exceptions.

But, as I have said before, something larger is stirring beneath the surface, a deeper discontent is making its way toward the surface. To those who have become cynical on this question, I would say, “It is only a matter of time.”

When it arrives it won’t be the “slumbering giant” of 60 million Catholics ready to insist the basic principles of the Declaration once again be enforced as the rule of law. As we discovered in our “Catholic Vote Project” (November 1998), the actual body of Mass-attending Catholics who espouse something like an orthodox faith is probably much smaller, say, 10 million.

The evangelicals have already discovered what can be done by organizing even 5 percent of these 10 million. You can win elections, pass legislation, and make advertisers think twice about sponsoring something that will offend an organized block of the religious community.

I was attending the Call to Holiness Conference in Detroit when CBS announced that the number one rated TV show in the nation, 60 Minutes, was going to air a videotape showing the murder of a man with Lou Gerhig’s disease. The executive director of Call to Holiness, Jay McNally, and I quickly put together a press release, protesting the broadcast, and read it to the 1800 attendees. I don’t think I have heard a louder shout of support since I went to a college football game. Clearly, something is percolating, and it only needs a place to erupt.

My wish for 1999 is that somehow Catholic apostolates learn how to speak together, and, in doing so, make a loud noise.

Last fall, the University of Notre Dame hired former Senator Bill Bradley to give lectures at the Law School. Notre Dame hired Senator Bradley knowing not only his pro-abortion voting record, including his vote for partial birth abortion but also knowing he plans on running for the presidency in 2000.

Thus, the best-known Catholic university in the United States has become, in effect, one of the launching platforms for a presidential candidate whose position on abortion is directly contrary to the teaching of the Church.

I am sure that I am not alone in finding this objectionable. The hiring of Senator Bradley to speak on the rule of law is just one more slap in the face of Catholics who want their institutions to speak with the Church. It remains to be seen whether this slap or the slap applied by CBS News will wake us up.

There are hundreds of Catholic apostolates whose members must be outraged by these, and similar, events. If the leaders and members of Catholic apostolates can learn to cooperate, perhaps enough letters will rain on Notre Dame to make a difference.

Here is my New Year’s wish: Why can’t we develop a communications network that will enable orthodox Catholics to speak together in great numbers in response to insults to our faith, like the 60 Minutes travesty and the Bill Bradley hiring?

Thank God for the leadership of Cardinal Maida and Cardinal Hickey who spoke out against CBS. But we cannot leave it entirely in their hands—the Catholic laity can and should speak in defense of the Church, the culture, and our families.

Some Catholic leaders have already come together to discuss ways to cooperate, and we all recognize the need for better communications between ourselves and to the public. More meetings are being planned for 1999, and the idea of a Catholic communications network is being discussed.

If you have any ideas about how to implement this network, I would like to hear from you.