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Call for Seminarian Testaments
It seems that the reality inside some (many?) Catholic seminaries does not match the brochure.
I know several people in this picture. Some advanced to priesthood. Others are married. All are good guys.
We've all seen public accounts by priests and ex-seminarians (here is just one) describing Catholic seminaries as hothouses where clerical authoritarianism, combined with tolerance or encouragement of sexual immorality, drives good men out of priestly vocations. This (allegedly) leaves behind a clergy where yes-men, political chameleons, and sexually active gays (and straight allies) are overrepresented... the next generation of the "lavender mafia." Many of us are familiar with Goodbye, Good Men, Michael Rose's book about how this culture operated during the '70s and '80s, where it advanced under the flag of theological liberalism. I've heard enough hair-raising accounts of seminaries in those days to be confident that Rose's narrative is basically correct.
However, as The Scandal rolls into its 33rd year, we are seeing indications that, even as conservatives have largely changed the theological orientations of most Catholic seminaries toward Tradition, the underlying culture of clerical authoritarianism and sexual impropriety... maybe has not changed so much as we'd like to believe. Cardinal McCarrick's recent and notorious abuse of his own seminarians, even as JP2 elevated him to cardinal and McCarrick served as the bishops' PR guy on abuse, seems to be but the tip of the iceberg (look at Lincoln).
I know a lot of recent ex-sems, and I hear stories. Some of them are very good! Most ex-sems I know have many very fond memories of their time in seminary.
But some of the stories are... weird. Any one of them, I might dismiss as an aberration or somebody with an axe to grind. In the aggregate, though? Combined with everything else we've been seeing in the press? I have found reason for concern.
But I don't have the full picture. Outside the clergy, I'm not sure anybody really knows what overall American seminary culture is like.
I think it's time to change that.
If you were recently a Catholic seminarian or seminary employee, I'd like to hear from you. What was your seminary like? What's working? What's not? Did you find a culture where clericalism and/or sexual immorality were problems, or no? If so, how so?
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll publish what you have to say right here on De Civitate.
A few ground rules:
I'm asking about recent seminarian experiences, particularly since the abuse scandal went national in the U.S. in 2002. So if you haven't been in a seminary since before 2003, this isn't directed to you.
If you are currently at a seminary, this probably isn't for you, either. It's going to be tough to be objective or candid about your experience while you're still having it.
I'm happy -- in fact, eager -- to publish both positive and negative accounts of your seminary experiences. My intention is to get a sense of what seminaries are like today. If it turns out seminaries are, by and large, doing great, that would be fantastic (if somewhat surprising) news.
I will publish anonymous accounts. However, if you choose anonymity:
You may not name names, either of seminary personnel or the seminary you attended. The line between speaking uncomfortable truths and gossiping is whether you put your own name on it.
You still have to tell me who you are, so I can do some cursory verification that you are who you claim to be.
If you publish under your own name, you can be as specific as you consider prudent and just.
On the one hand, don't commit detraction.
On the other hand, don't delete or obfuscate important details just because you're afraid somebody somewhere might accuse you of detraction. McCarrick survived another decade in office because one Dr. Fitzgibbons wouldn't go on the record about it in 2002 out of fear for McCarrick's reputation. Our Catholic reflex to talk about troubles without identifying the troublemakers has gone on long enough, hasn't it?
I may lightly edit for spelling, grammar, clarity, and so forth. I won't go further than that (unless asked). Even if I disagree with what you say, I'll print it. This is a soapbox for you to speak honestly about your experience of the seminary. My job is to get out of the way and let you say what you feel needs saying, be it 100 words or 100,000.
Again, my email address is email@example.com. I have a brand-new baby at home (Irene Amelia, born November 5th, named for St. Irenaeus of Lyon, she's great), so I might not get back to you immediately... but I will get back to you.
I hope this project sparks enough response that we are able to gain a more complete picture of what seminary life is like for young Catholics today.
And I hope the news is better than I'm expecting.
UPDATE: I have received and posted several testaments, linked here:
#3: Aidan Toombs