Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Two Articles

A friend sent along two articles. The first is about priests who "disappear." I'd take it with a grain of salt, as it seems to sympathize with the obviously guilty (and megalomaniacal) Fr. Corapi, but it's an interesting read nonetheless. The second is about how the seminary system is practically designed to foster sociopathy. Something I've discussed before.


Anonymous said...

Speaking as a current seminarian, I think that a lot of what Sipe has to say here is outdated or exagerrated. That's not to say that there aren't still problems and pathologies to be dealt with, because there certainly are. However, the sort of flagrant sexual acting-out that he describes is largely a thing of the past - in asserting this, I'm speaking on the basis of my experience and that of seminarians are other places with whom I've had frank and open conversations (and whom I'm visited). There are real issues - the Internet is a real moral minefield for seminarians, as it is for young men in general - but Sipe doesn't address this in his essay.

Sipe's claims that "[n]ot more than one in 20 seminarians ordained today is equipped to hear Confessions or counsel penitents or parishioners" and "[n]ot one in 10 seminarians ordained today is qualified to preach" are also a bit problematic, to say the least. Again, there are real problems - sure, some seminarians and young priests are socially awkward and pastorally tone-deaf, but the overall picture isn't remotely as bad as Sipe claims. A bit of historical perspective would also be helpful - does Sipe think that seminarians are less well-prepared now than they were years ago? Again, I only have my experience to go on, but I've had plenty of covnersations with priests who were ordained 40 and 50 years ago who would affirm that they felt woefully underprepared when they were thrown into parish life after ordination; their "qualifications" to preach, hear confessions and counsel parishioners came not only from what they had learned in the seminary - after all, you can only learn so much in the classroom - but just as much from the training they received 'on the job' in parish ministry.

One less substantial nitpick: the quotation from an 'active priest' that Sipe ends with comes from Richard Rohr, who has his own axes to grind and hard counts as an objective observer. On the whole, though I would be the first to acknowledge that our current approach to priestly formation has its shortcomings, Sipe's criticisms are inaccurate and unfair.

A Sinner said...

Good points. I'm less concerned with sexual acting out than with a climate of surveillance and repression and institutionalism.

If seminarians still have curfews (and I believe many places do)...then there is still a problem.

I'd concentrate in Sipe's article more on these ideas:

-a conflict between their desire for perfection and their basic needs and desires can drive men to leave the priesthood entirely: "Suddenly their own humanity breaks through and they are gone"

-The Vatican’s concern with homosexuality generally, and specifically with its place within the ranks of the clergy, evidences massive reaction formation

-A moral theologian in a large seminary advised his students in class: ‘if you must have sex, be sure to go out side of your parish to where you are not known; do not wear your collar or show any evidence that you are a priest; and don’t get married.’ The object is to avoid scandal. Is there any better way to teach sociopathy? [ie, a concern with keeping up appearances]

-John Paul II was a champion of celibacy and declared that it was an immutable law that even he was unable to abrogate.
Where does the separation between words and deeds begin and end?

-“a generation of seminarians and young priests who are cognitively rigid and risk adverse; who want to circle the wagons around their imagined secure and superior group; who seem preoccupied with clothing, titles, perks, and externals of religion; and frankly have little use for the world beyond their own control or explanation."

Anonymous said...

If seminarians still have curfews (and I believe many places do)...then there is still a problem.

Yes - and it is a problem, though I think it's symptomatic of a larger one, namely the heavily regimented and quasi-monastic style of life in most seminaries, which is at odds with the life that most priests live after they're ordained. One could argue that this structure is intended to inculcate a sense of personal discipline that will serve men well when they're living the independent lives of parish priests, but that doesn't just require attention to externals but a focus on positive psychological development (and, perhaps, offering practical supports for independent living, e.g. looking more seriously at how one can maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine outside of the seminary environment).

a conflict between their desire for perfection and their basic needs and desires can drive men to leave the priesthood entirely

That's certainly an issue for some, but I don't think it should be over-generalized; I think there are more priests who give up on the "desire for perfection" and find ways of coping, some healthy and some not.

The Vatican’s concern with homosexuality generally, and specifically with its place within the ranks of the clergy, evidences massive reaction formation

I'd be curious to know is meant by "reaction formation" here. At the very least, I'll admit that there is a problem around this issue. There's no way homosexuality can be eliminated entirely, and overly zealous efforts to do so only push seminarians who happen to be gay further into the closet - which, of course, only makes matters worse.

A moral theologian in a large seminary advised his students in class: ‘if you must have sex, be sure to go out side of your parish to where you are not known...

This is a clear example of what I was talking about when I said that Sipe's approach was outdated - simply put, that sort of thing doesn't happen anymore. Damage control and avoiding scandal is still around, but if a seminary prof said something like that today, he'd almost certainly be disciplined or removed.

a generation of seminarians and young priests who are cognitively rigid and risk adverse...

Again, I don't think Richard Rohr is the best source; he's a liberal of the Spirit of Vatican II variety venting about trends in the Church that he doesn't like. I will grant that seminarians and younger priests as a group are to the right of priests in preceding generations, but I'm not convinced of the validity of Rohr's critique. The thing about clothing and externals is a cheap shot of the kind that liberals often make in this context - I've heard it enough times that I simply roll my eyes at it. I'm not sure that young priests and seminarians today are any more rigid or risk-averse than they would have been fifty years ago, and (in line with what I wrote earlier on the "qualification" piece) I think pastoral experience can help individuals grow out of this in many cases. As for the "circle the wagons" issue, I think that the jury is still out - I'm not sure whether that's something this generation of priests will be able to grow out of, or if the mentality will remain strong enough to endure into the future.

latinmass1983 said...

What's wrong with a curfew? The curfew (in its original form) was not because it was meant to control, but to aid the future Priests in avoiding causing scandal by seen outside at all hours of the night and from been tempted to visit inappropriate places for such men.

True, seminarians did all that and worse, but it certainly was not be cause of the curfew, but in spite of it.

The other posts (by A sinner) suggested to imitate the East. This is another mistake that is very common. When one feels attracted to people of the same sex, that's the way it is and allowing Priests to get married will not change that. First, the ones who are already Priests will not marry a woman just because marriage is allowed to them.

The original tradition of the Church was that after a man (who was married) was given major orders, he was to be continent thereafter. The permission of the wife was required before he could be advanced to major orders. What the East allows was not the tradition of the early Church. Even in the East, we have many of the great Saints who became Priests and Bishops who did not marry.

In the East, they require their Bishops to be Celibate. Why? Why should only Bishops be celibate? Does't the Bible tells us that Bishops should be allowed to marry once? Why doesn't the East do that? In fact, they consciously select their Bishops from their pool of monks!

Celibacy is not the problem. People giving into temptation is. That has always been the problem everywhere. Plus, the incompetence of those put in charge of seminaries who led the best of their liberal and spiritually irresponsible side get the best of themselves.

If celibacy is a problem (and one usually knows when this is the case), then that man (or woman) knows he/she should not attempt to join a seminary or religious order. Period. Married men have a different vocation; they are called to a different life and to dedicate themselves to a different group of people as their main objective.

Why do you think the Eastern Churches are not as numerous? Nor are their missions, nor their churches. Because their Priests do not have the time to do that. They have to work and sustain their families. They do not celebrate Mass daily, they do not hear confession as much as Priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Etc., etc., etc.

The shortage of Priest should not be the simple excuse to do away with what we know is what has made the Catholic Church shine before. And, if I am not mistaken, it is what will make it shine again. While it might be difficult to see all of this now, things will change.

Roman said...

I think the over-all issue is one of faithfulness. Regardless of what state in life you enter, you are going to have to deal with rules and regulations which will at times tax you and even go against your natural inclinations towards certain goods. That's just part of life and part of being a responsible human being.

Part of growing up and being psychologically integrated is understanding what those responsibilities entail, keeping to them, and being held accountable when failure results.

And this brings me to something I vehemently disagree with you on: your use of psychologically loaded words and phrases to describe what you think is problematic with some of the disciplinary laws of the Church. All one has to do is take good look around oneself. Sociopaths, emotionally and psychologically maladjusted people come from all walks of life. In fact, many of these types are staples in today's secular high schools, colleges, universities, and the general hook-up culture we find ourselves in.

It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate, I think, then, to blame the disciplinary measures itself when you consider that, (i) many young men actually do manage to follow these disciplines and remain emotionally and psychologically healthy; (ii) you have far more drastic regimes of discipline in other respected institutions -- think, the army; and (iii) that in all these sordid cases of formation and priestly problems the issue always stems from the refusal to follow the established discipline, not the other way around -- think, that moral theology professor advising his students on how to do something the Church considers gravely sinful.

Again, it all boils down to faithfulness. When you take a look at these so-called disappearing priests they all have one thing in common: they failed to remain faithful to something they themselves freely chose to commit to. And this is what leads to the sociopathy, hypocrisy and the leading of a double life that you will find not only in unfaithful priests, but in unfaithful men in all walks of life.

Robert said...

@ Roman: If faithfulness is the issue between good and bad priests, then why enforce these rules? If the rules no longer serve as a colander to remove the bad priests, what purpose do these rules serve? I fail to see how bed times, having to sleep in dorms, and forced socialization serve to strain out the bad priests. All these rules seem to do is strain out those who wont be treated like children.

latinmass1983 said...

The rules do not, in and of themselves, rule out the bad Priests. However, they would normally tend to discourage those who are not willing (or able) to live the life expected of a Seminarian or Priest/Religious.

Roman might have also meant, with regards to faithfulness, the people in charge of applying these rules to every member of a religious institution/seminary/house. If they are not faithful, it will be very heard for those under them to follow suit.

These rules used to (and still should) be a guide for those willing to live holy and dedicated lives. They also serve (for those willing) as incentives to do the right thing and help prevent bad practices and scandalous situations. They also help create a more and better organized/disciplined environment.

A Sinner said...

Obviously, I agree with Robert. These rules don't accomplish anything except to INFANTALIZE.

I'm not saying all priests are infantalized by them, just that this seems to be the only effect they are having.

They certainly aren't creating army of super-holy priests. In fact, priests seem no more holy than the rest of the population, and rather out of touch.

The rules certainly don't encourage a culture of LEADERSHIP in the priesthood, as these rules don't teach leadership, they teach compliance and keeping your head down. Leaders come from a more dynamic stream of men who probably just roll their eyes at the idea of a "lights out" for ADULTS.

As for the army...I don't think that comparison is a good thing! I discussed "total institutions" in one of the posts I linked to; others include prison and mental asylums. Most people aren't going to enter prisons or mental asylums willingly. Nor, frankly, the army.

When applied to priests though, we aren't training men to be part of some efficient killing machine, we're training them to be part of an extremely cushy bureaucracy. Applying "army" dynamics to that is incomprehensible to me.

latinmass1983 said...

From the Saints who followed these (or similar) rules -- and some of them followed even stricter ones -- come the idea and recommendation that these (and similar) rules should not be discarded.

I do not think anyone here is going to say that St. Teresa of Avila would say (if she were living today) that these rules only helped her because it was in the 1500s. Or a St. Stanislaus or St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

They, who really followed and lived these rules and disciplinary measures, are the ones who should really know if these rules are just a sack of rubbish. It would be like saying, preaching chastity is not working; let's just give kids contraception and make them feel like adults and hopefully they'll grow out of it!

It is not the rules and regulations that are wrong or not working.It's people who do not want them, which, it and of itself, should say something really deep about the people who have been allowed to enter the "Sanctuary of God" when they were really not supposed to have been let in!

Roman said...

"If faithfulness is the issue between good and bad priests, then why enforce these rules?"


These rules aren't even in place for the most part.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council many seminaries got rid of these rules. It didn't work out too well...

"These rules don't accomplish anything except to INFANTALIZE."

A Sinner,

Your criticism would apply with equal force to religious and monastic life.

A Sinner said...

But I think that's EXACTLY the point (about the discipline of Saints and religious/monastic life): the secular priesthood ISN'T religious life. It's a SECULAR (ie, in-the-world) vocation. These pseudo-monastic seminary disciplines bootstrapped to it are not good preparation for living IN the world.

Also is the fact that there is more of a sense of coercion in seminaries. Saints adopt their disciplines, or people entering monasteries...voluntarily. That's the whole point, is embracing that sort of life.

Seminarians on the other hand, well, yes, they know what they're getting into, but it's not "of the essence," that's not "why they're there."

They're there, presumably, not really FOR the curfew or culture of surveillance...but to get THROUGH it in 4-6 years, to get to the priesthood and then get out of there, and so the rules and all that are just sort of something they have to put up with "in exchange for" that.

In that sense it is less voluntary inasmuch as they aren't the essence of secular priesthood (like the are of monastic life; secular priesthood existed a LONG time without seminary) nor is it THAT life specifically the seminarians are seeking, and so are sort of just something imposed on the men accidental to the actual vocation they're pursuing.

latinmass1983 said...

I gave examples of religious Saints because those were the names that came to mind. However, Seminaries had different (although similar) rules, but they were not the same. Seminarians did not and do not live line mini-monks.

They are allowed to go out, to travel, visit whomever they want to on their own time. These rules do not make cloistered or desert monks out of them! This is a gross exaggeration and mischaracterization of the rules.

Additionally, as someone pointed out, these rules have been completely neglected for a couple of decades and the rules have only (if that) remained on paper. This only makes a stronger point for the rules -- they are not followed and that's why things go bad!

While Priests are int he world, they are not to be "of the world" in the same way lay people are. These rules (not just the curfew) are to form a base for their way of living once they get ordained and are assigned to parishes. Why do you think people think when they see a Priest out at all hours of the night and around indecent or worldly places?

Being in the world does not mean that they have to partake in every option there is. That's not even allowed for laymen who should also try to stay away from unnecessary, useless and harmful practices and ways of life. While Seminary is transitory, the rules are supposed to put the seed in the men in it (therefrom its name) for a disciplined life AFTER seminary.

If people think that Semianry practices/life should not carry over to life after the Seminary, that's a big mistake and leads to problems.

Roman said...


I think we're in agreement. What struck me was A Sinner's comment describing "the rules" (really a horarium - having a set time for waking up, prayers, study, recreation and going to bed) as something in itself infantile and conducive to mental illness. I don't think that's what A Sinner meant -- and I apologize, A Sinner, if I misunderstood -- but that's how it came off.

There's more I have to say on this, but perhaps I should save it until another post on the topic. :-)

Anonymous said...

When I was in, we never had curfews or other such things. Whatever strictures in place were meant to help you form you as a priest, they weren’t excessive or oppressive-at least where I was. I think this “semi-monastic” setting gave me a good formation even just as a layman now; it certainly instilled in me a rhythm of prayer and a sense of living liturgically. Isn’t this the model the Fathers had for holiness-an imitation of the monastics as far as was possible according to your state in life?

I think you make way too much out of the supposed “problems”. There are certainly problems, no doubt about that, but I don’t see how any proposed overhauling “solution” is really going to make things better. What we really need is holy and intelligent bishops and priests running seminaries. The basic system or concept isn’t the problem, it’s the kind of people who are in control.

Personally, what I find most troubling in the seminary world today are things like the IPF program and the general ignorance of many of the men on matters of the Faith (theology, liturgy, etc.) along with the inability of most seminaries to effectively teach these things. However, these are accidental and obviously not essential aspects of the seminary concept. Many seminaries are still run by cabals of liberals or, at best, neo-cons and so at present seminary is a HUGE waste of money. What you do learn will often be your own prerogative, whether by making good use of the library or finding the right people to talk to one-on-one. If you do not even know where do start, then you are basically screwed on that level. In spirituality, if you do not have any sort of foundation, you’ll probably just eat up the IPF nonsense (which is basically psycho-babble mixed with neo-con pietism) and be screwed on that level too.

However, again, this isn’t the concept’s fault. The problem is with the people in charge.

A Sinner said...

"They are allowed to go out, to travel, visit whomever they want to on their own time. These rules do not make cloistered or desert monks out of them! This is a gross exaggeration and mischaracterization of the rules."

A "lights out" for men who are not in prison or the military, a curfew, even the whole idea of dorm living for adults like that...probably creeps out even a portion of the men who WOULD be willing to be celibate. In fact, I know it does, having networked with many guys who feel that way through this very blog.

"Why do you think people think when they see a Priest out at all hours of the night and around indecent or worldly places?"

That he's ministering to sinners, I'd hope!

"While Seminary is transitory, the rules are supposed to put the seed in the men in it (therefrom its name) for a disciplined life AFTER seminary."

I fail to see how living in an communal/institutional manner under constant surveillance and subtle psychological pressure prepares you for living, often, entirely ALONE and rather unaccountable in a rectory.

"really a horarium"

No, not that part. I'll quote what a friend said recently about the idea of seminary:

"I don't want to up under scrutany when I go out for the night have a few drinks with friends and sleep at their place (nothing sexual, I just don't want to drive home). On saturday I slept at my cousin's appartment (a female and she has a rommate who is also a woman). My relationship with her rommate is platonic. Even considering all this, while driving home in the morning, I realized that if I were at seminary, I would feel compelled to lie about where I was that night and what I did. Not to mention that I'd probably have broken some rule about being out of the seminary."

I've heard the same from some friends in seminary; there is a pressure to always be "on"...even if nothing wrong is really happening, there is a culture of surveillance and suspicion that can feel like a creepy sort of institutional over-bearing mother. You're not even doing anything bad in your room, but it's just really annoying when you hear her lurking in the hallway outside and then finally she knocks just to "check in" lol. I think that's how Total Institutions are designed to make people feel, like there is always a low-grade sort of paranoia about people watching you and judging you.

The words "human formation" make me shudder...