Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.
Recently, we were treated to an article at Crux describing a “two-day symposium at Boston College” of “ecclesial heavy-hitters” dealing with the future of the priesthood. This was a follow-up to a previous confab which served up a wish-list in December of 2018. Key expressions say it all: “a call for a reimagining of priestly formation”; “renewing the conversation”; “threefold dynamic”; “foster authentic psychosexual maturity and integration.”
Who talks like that? I can tell you who: Left-overs from the failed revolution of the Sixties and Seventies. As Yogi Berra put it, “It’s like deja-vu all over again.” I know whereof I speak because these phrases brought back nightmares of my would-be priestly formation from that precise era. Yes, I admit I am a victim of post-traumatic stress stemming from those worst eight years of my life.
I am amused when liberals call for “dialogue” or “conversation” because that suggests they see themselves on the short end of the stick. Once they are on the ascendancy, all “dialogue” and “conversation” cease. My seminary was a hell-hole of oppression in the pre-Vatican II era; in my time, it was a hell-hole of oppression by the Radical Left (the agenda had changed but the agents were the same). Indeed, the initial steps were hesitant and conversation-oriented. However, when someone raised an issue for conversation that did not fit the proper “paradigm” (yes, we had “paradigm shifts” then as well), the axe fell fast and furiously.
We had been encouraged to “reimagine” not only priestly formation but the priesthood itself and the Church herself. Naively, I took the bait and wrote an article for The Priest in November of 1973, entitled “The Parish: Crucible of Priestly Formation.” I critiqued the whole disastrous system and “suggested” that a different “model” was needed, namely, having seminarians live in parishes and commute to theological schools. By January of 1974, I was shown the door. The “dialogue” was over. The personal harassment and persecution, however, went on for nearly two years more.
The Leftists today, however, are not quite so subtle and clever as their forebears of an earlier time. They have actually handed down the demand in no uncertain terms: “All consideration of priesthood and ministry must flow from the Second Vatican Council’s affirmation of the Church’s living tradition as it has been received and developed by Pope Francis.” The key words, of course, are “as it has been received and developed by Pope Francis.” Not even Vatican II itself is a starting point, with Presbyterorum Ordinis or Optatam Totius. Certainly not John Paul II’s Pastores Dabo Vobis. Not even, apparently, the brand new Program of Priestly Formation, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops this past November.
It is important to have handy a lexicon to interpret the gibberish emanating from the “Woke” participants. Here are my English translations of a few of the goals of the cognoscenti:
• “an evaluation process for candidates that allows institutions to ‘be free to evaluate candidates honestly,’ without a concern to ‘maintain numbers’ by persevering with unsuitable candidates”: Get rid of conservative seminarians.
• “a call for exploration of new models for ordained ministry” and “There have to be adjustments made.” “The future of the ministry of the priesthood cannot be the same of the past.”: A Protestantized priesthood, which would include women and married men.
• “As the number of priests declines, we have an opportunity to recognize women in ministry, and make space and resources available for their formation, so that they can better serve the people of God.”: Ordain women.
• “This incorporates the vision of Vatican II in ways that are not always evident today among those who emphasize a cultic priesthood and a priestly identity that is set apart and above the laity.”: Out with a sacramental understanding of both Church and priesthood!
So, who are these forgers of a “brave new Church”? We learn that cardinals were present, including—surprise, surprise—Blase Cupich of Chicago and Reinhard Marx of Munich! Six other American bishops were involved also; among those “heavy hitters” were none other than Bishops Robert McElroy of San Diego and John Stowe of Lexington. In truth, with one notable exception, every hierarch cited is as far Left as you can go without tipping over the canoe. Non-bishops include such worthies as the peripatetic Richard Gaillardetz of Boston College, the ex-priest Thomas Groome (What does he have to offer of value to priestly formation? More to the point, according to the rescript of laicization, he should not even be teaching Catholic theology.), and Richard Lennan (an Australian priest of the suit-and-tie variety). The rest I had never even heard of.
Christopher White, author of the article in question, very honestly notes:
Some of the strongest language is reserved for the role of women in priestly formation, where organizers noted that women should be included in the faculty of seminaries.
In point of fact, one can see that the driving force behind the entire endeavor is the issue of “women in ministry.” White goes on to observe: “The event was closed to the press, prompting some Catholic commentators to voice frustration that one of the major lessons of recent scandals has been the need for greater transparency in the Church.” Never to be outdone in double-talk, we are informed: “Organizers, however, contended that the purpose of the closed-door format was to allow for free-ranging, open discussion among participants.”
Even more: “Groome told Crux that such an environment provided freedom for participants to speak with candor in an environment of mixed participants.” This has the echo of the Bergoglian synods of the past few years, from which the press was banned and no records of episcopal interventions were produced. Parrhesia, to be sure. Apparently, these erstwhile fans of Papa Bergoglio missed the document in which he essentially rid the Church of the pontifical secret!
Is there a place for laity (including women) in the formation of future priests? When Cardinal Newman was asked about the place of the laity in the Church, he quipped: “We’d look rather silly without them!” So, yes, there is a place. However, it is worth noting: Future doctors are trained by doctors. Future lawyers are trained by lawyers. Future farmers are trained by farmers. Similarly, future priests need to be trained by priests – in the main. Lay participants ought to be the exception, not the rule, and surely not the majority of faculty members.
If anyone reads my article from 1973 (to whose main lines I still subscribe), he will see that I am no uncritical supporter of the status quo. However, my vision of priestly formation would seek to strengthen priestly identity, not water it down or even eliminate it completely. Reading between the lines of comments made by several of the seminar participants, one senses a sort of glee when discussing the declining numbers of seminarians, presumably since that could push the envelope in the direction of dramatic changes.
Strangely, these people seem to be totally unaware of the fact that the Eastern Orthodox churches have had a married priesthood for a millennium – and they have a more serious vocations crisis than we. Mainstream Protestantism has been “ordaining” women for decades, and the churches are emptying out faster than one can recite the “Our Father” (oops, not that sexist prayer).
Bottom-line: Groome and Company want to keep the pot stirred. And like the old Soviet re-education camps, they proudly proclaim: “We sent home a number of significant leaders…with a new consciousness.”