Sunday night I returned from a week in New York State to visit my in-laws and attend a reunion of former students of St. Joseph Seraphic [Angelic] Seminary in Callicoon, New York. The reunion was the brain child of the class two years my junior, which celebrated its 50th anniversary of seminary high school graduation this year, the class of 1968. Fortunately, the class threw open its invitation to other St. Joseph’s alumni, and five of my classmates from the high school class of 1966 attended to mark our 52nd anniversary. [What a thought!]
St. Joseph’s Seminary was a boarding school containing a high school and a junior college. It was erected in 1904 in the railroad town of Callicoon, New York, overlooking the busy Erie-Lackawanna Railroad line and the Delaware River from its high perch on a mount originally known as Aroma Hill, due to the swampy terrain at the base. The arrival of Franciscan seminarians in 1904 did not appreciably improve the aroma. As a seventh-grader in Buffalo in 1961 I applied to both the Franciscan Seminary in Callicoon, about 300 miles distant, and the “Little Seminary” in Buffalo, a diocesan day-school for future priests. My mother had strong devotion to St. Francis and considerable weight in my decision to attend St. Joseph’s. I was not too thrilled about leaving home at 14, but the Buffalo seminary was in a rough neighborhood, as they used to say. A quirky note: I boarded the train for Callicoon literally the day after my family sold my childhood homestead. No going back. “Ground control to Major Tom….”
The original photo of my class, taken September 9, 1962, shows 75 awkward freshmen in our black suits. Of that original class, I believe about a half dozen of us finished the full twelve-year course to ordination, studying in Callicoon and later Washington, D.C. From a cost-effective standpoint, minor or high school seminaries were not exactly blue-chip investments, which is why there are virtually none in the United States today. Callicoon closed its doors around 1973 and was eventually sold to the federal government which operates the plant today as a job training center. We were invited to tour the old seminary grounds on Saturday.
You might be wondering about the rationale behind a boarding school seminary in a very rural setting. I have a love-hate retrospective of my six years on Aroma Hill, about 110 miles northwest of New York City and a day-long train ride from my [new] family home. During my high school years, we were permitted two weeks home at Christmas and two months in summer. Short trips home for Thanksgiving and Easter were gradually introduced later.The word seminary comes from the Latin semen, “seed.” [Don’t worry, you are not the first reader to smile at that etymology.] Seminaries were viewed as “little green houses” where young men were snatched from the world to be nurtured and protected so that the seed of the priestly vocation could be brought to fruition. What we were protected from specifically was girls, and more generally, from healthy feminine influence. The older I get, the more I realize what a loss that was to my life. Equally, I regret that the decision to leave home at that young age probably cost me closer contact with my family today. I would never send a son to a minor seminary, though as I noted, one would be hard pressed to find one today.
The year I entered, 1962, was the high-water mark for St. Joseph’s in terms of attendance. I believe that between the four-year high school and the two-year junior college, attendance totaled about 250 students, which included servicemen and graduates from other colleges who joined the seminary’s college department to gain facility with Latin and Greek. During each year of my high school matriculation the entering classes were smaller and in 1969 the college program was relocated entirely, incorporated into Siena College. [My class was the last in the province to obtain college degrees at Catholic University in Washington.] About 1968 the formation programs for Franciscan priest and brother candidates of my province, the Eastern Seaboard, began a unification process which offered more options. But as was typical across America, fewer and fewer young men entered our order, and the mean age of new candidates by the 1970’s was much older than it was in 1962.
Those of us who entered in 1962 can truly say we began our priestly education before Vatican II, as the Council convened about a month after we did, along with the Cuban Missile Crisis, I might add, which was one of the few times I was happy to be far away from civilization should the bombs start to fall. The school I entered was strict, traditional, and clerical, the first leg of a twelve-year marathon. There is some consensus that the “prefect of discipline” and the rector were, to put it kindly, mildly deficient in matters of humanity and fostered a cold and somewhat neurotic exercise of authority that simply did not belong in a seminary, let alone a Franciscan one. [I need to add for the record, though, that we had no problems resembling those of Cardinal McCarrick’s seminary during my time at Callicoon.] There was great relief in my junior year when a much-respected teacher and sports coach, Father Brennan Connelly, O.F.M., was promoted to the position of prefect or senior disciplinarian, i.e., day-to-day manager of our lives. He was strict but eminently fair and unbiased in his judgments about us, big and small. An athlete himself, his sandals always squeaked, giving us a little heads up to break up a card game during study hours. He ran a fair ship during my last four years on the hill. Callicoon was now livable if not exactly loveable.
What I took away from six years at St. Joseph’s was the camaraderie of my own classmates, several of whom I would identify as my closest friends to this day. The physical proximity and shared experiences probably had something to do with that, but I believe that our love of sports and rock and roll, coupled with common frustrations with academics and the regimented life, bonded us in ways that gave us an inkling about friendship and tolerance, and we developed an eye for the funny things, of which there were a great many. I had never experienced the minor seminary as a particularly spiritual environment, strange as that may seem. We had many devotions, daily Mass and rosary, weekly confession and the like, but my circle had something of an uneasiness about excessive shows of piety by any peer.
On the other hand, at the reunion Mass on Saturday, several alumni, particularly laymen who left priestly studies to follow other calls, shared that their time in Callicoon had been a period of religious awakening that has endured to this day. I was very pleased to hear that, and it reminded me that my memories of St. Joseph’s are just that, mine, and cannot be taken as a generalization for the whole. Our three days together gave me an opportunity to hear the experiences of my own classmates and the larger class which had invited us. The next post will look at the Boys of Aroma Hill as they were then and as they are today. I will use the Sunday stream of the Café for several reflections along these lines.
On the Catechist Café Facebook site, I will post several photos from the reunion, at least the ones that flatter me.
For about a week now I have been giving considerable thought to how to summarize our month-long overview of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and how to apply it to Church life—our communities, and particularly to ourselves. Writing such a response has proven to be much more difficult that I could have imagined. In the first instance, the original investigation became attached, like it or not, to the scandal of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and to continuing investigations in other dioceses and states. This leads me to think we are enveloped in a long period of self-reflection on a number of questions, not just the matter of protecting youth but also the matter of “Quis custodes custodiat” or “who will shepherd the shepherds?”
Such matters will be an ongoing discussion of Church life for a long time. I have heard, as have you, that many people believe homosexuality is at the heart of the abuse question. The “greying and gaying” of Catholic clergy is a reality, but there is no correlation of sexual preference to child abuse. The issue of celibacy is another matter thought to cause clerics to abuse children, that allowing priests to marry would make the problem go away. The irony of this argument is that the clear majority of abusers are in fact married men. [One of my professors at Rollins College years ago quipped that “incest occurs in the home with the best lawn on the block.”] Yet another matter of discussion is the need for women priests, that the abuse crisis would never have occurred or will never again occur if women had been considered as candidates for Holy Orders.
Everything I have cited above—the immediate searches for solutions to situations such as Pennsylvania’s—are important issues in their own right and bear honest, frank, and charitable discussion, but not in direct consequence to U.S. child abuse in the 21st century of the Catholic Church. The 2011 John Jay Study and a very recent CARA study concur that in the present-day, abuse of children in Catholic settings is virtually zero. The dynamic of homosexual candidates and ordained ministers needs examination: the challenge of homosexual males and females in same-sex intimate living conditions such as seminaries, monasteries, convents and rectories are no trifle. It is hard for both homosexual and straight clergy, and it is hard for lay Catholics who live in homophobic times. But these are issues of adults and do not bear upon the immediate discussion of protecting the young.
Similarly, the issue of priestly celibacy—which seems to be reckoned, rightly or wrongly, as a panacea for many ills in the Church—is much more complicated than it appears. A married priest with a family will be less available to his parish than in our present time, and his housing and compensation must be greater than what we presently pay our clergy. Among Protestant clergy I have treated, their wives often resent the congregation’s expectation that they serve as full-time, uncompensated workers in the administration of the church.
The question of women’s ordination is even more complicated. There is the sacramental theology question of whether a woman can assume the sacramental sign of Jesus Christ in the celebration of Mass. For nearly all our history the predominant answer has been no. But this answer has been handed down by a male hierarchy. A less complicated part of the discussion involves the rights of women—particularly women religious—to shape policy in the Church, particularly as it applies to them. The sacramental optics of episcopal synods and Vatican task forces [all male] discussing the role of women in the Church—as if women are not already Baptized equals in the Church—is very odd and to me, anyway, insulting.
We have all been through a lot this summer, and having grieved for several weeks now, I can finally bring myself to look constructively at ways we can move ahead and exemplify the holiness of the Body of Christ. The first point is to come to understanding that in the final analysis it is our personal response and connectedness to Jesus Christ upon which salvation rests. By fortunate coincidence I had been studying Martin Luther earlier in the summer, and I came to see that Luther, who was so demoralized and broken by the corruption of Church leaders, including the popes of his lifetime, came to a rebirth in his study of St. Paul where he came to appreciate God’s gift of saving justification. I have heard of people leaving the Church this summer, and at times I wondered what I was doing here, too. But Church leaders and sinful deeds are separate from the real Church of those who seek Jesus Christ. Like Luther, our personal reformation is to return to our roots and draw the holy bible closer to ourselves than we have ever done before.
The second need is for a Church where membership is a matter of learning and activism. Here is where Catechetics enters the picture. We need a better sense of our history, our ecclesiology [the nature of the Church], and the power conferred upon us by the sacraments of initiation [Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist] to ensure that our understanding of what Church life needs to be is thorough and correct. I feel bad[TB1] ly saying this, but despite their usefulness in local matters, church bulletins and diocesan papers rarely venture into the penetrating insight of the Catholic press and the raft of excellent theological works that have come forth in the 21st century. I address myself particularly to those with college and advanced degrees, CEO’s, skilled professionals, and those immersed in catholic [small “c”] reading. This is an area where the Café can be much more helpful in its publicizing of Catholic media, advanced religious studies, and major publishers.
A well-informed Catholic becomes by nature an active Catholic who feels responsibility for not just his or her parish’s social outreach, but also for its public face and effective management. Certainly, one of the factors in the child abuse crisis was the sense among many of the faithful that the issues involved bishops and police. Even before 2002 Catholic writers such as Jason Berry, Richard Sipe, and Thomas Doyle were documenting and publishing cases of clerical child abuse and the cover-up by many bishops, but few Catholics of my acquaintance search out best selling works of theology and Church life. Sadly, the Catholic ministry in the United States has been crippled by the expense of billions of dollars for damages inflicted by Church personnel, so the crisis is our crisis, too, not simply the victims’ and their families. We need to familiarize ourselves with matters of admission to seminaries, for example, as well as the quality of religious education in our parishes and the public statements of our bishops.
An educated and forthright congregation—at the parish and diocesan levels—needs to address what all the various investigations have discovered—the danger of clericalism. I can only describe clericalism as an occupational hazard of the clerical life, hubris. When a man is trained to believed that he is ontologically different, as the Catechism puts it, set aside and above all other humans in his very essence as an ordained priest or bishop, it takes a mighty soul to maintain a humility in which a priest lives and works elbow to elbow with all the baptized in his community. One of the best ways to sanctify the Church is to learn enough about its nature that one can intelligently talk to his or her pastor or bishop about ways and means to enrich the life of the Church as well as those circumstances that need correction and constructive criticism.
I feel better. Not great, but better, and I look forward to resuming the educational routine of the Café that I, with you, may continue to meet the Christ of the Bible and make holy his Church.
I promised that the next post would examine the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s 2011 study, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States 1950-2010,” henceforth JJS. This study was commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] in 2002 at the time the Dallas Charter was written, the present guidelines for safe practices in Catholic dioceses across the country.
The JJS is a true research study produced for analysis and policy making. It was not intended as a narrative per se, and I included the link primarily for the historically curious, mental health professionals, and those in any field who might find such a study useful in his or her field. If you do tackle the document, remind yourself that its researchers are criminal justice professionals and not theologians. [John Jay College is not a religiously affiliated institution.] The study was commissioned to examine a crime, so to speak, and it can only go so far as its discipline and evidence permits in its treatment of how Catholic faith and practice impacted the events of the twentieth century, but it cannot ignore Catholic teachings and practice, either.
Rather than make you slaves of my sole reactions to the report, I have included links to several commentaries on the study which are written for the public. The first is the USCCB’s own public statement on the reception of the document. If you search the “deep net” you will find considerable speculation that the USCCB edited certain portions of the report for its own varied reasons, most famously by stretching the use of the term ephebophilia to include younger children and thus, technically speaking, both reducing the number of clinical victims of pedophilia and making this crisis more of an issue of homosexuality, men preying on pubescent-age boys. I understand the thinking behind that in this regard: The Cardinal McCarrick debacle has made it “respectable,” so to speak, to publicly discuss an issue that has simmered just below the surface for years, the large number of homosexual clergy and its impact upon the Church as a whole.
Since the homosexuality question is now part of the public discussion since the summer, I included a link to the controversial President of the Catholic League, William A. Donohue, in which he argues in 2012, straightforwardly, that there is direct cause and effect between the abuse crisis and homosexual clerics that the JJS softened or ignored altogether. I post this with no pleasure, but because I think many Catholics privately agree or sympathize with his line of thinking. Along these lines, the Catechism, in its treatment of homosexuality is not particularly helpful. [Para. 2357: “Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.”] This confuses actions with orientation; there are many devoted and celibate homosexual men and women serving dioceses and religious orders. A homosexual does not sin by a same-sex orientation. I do not agree with Church pronouncements that same-sex inclination [not behavior] is “intrinsically disordered.” We honestly don’t know God’s intentions and there is no independent evidence to make assertions as recent Catholic teaching instruments evidently feel free to do.
Perhaps the best critique of the JJS, and probably the one worth the investment of time is Mary Gail Frawley O’Dea’s 2011 analysis, “The John Jay Study: What it is and what it isn't” from National Catholic Reporter. O’Dea’s analysis is critical in the right places and is eminently readable with a minimum of obscure language, the same kind of crisp composition found in the Pennsylvania Report. If you read this account, take a piece of paper and write down how you think the author would have rewritten her treatment in September 2018! Remember, the JJS was released seven years before the Pennsylvania investigation findings.
The JJS cautions in its opening sections that this study is historical in nature. If the year 1950 is the opening benchmark, the crimes of perpetrators involve priests ordained as far back as 1925. A competent study would need to examine the seminary training and screening of candidates dating back at least to World War II and examine the seminary emphases as they have evolved into the twenty-first century. The study details this evolution very well, noting the pre-Vatican II seminary treatment of celibacy as something of a marine-like steely self-control, through the post-Council’s emphasis upon celibacy as a freeing up of one’s self from relational obligations in order to best serve the people of God, to the 1980’s emphasis—introduced by Pope John Paul II—of the healthy integration of spirit and body, in his famous “Theology of the Body” talks and his 1992 instruction Pastores vobis dabo [“I will give you shepherds”] on priestly formation in seminaries.
The study focuses attention upon those who fall into grave crimes against children against the backdrop of their training and external influences. Here the JJS runs into the logjam of a variety of causes which still bedevil the mental health community, from the Freudian model of grossly underdeveloped ego—an insecure adult whose dysfunctions lead him to avoid other adults and consort with children with no particular preferences for boys or girls—to the “CSI” description of pedophilia as a “crime of opportunity.” The Pennsylvania report and dozens upon dozens of case files speak of “grooming behavior” and “working one’s way into a family,” particularly a vulnerable one where the dad is absent, for example. This sounds much more premeditated and requires cunning and skill—the kinds of things I would expect from an individual with antisocial personality disorder. Unraveling a clearer diagnostic picture would help the Church and society, but I can’t see where we are closer to this now than we were in the 1980’s when I researched the subject at Rollins College.
One of the hypotheses of the JJS is the impact of American secular society after 1960. A graph of abuse reports will show a rapid rise in incidents of clerical abuse beginning in the 1960’s and peaking in the early 1980’s, declining significantly thereafter. The JJS notes that the Catholic problem correlates to other factors that jumped significantly in the 1960’s: crime, drug use, and divorce, along with greater tolerance for what had been taboos in American life, such as premarital sex and homosexuality. The Woodstock Festival, a “pharmaceutical event” as the late Senator John McCain humorously referred to the1969 concert, would never have taken place in 1959.
Researchers of clerical child abuse find 1970 to be the “ground zero” time of the abuse crisis. Priests ordained in this calendar year have the highest incidence of credibly reported abuse claims. In its own reporting The New York Times and other publications would refer to the relaxation of 1960’s moral concerns reported in the JJS as the “Woodstock Syndrome.” However, I saw little in the report addressing the drastic changes in seminary discipline in the direction of “relaxing the rules.” I was a student in a major seminary from 1969-1974; the seminary I left in 1974 was a much different place from what I entered in 1969. From my own experience I would have to say that there is something to the theory that societal changes in the 1960’s impacted seminarians and priests, but there are no precise markers except for one: a massive exodus of seminarians and priests.
O’Dea’s essay in the National Catholic Reporter cited above enumerates the many conclusions and recommendations of the JJS study and highlights and/or critiques all its major conclusions far better than I can in this limited space. Rereading O’Dea’s opus does explain one key question: why has the JJS enjoyed so little attention in the seven years since its study? One possibility is that the data available to researchers was screened beforehand, perhaps not systematically but with an eye to reducing public outrage. The fact that the Pennsylvania Report of 2018 was ‘so shocking to the Catholic psyche was the standing of its investigators as employees of the state’s justice system and independent jurors with subpoena power. In other words, outsiders. The USCCB paid $1.8 million for a 2011 report that gave cover for many church leaders to yell “barracuda” when they should have been yelling “shark.”
On My Mind