Seeds Of Faith, Weeds Of Faith
This morning I went through a tunnel beneath a hidden basement inside an ordinary suburban home in Bratislava, and emerged in a tiny, airless room where committed Catholics published samizdat religious literature for years under communism, risking imprisonment sheerly out of love of Jesus Christ. I’m going to write more about it later. It was one of the more profound experiences of my life. My guide was a historian who, as a student, worked with the underground church distributing samizdat. The stories he told me about what he and his comrades did are things you read about in books (and, you’ll read about it in my next one). The faith and the courage of these Slovak Catholics takes one’s breath away.
Then I had lunch with two other underground church leaders. After lunch, one of them took me to the apartment of John Chrysostom Korec, a deceased (2015) Jesuit priest who was a bishop of the underground church. I’ll save the stories for a separate post, but this bishop spent years in prison, then was released to a life of manual labor. He faced constant harassment by the secret police, who tried to assassinate him four times. His life was one of heroic commitment and leadership. People came to his apartment all the time seeking spiritual guidance. In 1991, two years after communism’s fall, John Paul II named him a cardinal. One day, Cardinal Korec will surely be canonized.
My host, Frantisek Miklosko, told me of a time when he was walking with Bishop Korec once when the secret police stopped them and ordered him to get in the car. Korec refused. They tried to force him, but he extended his arms against the car frame and wouldn’t budge. The secret police went away. No underground church bishop was arrested that day. My host saw it all happen with his own eyes.
Just you wait until I post about the things I learned from the Slovak Catholics I interviewed today. I can hardly begin to tell you how much hope their testimonies give me. This is what it means to be a Christian!
I say all this because I came back to my hotel room just now and saw that a friend had sent this story from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, NY. It would have been appalling had I not just come back from a day spent around people who were witnesses to real Christian heroism (and though they would deny it out of humility, were Christian heroes themselves). But my God, what a contrast. Excerpts:
The Diocese of Buffalo suspended three Hamburg priests last week for what it called “unsuitable, inappropriate and insensitive conversations” during a party with seminarians at a church rectory.
Diocesan leaders gave no details about what the priests actually said, leading to widespread speculation and criticism from parishioners and other priests.
But 7 Eyewitness News has exclusively obtained a written account the seminarians gave to their superiors at the seminary, and many of the graphic details are even too sexually explicit to air on television.
“These guys are terribly corrupt,” said one employee of the seminary, who spoke to 7 Eyewitness News. “What happened was disgusting. Absolutely repulsive.” The employee asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.
According to the document, Rev. Art Mattulke of SS. Peter and Paul Church in Hamburg — told one seminarian he heard the young man’s parents having sex on a retreat, going into detail about how the “father was really giving it to his mother.”
Mattulke “is a designated spiritual director appointed by Christ the King Seminary for seminarians,” the document states. “Several seminarians expressed concerns about this.”
Other conversations involving the three suspended priests — Mattulke, Rev. Bob Orlowski and Rev. Patrick O’Keefe — reportedly included talk of “a priest who taught at the seminary and used to go to truck stops to give oral sex.”
The priest allegedly compared the sexual acts to a Catholic sacrament.
The three suspended priests did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Here is part of a transcript of the station’s interview with two other priests, Father Zielenieski and Father Webster, who were disciplined by the bishop for being present at the discussion and not doing more to stop it:
REPORTER: “There’s gonna be people out there who are gonna look at this and say, jeez, what kind of stuff is happening on our seminary in this diocese? What would you say to that?”
ZIELENIESKI: “Formation…that’s what’s happening in our seminary in our diocese. The seminary has a task, and it’s a difficult task. It’s a task of taking men who have responded to the call and helping them to discern how is that Holy Spirit bringing them to the point of ordination.”
WEBSTER: “We were just trying to be authentic and share ourselves, and so do the people of God try to be authentic and they need counsel and spiritual guidance and they’re messy situations.”
Seeing this after the kind of day I spent with heroes of the faith makes for a vivid illustration of Christ’s Parable of the Wheat And the Tares.
Here’s an important detail: this all came to light because some brave seminarians decided that they weren’t going to sit back and take this garbage from these morally corrupt priests. God bless those brave men. They are learning an important lesson in courage, and what it takes to defend the faith from jackals within. The fact that there were seminarians who spoke out is a sign of hope! (But: How can parishioners of these three suspended priests ever take a word they say seriously again?)
Both of these stories about the Church — the stories of the saints, and the story of the great sinners — tell us something about the nature of Christians, and Christian communities. If you only choose to believe one without the other, you are choosing to believe a preferred narrative, not the whole truth.
UPDATE: A reader who is a former priest (I know his identity; he really is a former priest) writes:
I attended seminary in the 90s at a more conservative seminary, found out later that the faculty offered “rewards” for joining in their socializing and banter and more. A peer of mine went to a faculty member for help in a class, was pressured into sex, and then found he passed the class. When he became a priest, he found out that “everywhere” he went there was a network of priests with influence…if he gave them physically what they wanted, they took care of him with money, good assignments, overlooking any complaints about him, etc. THIS REALLY HAPPENS and most lay people and even many good priests are in complete denial in my experience. I did not know about this directly until after ordination because I was/am not gay and was fairly naive. But I did have a vocation director who propositioned seminarians and made it pretty clear that those who did his bidding got money, favors, promotion, etc.
The bishop in Buffalo can discipline these priests because they got exposed, but what people may not realize is that the future path of the seminarians who have blown the whistle is doomed…there will be subtle and not-so-subtle reprisals from all the priests who are inside the network of influence that put these men in charge of seminary formation to begin with.
My good friend from seminary was a young newly ordained priest – let’s call him “Fr. X” – when he went to confession to a respected older priest of his diocese. After confession, the priest propositioned Fr. X. Fr. X, shocked and angered, went to the bishop to report what happened, thinking that the bishop would also be outraged. The bishop reprimanded Fr. X for squealing, essentially saying that if this was between adults it was not his concern, he is not the babysitter for the priests. A short time later, a trumped up charge of misconduct was brought against Fr. X. He was taken out of ministry and told to go to Saint Luke’s, a corrupt gay-run “treatment center” for priests. Fr. X found a canon lawyer to advise him, the canon lawyer told him to go to Saint Luke’s and cooperate with everything being asked of him. Fr. X was strung along by Saint Luke’s, had his stay extended, kept doing everything he was told to do because he sincerely wanted to return to ministry. Then at the end Saint Luke’s gave him a formal evaluation saying that Fr. X was not fit for ministry. THEN Fr. X found out that his canon lawyer had been close friends with his bishop in the seminary…the whole process was a set up! Now Fr. X has a negative evaluation and has been out of ministry for several years, writes his bishop and gets no reply, is living with a relative in isolation and has absolutely no recourse – all because he dared to report a homosexual predator of influence who clearly enjoys the bishop’s favor. THIS STUFF REALLY HAPPENS.
The laity are being taken for a ride by bishops who hope that the teeny tiny bit of information that has thus far leaked out will be all that gets out. Buffalo is your diocese too, wherever you may live. The problem is that laity don’t want to wrap their heads around how unfathomably filthy it really is. Your seminary and your diocesan structure very likely has the same sort of dynamic going on, even if the priests are more prudent and careful than these ones in Buffalo who had the party.
Rod, please keep giving people a forum to talk about this. We need it desperately.
In related news, the seminary is now investigating to try to find out which traitor seminarians ratted out these corrupt priests. Well, well, well, it’s useful to know that the seminary leadership has its priorities, um, straight.