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How To Groom Tame Priests

Baby, it's cold inside (Ray Bond/Shutterstock)

While Father Jim Martin is in Ireland calling out the real villains among today’s Catholic clergy — “homophobic” pastors —  Father Athanasius Fornwalt takes to the pages of Crisis to write about the enervating effects of homosexualized seminary culture on straight men. Excerpts:

The confusion begins when you meet an effeminate classmate. The effeminate tendencies in this classmate may be easily ignored at first. You think, “young men are not always fully formed.” They just haven’t developed strong masculine traits. Thus, you accept it as a normal happening in humanity and presume that these traits will be charitably formed by the seminary community into strong masculine traits that befit a father.

But this observation changes once you notice one, two, or maybe most of the priest on the faculty or formation staff also have effeminate traits. These traits manifest as constant and oftentimes public sarcasm which then devolves into private gossip, maybe personal secrets. Many times, you don’t know why you’re being told certain stories and you don’t want to respond to gossip or sarcasm, but you realize that this is the common language of the seminary and so, to get along, to be a well-integrated member of your new society, you learn the language despite the knowledge, by faith and reason, that gossip and sarcasm is an abnormal way to interact in society (Col. 3:8).

Notice that this tone-setting for the seminary’s culture is happening even if there is not sexual activity. More:

Imagine the seminarian’s sense of loneliness. Without a strong moral unity, it is difficult for anyone to develop healthy emotional bonds. He may have a small group of like-minded, heterosexual friends and this can be some consolation. Yet, rather than feeling like a band of brothers preparing for battle, the group forms a bunker mentality. Some become blind with rage, others are complicit in other immoral behavior with the deviant society. But most men are dazed and confused or blissfully naïve. These men can very easily become a “smokescreen” to the public gaze on the seminary because of their sincere excitement for the pure gospel. These same heterosexual seminarians will be groomed to be enablers to the broken society. For these men are formed to live as if tolerance is the premier Christian virtue. We must tolerate sinful behavior and support those who engage in it because “who are we to judge.”

The moment comes for most of these good men when they are tempted to compromise their personal integrity and values. They hear a story, they see some impropriety, they are propositioned for sex. The question is whether to blow the whistle or not, to tell an authority or not. Those who are wise realize that everything may be on the line. If they give in to temptation they will be blackmailed for life.


Thus, the primary moral formation that a heterosexual young adult male, as described in the above parable, is one of strict silence and passive complicity regarding sexual deviancy. They distrust authority. They fear for their future. They do not know who is friend and who is foe. Their development is arrested and even the best priests run the risk of being, as C.S. Lewis says, “men without chests.” While they may become nice pastors and reliable administrators, they remain in shock. They are frozen.

Many priests were formed in an ice box that was so empty of real, human, chaste love that we have become suspicious of the sun. The spiritual vacuum of the homosexual subculture has left our clergy so bone-chillingly cold that virtues like courage, boldness, and truthfulness, once so joyfully demonstrated by the Acts of the Apostles, are very hard for many to summon. For the rest, they are complicit or they are still in Plato’s allegorical cave (and likewise they are afraid of the sun). When the faithful rightfully ask the good priests and bishops to stand up and speak out they may be confounded as to why so few actually do. Why do they remain silent? Arrest. Confusion. They are frozen.

Read the whole thing.  It’s important. The reader who sent it to me said that’s exactly what seminary life was like for him.

Was it like that for you? If not, why not?

UPDATE: A Catholic parish priest writes in with the following, which he gives me permission to share with you:

The phenomenon is not limited to a homosexual subculture that may exist in a seminary, but has included in recent decades heterodox theology and “experimental” liturgical practices (in fact, it could exist, and has, in an orthodox or liturgically traditional seminary). Its roots are not in sexuality, but in a dysfunctional response to authority, to “power structures,” that produce the “go along to get along” or “company man” mentality common to many, usually heterosexual, organizations. The result is formation in the sort of dysfunctional system that has broken many once mighty institutions, like General Motors and Chrysler.

In the seminary, the foundation of the dynamic is the lack of trust in Providence and in doing the right thing. Seminarians are preparing for ordination and for many that goal can become an idol, a trap that distorts human development. Rather than learning to respond to the errors, immoralities, and dysfunctions they encounter with resolve and prudence, trusting that if God wishes them to be ordained then they will be ordained, they become passive and calculating, like mice in a laboratory experiment adapting to get the reward they desire from their ecclesiastical superiors. In short, they practice serving men rather than God.

The dysfunctional maze of a distorted seminary is designed to promote the interests of its board and/or the faculty. It is shaped by whatever tools are chosen to promote (or at least not threaten) their power or by dynamics among the students that go unchecked: sexuality, heterodoxy, orthodoxy, liturgical sensibilities, cult of personality, etc.  Tragically, because the faculty and spiritual directors chosen to serve in a particular seminary often suffer from similar dysfunctions, the young men have little guidance or modelling for dealing with the dysfunction in a healthy way.

These seminarians mistakenly believe that ordination will free them from the dysfunctional trap. The truth is more complicated and compromising. Having suppressed the development of fortitude and prudence in seminary, they have not learned how to patiently and resolutely deal with peers and superiors who are messed up. Thus, they do not know how to deal with the conflicts they will inevitably face with parishioners, brother priests, and bishops.

One path they might follow upon attaining their goal is that, free of the fear of being “denied ordination,” their passivity and calculation (and pent up anger/frustration) now manifest themselves in tyranny of their subordinates, isolation from fellow priests, and hostility to the bishop. They are free to impose their will on others. They will never be “bossed” by anyone again.

The other, far more common, path is that they discover they are not free. There is a new idol that has replaced ordination: preferment. There are parishes, chancery offices, or educational opportunities that they desire. So they continue playing the game. Their governance of the parish imitates that of the seminary and many chanceries: unwritten rules, passive-aggressive tactics, fake dialogue, “councils” whose only purpose is to parrot the wishes of the pastor, etc.

When such priests become bishops, it all continues. Tyranny, passive-aggression, or combinations of both. That is because this is the sort of men they have become–and because even bishops can desire to be advanced and therefore find themselves still playing the game.

Crucial in the present moment is to recognize this dysfunctional formation can be shaped by an expressed in many forms, not just a homosexual subculture. If we want a more Christian, healthy, and effective exercise of pastoral authority in the Church, we must deal with all forms of dysfunction. Otherwise, those desiring to preserve their dysfunctional hold on “power” will cloak themselves in whatever form we insist will save us (in the present case, that could be heterosexuality, orthodoxy, or traditional piety). For dysfunction and sin will abuse and distort everything they touch.

Failure to grasp this fact will condemn us to repeat the bishops’ error in 2002. They narrowly focused on “child abuse.” Focusing on a “homosexual subculture” will move us farther along the path of purification, but not nearly far enough. We must go after all the vices that promote the “complacency” that reduces laity, clergy and bishops to “go along to get along” Christians.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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