A Questionable Look at the State of U.S. Seminaries
In A Nutshell
In Goodbye, Good Men, author Michael Rose exposes the gross abuses that have been taking place in American seminaries and diocesan vocation offices for the past thirty-plus years. Rose spent two years researching his book, interviewing some 125 seminarians representing fifty dioceses, and Goodbye, Good Men came to press just as stories of sexual misconduct perpetrated by American priests began filling the secular news. Though his book sheds light on these allegations, Rose did not set out to explain the crisis of sexual misconduct among Catholic priests. Rather, this book is an exposé of a broader and more profound spiritual problem. It reveals a devastating portrait of Catholic seminaries from 1960 to 1990 in which homosexual promiscuity is rampant and even encouraged, where dissident authors and heterodox textbooks are required reading, and where seminarians who support the Church’s teachings are persecuted in unthinkable ways. Rose details these and other horrors with the hope that exposure might encourage reform. Many orthodox Catholics have been yearning for a book like this one—a book that offers some explanation, however ugly the truth may be, for their long-suffered frustrations with the Catholic Church in America.
The question is, does Goodbye, Good Men tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Some believe not. Michael Rose has taken a good deal of heat from several orthodox Catholic publications, to date: Culture Wars, National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and Crisis magazine. While the gravity of the charges varies in each circumstance, each of these publications takes issue with the journalistic integrity of Goodbye, Good Men. While it is impossible to follow the back-and-forth banter over who has the story straight, it is safe to say that any book that contains grave allegations against anyone ought to be unassailable, especially so if those allegations are leveled against Catholic priests and seminarians. Good Bye, Good Men is not so unassailable. Unfortunately, Michael Rose uses anonymous sources rather extensively throughout his book, and appears not to have checked some of his facts well enough. The combination of these two weaknesses is, at the very least, dangerous. Perhaps, it could be said, Rose did not foresee the eruption of scandal and therefore could not have anticipated the scrutiny his book would receive in its wake, but this of itself does not excuse his less-than-stellar journalism.
That said, reliable sources including Fr. Stravinskas, Fr. John Neuhaus, Ralph McInerny, and many, many others believe that Goodbye, Good Men does present an accurate picture of the corruption in American seminaries, overall. Unfortunately, however true Rose’s general presentation may be, or however many stories contained in this work are true to fact, Tiber River cannot whole-heartedly endorse a book that may one day prove to have erroneously marred the reputations of individuals or institutions. Michael Rose would do well to revisit this work and remove any accounts that are doubtful in any way, as such a book could serve the Church in America well and assist her toward a much-needed reform.
Lastly, a warning is in order: there are disturbing depictions of homosexual behavior as well as pornographic textbook materials transcribed in this book. In addition, some of this material is arguably unnecessary to the book as a whole.
The thesis of Goodbye, Good Men is that the shortage of vocations to the priesthood in America is artificial and contrived. “In short,” Rose writes in the opening chapter, “the priest shortage is caused ultimately not by a lack of vocations, but by attitudes and policies that deliberately and effectively thwart true priestly vocations.” And what are these attitudes and policies? In the following chapters, Rose examines each.
Chapter two, “Stifling the Call,” documents the negative experiences of young men aspiring to the priesthood. These men were put off early in their discernment by such things as bizarre vocation retreats, liturgical abuses at the seminaries they visited, and shameful behavior among seminarians.
Chapter three, “The Gatekeeper Phenomenon,” is about the screening process that is often used at diocesan vocation offices to “weed out applicants that are perceived as ‘Old Church.’ Some seminarians tell about a mandatory psychological examination that is conducted by a professional that may or may not be Catholic or even Christian. These exams probe a candidate’s sexual and emotional history. One perspective seminarian recalls, “Many of these questions were worded in a such a way that to answer them meant there was no way around committing a sin” (pg. 32).
Chapter four is probably the most disturbing of all the chapters in this book. It documents in detail how a homosexual subculture in many American seminaries has discriminated against and persecuted healthy, heterosexual seminarians. In this chapter a shameless homosexual seminary underworld is revealed, an underworld that Andrew Greeley dubbed the “Lavender Mafia.” Allegedly, seminary faculty and staff were not only aware of the goings-on, but also abused their power in order to support and participate in the homosexual life at the seminary. The sexual and emotional abuse that is chronicled in this chapter is simply horrifying.
Chapter five continues the saga with evidence that heterodoxy has become commonplace in many seminaries. These chapters contains material evidence, provided by named persons, that many American seminaries have promoted and, in some cases, continue to promote dissent from Church teaching in required course work.
Chapter six, “Pooh-poohing Piety,” Rose considers the complaints of many seminarians that traditional observations of Catholic piety have been considered signs of psychological instability in many American seminaries.
Chapter seven, “Go See the Shrink,” documents the use of psychological examination to expel orthodox seminarians from the seminary.
Chapters eight and nine consider the many obstacles that the orthodox seminarian faces en route to ordination. These chapters follow two orthodox young men on their way to ordination and detail the many unnecessary setbacks that they had to face.
Chapter ten looks at how the problems in American seminaries have gone undetected, and chapter eleven seeks to identify the root cause of these problems; namely, a death wish for the male, celibate priesthood on the part of seminary administrations and diocesan vocation directors.
The final two chapters of this book shed the first rays of hope. They lay out the ideals of seminary life as understood by the Church and point out where these ideals are being realized and where reform is beginning to take place.
Michael Rose makes rather extensive use of anonymous sources throughout this book. Naturally, many priests and seminarians feared the negative consequences of bringing the truth to light. Since anonymity can be abused, however, a journalist needs to be especially careful to contact multiple sources in order to ensure that the story is reported correctly. If Culture Wars, National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and Crisis magazine are correct, Michael Rose did not check a sufficient number of sources in every instance, and even failed to contact some of the persons accused in his book.
One need not have over-delicate sensibilities to be disturbed by many of the accounts contained in this book. Goodbye, Good Men is simply shocking. It might also be said that some of the gruesome details Rose includes in this book are not necessary to make his more general points or give the reader an accurate impression of the situation. For this reason, and also because doubts have been cast over Rose’s journalism by credible sources, I do not recommend this book. I do hope that one day I will have the opportunity to evaluate a new, and more heavily researched edition of Goodbye, Good Men, perhaps a shorter edition, but a much stronger book overall.
You can purchase this book here.
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