In the simplified world view of former architect turned right-wing Catholic standard bearer Michael S. Rose, there is nothing so attractive as black and white. From Rose’s perspective, the precipitous decrease in seminarians in the Roman Catholic Church is the result of a wide conspiracy on the part of a cabal of dissenting liberals, gays, and disgruntled nuns wanting to break into the clerical ranks.
In Rose’s world there is no real shortage of good men wanting to be priests. It’s all “artificial and contrived” with those espousing an orthodox faith having deliberately been shut out of seminaries all over the country.
The 32-year-old writer (born at the very time the number of seminary candidates began to decline) lays out his dubious claim in a new book, Goodbye! Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church. The title is selling particularly well, the hardback edition climbing onto the New York Times extended bestseller list in late June and early July. An earlier paperback edition of 367 pages with a less provocative subtitle How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away Two Generations of Vocations From the Priesthood was published by Aquinas in April and sold out 11,000 copies within five weeks.
Rose’s book is getting more attention than it normally would—or deserves—because of its timing. It comes along at a time when the Catholic priesthood is under intense scrutiny as a result of the sexual abuse scandals and the cover-ups that have exposed bishops who are more concerned about keeping the truth from the people and sustaining a clerical culture than in protecting children.
The contention of the increasingly influential conservative wing of the Catholic Church is that the decline in priestly vocations can be laid at the feet of liberals, who they charge encouraged lax doctrinal and moral standards in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
In one chapter the author cites instances—sometimes by innuendo—of homosexual immorality that have purportedly turned some seminaries into dens of iniquity. That adds fuel to the fiery debate over whether homosexuality is related to sexual abuse of adolescents, although Rose doesn’t address that issue directly.
Rose frames his book to sustain a controversial assertion made in 1995 by Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha, who said, “...the vocations ‘crisis’ is precipitated by people who want to change the church’s agenda, by people who do not support orthodox candidates loyal to the magisterial teachings of the pope and bishops, and by people who actually discourage viable candidates from seeking priesthood and vowed religious life as the church defines these ministries.”
Rose writes that he validated Curtiss’s contention by interviewing dozens of seminarians, former seminarians, and recently ordained priests, seminary faculty, and vocations directors. Some he cites by name, others anonymously.
The “orthodox seminarians” he defines as “men who are loyal to the teachings of the church, look to the pope as their spiritual father and leader, pray the rosary, and embrace the male, celibate priesthood.” And, from all else he has written, he might have added that they are men who never question or doubt the “magisterium,” the church’s teaching authority.
These are the very men, he contends, who often found themselves considered to be by seminary gatekeepers “rigid” and “doctrinaire” and turned away. He claims the gatekeepers—vocation directors (some of whom are nuns), seminary rectors, and consulting psychologists—have been generally people who don’t fully agree with the church on a range of clearly stated positions, such as birth control, ordination of women, mandatory celibacy, and acceptance of married men as priests. In some seminaries “gay subcultures” drove good men out, he writes.
Professionals who have been tracking the downward plunge in the numbers of seminarians give Rose’s research short shrift.
“It is a right-wing explanation that falls far from the truth,” says Dr. Mary Gautier, a sociologist and senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. “It’s not an ideological problem.”
Dean Hoge of the Catholic University of America, arguably the premier researcher in the field, was more caustic. “This book is a polemic and should not be seen as reliable. There is some truth to what he said but it is very imbalanced. I will not be citing this book as a footnote anywhere.”
Rose does not estimate in his book how many “orthodox” men had been turned away or ejected from seminaries in the last two generations, but from what he wrote in an e-mail response to this reviewer’s inquiry, he said Catholics would have otherwise had double the number of priests.
“There is no way of knowing how many men were turned away or driven away by the means I discuss in my book, but from talking with priests over the past five years—as well as conducting formal interviews with priests, former seminarians, and current seminarians, I can only conclude that it is a ‘whopping number,’ probably equivalent to the number of ordinations that actually took place over the past thirty-five years. That is my ‘educated guess,’” he said.
But, as Hoge points out, there has been no discernible upswing in the last five to ten years as the seminaries have been turning out a new generation of conservative priests with attitudes more akin to those ordained before Vatican II.
The book predictably has won praise from a conservative Catholic pantheon. Less predictably, it has been severely panned for playing fast and loose with the facts in some conservative strongholds that would normally be expected to be supportive.
David Pearson, an editor with the conservative National Catholic Register, accused Rose of “slapdash.”
In the magazine Culture Wars, Rose comes in for more jabs in a review by Robert J. Johansen, a priest of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who said he “met with some of the same difficulties and obstacles faced by ‘orthodox’ seminary candidates that Rose describes in his book.”
He said he knows the testimony of one former seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, which Johansen had attended, was “a concatenation of lies, half-truths, and self-serving misrepresentations.” He said Rose accepted the claims uncritically even though he was told the former seminarian was unreliable.
Johansen said, “I know both from personal experience and that of many other priests and seminarians that many of Rose’s allegations are true. But Rose’s tendency to play fast and loose with facts, to use dubious sources, and to stick to stories which have been shown false undermines his credibility. This is unfortunate, as it only serves to obscure discussion of the real remaining weaknesses in American seminaries.”
Rose appears to revel in his role as a controversialist. The Cincinnati Enquirer said of the St. Catherine Review, a magazine he founded in 1996, “Fans call it a beacon of truth. Foes call it mean-spirited sensationalism. But almost no one calls it boring.”
He grew up in Dayton, studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati, and did graduate studies in architecture at Brown University. At Brown, he discovered that what he thought were expressions of anti-Catholicism were really coming from liberal Catholic sources.
“A lot of the virulently anti-papal and anti-Roman stuff was from the American Catholic media,” he told the Enquirer in 1999. “It’s sort of a kick in the face to find out when you’re doing research on anti-Catholicism that it’s the priests sitting next to you that are kicking all of us around. Not that they’re all like that, there’s just a certain segment of them.”
Now he has launched a new publishing venture at www.cruxnews.com, where the articles from the St. Catherine Review are archived.
Rose has written two other books, Ugly As Sin and The Renovation Manipulation, touching on unpopular remodeling of older Catholic churches and cathedrals across the country.
But liturgical abuses—experimentation with inclusive language, seminarians reading parts of the Eucharistic prayer, celebrants with no vestments, standing through the Eucharistic consecration, coffee table Masses in priests’ suites, illicit matter used for Eucharistic bread, etc.—seem to have deleterious effects far beyond offending the seminarian’s sensibilities. They speak to the heart of the orthodox man studying for the priesthood. They speak of a crisis of authority and obedience, which all too often leads the seminarian to frustration and even contempt for his superiors. Unfortunately this gets expressed in ways that are seen as “rigid” and “uncharitable.” Again, more black marks for our beleaguered young man.
—Goodbye! Good Men