Friday, January 20, 2012

The Seminary, Part 2

Again, the reason why I haven't remarked much upon this episode from my life is that I just thought it was a strange and unedifying thing. But maybe that was me taking life too seriously.


The first thing people want to know is about the homosexual stuff, and, as I said, sure it was there, but I had no idea at the time! I was 20, naive and idealistic. Nor am I now given to hearsay. I am a scholar, at least that is my aspiration. Proof requires a bit more than someone once said something that I want in some way to be true because I like a good story.

I'll never forget the time I had two Legionaries visiting me at my parents' house the summer after my stint at St. Peter's Seminary - a LC priest with one of their seminarian. Keep in mind that my father was a non-believer and my mother Protestant. What I'll never forget is the seemingly thunderous voice of the seminarian when he asked whether there was any homosexual activity there. What did my parents make of that!?

My answer to him was just what I said in my previous post: apparently, but I have no idea.

If there is one thing priest-wanna-bes like it's a good story, and so I've heard a lot about what happened that year there after the fact. How much stock can you put in that sort of thing?

Seminaries in the 20th / 21st Century

Even being a young fellow and big into the 'idea of obedience', it yet struck me that the seminary was a dysfunctional place, a breeding ground for immaturity. The seminarians were frequently quite immature and yet the system seemed to be set up to keep that so. I'm not quite sure what the problem was - perhaps rules that were insulting because they existed. They seemed more like vestiges of a much older and outdated conception. Things like 'no dancing' and 'no jeans.' For my part, I hated dancing (still do) and didn't own a pair of jeans, so my point is not that they were cramping my style. My point is that you can't have rules like that for adults. It's insulting. This rule-bound mentality was just the thing to form a new priest into thinking he should have a bunch of rules for his parish, that he should treat his parishioners like they are a bunch of medieval serfs. If someone is not living a life in keeping with the priesthood, well, you should get them to leave. Maybe I'm being idealistic. I had no problem with the rules; I aspired to be a saint, but they do not strike me as contributing to the formation of mature, self-starters.

The problem with the seminary is, and probably has always been, that it can't make up it's mind what the monastic setting contributes to the formation of a priest who will certainly not experience his priesthood in such a setting. If it contributes something essential to holiness of life, then certainly this should be extended on into parochial life - as in the case of the Companions of the Cross, for instance. If it does not, then scrap it. A few years in an artificial environment can only serve to distort the yong man's expectations.

When I decided that God was not calling me to priestly / religious life I yet had a very strong desire to one day teach in a seminary - perhaps some day I will! I would like that very much. I like priests. I have a very warm place in my heart for them. Like I used to say to Fr. (now Archbishop) Currie, "I have a ministry to priests." Sure, it was a funny thing to say, but I feel very attached and sympathetic towards priets because I know them: I know what they have to go through. I lived with priests in the seminary for a year and then another two years in the cathedral rectory in Halifax, and, as you know, count as one of my dearest friends, nay, my father in faith, Archbishop Prendergast. I don't, however, look up to priests, as many of the faithful do. Rather, I love priests, as my brothers and as my fathers. I suppose some day I shall also look upon them as my sons.

Seminarians vs. Faculty and Staff

What I discovered only after having become a teacher myself in a traditional setting is that students can sometimes be judgmental without having the theological wherewithal to know when the teacher is actually offtrack. So they attack perfectly orthodox positions because they seem heterodox. In actuality they are nothing more than unfamiliar to the student. Been there done that. All the time!

Anyway, it has been observed that there is a real cultural divide in seminaries between the 'JPII Generation' seminarians and the 'Spirit of Vatican II' faculty. That was the case in my seminary, big time. We were then still in what I would call "the days of confusion," when people were very hard pressed to give an actually convincing account of the faith, since so much weight was being placed on the exceptions to the rules rather than the rules themselves. There wasn't a lot of papal intervention to point to in those days. John XIII and Paul VI didn't exactly write a lot of dogmatic stuff, as would JPII and B XVI in time. The theological paradigm was that of contrast between the old texts of Vatican I and Pius IX and the new texts of Vatican II. If there was such a strong contrast between these, what was stopping one from concluding that so very much more was up for debate too? This has been called the hermeneutic of discontinuity, which conflicts with what BXVI has always insisted upon - the hermeneutic of continuity.

Those were dark days, when things like Veritatis Splendor were just starting to appear. But the theological innovators were far too entrenched; they had at least a 20 year headstart. So in the seminary we had a well-educated 'proportionalist' (he is still there, as far as I know). We had at least one, but arguable two, theological buffoons, which, in looking back on now with all this additional education I have amassed since then I can confirm was the case. They didn't know theology to save their lives, and had no right to teach in a secondary educational setting. Although there were a lot more overtly heretical things said, the one I found the most hurtful was when in "Church History," the prof said that if St. Francis could not convert the Muslims he would have them killed. St. Francis was my dearest hero in those days. Alas.

The atmosphere was general tense and unhealthy because of this cultural divide. I remember asking a prof to explain his position on ectopic pregnancy (which was perfectly orthodox). He took this to be an attack. I never did get a good explanation from him. But with a little heresy all things are thrown into suspicion. Anyway, it was a terrible learning environment. Hopefully they've fixed it since then.

This seemed scattered. I'll have to tidy up my thinking with a part trois.

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