Killing the Messenger
March 2005By Michael S. Rose
Michael S. Rose is author of five books including The New York Times bestseller Goodbye, Good Men. For the past two years he has been researching a book tentatively entitled The Lavender Mafia. He can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my book Goodbye, Good Men (Regnery, 2002), I investigated an intriguing thesis put forth by Archbishop Elden Curtiss. In 1995 he wrote in the pages of the Social Justice Review that orthodoxy breeds vocations, claiming that religious orders and dioceses that supported orthodox candidates to the priesthood and did not tolerate dissent from the Magisterium had documented increases in the number of candidates. My years of research on this and related topics led me to conclude that the Archbishop's remarks were sound.
One particularly robust example of this thesis, trumpeted by Archbishop Curtiss and documented in Goodbye, Good Men, was the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, known across North America during the 1990s as one of the most "conservative" dioceses (one of only two, for example, that retained the use of male-only altar servers), led by Bishop John Keating, who, by all accounts, was perceived to be an orthodox shepherd who sought the advice of faithful sons of the Church.
One of these faithful sons was Fr. James Gould, arguably the most successful vocations director in recent decades. From 1985 to 2000, this relatively small Diocese of 65 parishes (at that time) in northern Virginia produced an average of eight new priests each year. For the sake of comparison, U.S. dioceses of comparable size during the same period averaged less than one priestly ordination per year. By the year 2000, the average age of priests in Arlington was 42 -- that's 20 years below the national average.
After Bishop Keating died unexpectedly on a trip to Rome, the Vatican named Ogdensburg (New York) Bishop Paul Loverde as successor on March 25, 1999. Under the leadership of Bishop Loverde things quickly changed at the Arlington chancery. Gone were Fr. Gould and other Keating confidantes, replaced by a new guard. Unlike Bishop Keating, who was viewed in the hierarchy as somewhat of a conservative maverick, Bishop Loverde's administration style has been, at best, status quo for an American prelate. He has certainly not been one to ruffle the feathers of his brother bishops.
Since Bishop Loverde's arrival, the Arlington diocese has rapidly deteriorated as judged by vocations indicators and the drop in priestly morale as reported by a number of Arlington priests. Some Arlington priests, it should be noted, maintain there is no problem, and with rose-colored spectacles they see "great things ahead." But numbers are instructive: During Fr. Gould's term as vocations director, the diocese averaged 10 new seminarians each year and eight ordinations. At the time Fr. Gould left his post in 2000, the Arlington diocese boasted 41 seminarians, 33 of which were in theology studies -- highly commendable figures for a diocese of 350,000 Catholics.
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