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Holy Orders & Unholy Disorders

Given all the controversy about our seminaries, we approached Fr. Robert Johansen’s “What’s Wrong With Our Seminaries? An Insider Speaks Out” in Crisis magazine (May) with considerable interest. What qualifies Johansen as an “insider” is never made clear, other than he attended seminary. Of course, there are some 45,000 priests in the U.S., so they’d all be “insiders” too. Yes, we know Crisis likes to appeal to our instinct for the sensational and the secretive (e.g., see Janel Easton’s letter in this issue), but to call Johansen an “insider” is really devaluing the currency of an insider.

Nonetheless, Johansen says a lot of good things. He says, “The first requirement of any seminary is that it must be orthodox….” He says seminary classes must demand “intellectual rigor.” He denounces proportionalism and consequentialism in moral theology. He expresses skepticism about the heavy reliance on the historical-critical method in biblical studies. He says seminaries must celebrate the liturgy “with reverence,” and must give more emphasis to spirituality.


But suddenly the tone changes when it comes to homosexuality in the seminaries. Yes, Johansen admits that the priestly sex scandals have “led many to conclude that the real problem is homosexuality within the priesthood. This conclusion has occasioned calls for barring homosexuals from ordination and admission to the seminary.” He acknowledges that “It appears that Rome is also leaning in this direction: In a September [2002] address to the bishops of Brazil, the pope called for the exclusion from Holy Orders of men having ‘obvious signs of affective deviations,’ meaning homosexual orientation. Furthermore, in December [2002], Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez, then-prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote that ‘a person who is homosexual or has homosexual tendencies is not…suitable to receive the sacrament of sacred orders.’ Many Rome-watchers believe the Holy See will soon issue a directive confirming that position.”

But Johansen pooh-poohs any such directive, saying it would only have “strictly symbolic value” because it is not really needed. Alas, it seems that most Vatican directives, when they hit American shores, have “strictly symbolic value” — i.e., are not enforced because bishops think they’re not needed.

Why is such a directive not needed? Because, says Johansen, “The perception of most seminary rectors, faculty, and students is that there’s no longer a widespread homosexual subculture in our seminaries (at least in most of them). The efforts at cleaning up this problem…began more than a decade ago and have largely been successful.” So on what basis does Johansen make this grandiose claim about “the perception of most seminary rectors, faculty, and students?”

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