Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: May 2003

May 2003

Fr. Buffer Defends Himself

The March NOR carried a lengthy New Oxford Note reviewing my review of Michael Rose’s Goodbye, Good Men (from St. Anthony Messenger, Jan.). The New Oxford Note, several times longer than my original review, made several statements and raised several questions which call for a response.

You write: “Buffer faults Rose for not answering this question: ‘Are seminaries better or worse than 10 years ago?’… And Buffer faults Rose for not answering this question: ‘Are these problems found in some dioceses or seminaries, and not in others?'” You note that Rose did in fact give answers to these questions, which makes you wonder whether I “really read Rose’s book, or just skimmed it.” I really did read what Rose wrote — three times. I did not write, “Rose does not answer these questions.” I did write, “the book cannot answer the questions,” precisely because of his flawed approach. The fact that an answer is given does not prove the validity of the answer.

I say Rose’s book was not “carefully researched.” The NOR responds, “Not carefully researched?” (italics in originabpand tells just how many interviews Rose conducted, how many years he spent researching and writing the book, and how many research assistants he employed. The NOR confuses quantity with quality. You can work for a long time and not work carefully.

I say Rose’s book is “not objective.” The NOR responds, “Not objective?” (italics in originab~ Italics are not an argument. The NOR seems to think I would prefer a survey such as one recently carried out by the Los Angeles Times. I don’t know why the NOR dragged that in, or why it said that the Times survey is “what Buffer wants, a ‘representative group’….” No, it is not what I want, not what I suggested, and it is not a representative group, as the NOR itself notes. I said that Rose should have surveyed a representative group of seminarians, not to produce a “social-scientific survey,” as the NOR says, but in the interests of accuracy. A representative group should produce more reliable results than a sample of convenience. The NOR says, “Ironically, the surveys favored by Buffer are those where everyone is truly anonymous.” I nowhere said any such thing.

The NOR says, “If Buffer has a problem with Rose’s approach, he must have monumental problems with the approach of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John.” For the record: I don’t. Moreover, the holy Evangelists were inspired by the Holy Spirit — not a claim Michael Rose, the NOR, or I could make.

As for the Pontifical College Josephinum, where I am privileged to work, Rose’s book contains two little stories about alleged problems at the Josephinum, both from “the early 1990s,” from two former Josephinum students who are now priests. The NOR asks, “Did Buffer check the evaluations from the early 1990s to see if such issues were raised? Apparently not.” The NOR is correct. I did not check evaluations from the early 1990s, because I am not authorized to do so. The NOR must be unaware that in Roman Catholic seminaries, only the seminary Rector is authorized to see files from students who have left the institution. Anyone who wants to lecture the Catholic public about how seminaries ought to be run should first demonstrate a basic understanding of the rules under which they operate. Because I followed the rules, what does the NOR conclude? “If these charges…are false, Buffer…was in a position to point that out. But he says nothing about either one…. That he failed to do so could be taken as proof positive of the veracity of those claims.” No, I wasn’t, and no, it couldn’t.

I started working at the Josephinum as Dean of Men in July 2001, and so cannot speak from personal experience about what did or did not happen here in “the early 1990s,” although I hear reports that all was not well. If the men who gave these stories to Rose really want to prove their complaints on the basis of what is in their formation files, they will have to sign their names — their real names — on a release form.

As the NOR notes, I did object, and do object, to the many unnamed sources in Rose’s book. The NOR brushes off my criticism of this defect, saying that many of the sources are not “anonymous,” as I put it, but pseudonymous. A hair split that fine will not veil the fact that some of the accusers did not have the guts to put their own reputations on the line, while attacking the reputation of others. While a man still in seminary might have to conceal his identity to protect his vocation, I don’t see why a priest should have to hide behind a false name.

The NOR says, “One can only conclude that Buffer’s review is just one more self-serving hatchet job on Michael Rose.” No, that is not the only possible conclusion. One might also conclude, as I did, that while Rose did indeed shine the spotlight on a big problem that cries out for careful investigation, he did it in a way that generated more heat than light. Rose is like a man who saw a plane crash, wrote a book describing the wreckage, and then claims that he has told you why the plane crashed. And I really do regret the plane crash as much as he does, even if I do work for the airlines.

I wrote that Rose did not “check facts” by asking seminary officials for their side of some of the stories he tells. The NOR answers my objection thus: “the idea that the officials would have co-operated with an investigative journalist with a reputation for orthodoxy such as Rose — giving the real reasons men were screened out or dismissed — is preposterous.” In other words, I was wrong to ask for both sides of the story, because one side (mine, as it happens) will not tell the truth — not to the orthodox, at least.

Even if the NOR does not agree with my assertion that Rose “assumes that anyone who makes charges against vocations or seminary personnel is telling the truth,” it seems to make a similar assumption; namely, that anything I say is a lie. If I say (as I did in my review), “my own experience makes me ready to believe that many of the things Rose recounts really happened,” the NOR dismisses it as “ritualistic bows.” Should I say, “the Josephinum is now a very good, orthodox seminary,” would the NOR respond, “You have a vested interest in saying that”? If seminaries obey the law of Christ and refrain from revealing the reasons why students were dismissed, will the NOR also dismiss that as merely self-serving?

When I described a certain part (not all, as the NOR implies) of Rose’s book as “just plain mean,” the NOR called that a “trite ad hominem attack.” It was not ad hominem, but ad rem. I stand by that comment.

If after all this point and counterpoint any reader of the NOR is curious to find out what kind of seminary the Josephinum really is today, I would be delighted to arrange a visit. Just call 614-885-5585, or email me at tbuffer@pcj.edu.

Fr. Thomas Buffer, Dean of Men

Pontifical College Josephinum

Columbus, Ohio


Sorry, but your reply is loaded with distinctions without differences and self-defeating contradictions:

(1) About the question whether seminaries are better or worse than 10 years ago and the question whether the problems of dissent and homosexuality are found in some dioceses or seminaries and not in others: Rose gave very specific answers to those questions. As we wrote: “Actually, Rose names two seminaries in his book that have definitely improved in recent years, and one that has improved somewhat…. Rose names eight dioceses and eight seminaries where problems of dissent and homosexuality are largely absent.” You reply, strangely: “I did not write ‘Rose does not answer these questions.’ I did write, ‘the book cannot answer the questions….'” May we remind you that Rose wrote the book! What’s the difference? But you add that the book cannot answer the questions “precisely because of his flawed approach.” In your review you put it this way: “the book cannot answer the questions” because Rose “never explains how he chose his sources [i.e., seminarians].” But how he chose his seminarians has little, if anything, to do with ascertaining whether certain seminaries are improving or whether crippling problems are largely absent in certain dioceses and seminaries. One need not do rigorous research to find these things out. Orthodox Catholics in the know have their lists of which seminaries are good.

(2) As for your “just plain mean” remark, you say it was not ad hominem, but ad rem (i.e., about what was written, not about Rose himself). But what was written was written by Rose. How can what Rose wrote be mean without Rose himself being mean? Amplifying your charge, and this is your fundamental charge against Rose, you say he is guilty of “unjustly harming” the “reputation” of others “through rash judgment, detraction or calumny.” If doing this isn’t mean, what would be? Are these charges ad rem? If you wish. But they are also ad hominem (i.e., against Rose personally).

(3) You said that Rose’s book was not “carefully researched.” However, now that you’ve learned from the NOR how many years he spent on it and how many research assistants he retained, you hasten to add that you mean the quality of his research, not the quantity. But, when it’s convenient, you yourself appeal to quantity. You say you read Rose’s book three times. May we conclude that the quality of your reading was defective? Ah, but you wouldn’t want to distinguish quantity from quality here, would you?

(4) As for the quality of Rose’s research, you fault him for not surveying “a representative group of seminarians.” But you say you do not want a social-scientific survey. Now, how does one insure that a “representative group of seminarians” (or any group you’d care to choose) is truly representative? The only way you can do that is by employing social-scientific survey procedures (some surveys are successful and some are not, due to methodological or circumstantial problems). Moreover, any truly representative survey must guarantee anonymity to the respondents so as to get the closest to truthful responses. But you say you don’t want a survey where everyone is anonymous. Yet you admit that “a man still in seminary might have to conceal his identity to protect his vocation” (i.e., not to get kicked out). So what do you want? You don’t know what you want.

You also say you don’t see why a priest would need to use a pseudonym. We gave you one example why priests must live in fear by referencing Rose’s December 2002 NOR article. Apparently, you didn’t refer to it. So we must quote it here: “Earlier this year Fr. Bryce Sibley of Lafayette, Louisiana, was censured for six months by his bishop because he publicly corroborated [Joseph] Kellenyi’s impression of the homosexual clique at Louvain [the seminary in Belgium]…. Shortly after Fr. Sibley posted his article online, a letter of complaint from Louvain Rector Fr. [Kevin] Codd resulted in the swift removal of the offending article from circulation at the demand of his bishop, and Fr. Sibley’s subsequent silencing.” This is nasty clericalism. Many priests live in fear, even if you don’t.

And let us give you another example. As for Goodbye, Good Men itself, Fr. John Trigilio did have “the guts,” as you put it, to give his real name in the book. Before the book was even published, his bishop, Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Penn., a leading proponent of so-called inclusive language in liturgical texts, fired off a letter to Fr. Trigilio, based only on a few paragraphs from the book on the Internet, forbidding him from exercising any priestly ministry in the Diocese of Erie. Bishop Trautman’s letter (which came into our possession, but not from Fr. Trigilio) says: “I am frankly shocked by your outrageous comments: ‘If you wore a cassock, you were a reactionary daughter of Trent. If you wore women’s underwear, they would make you seminarian of the year.’ That statement alone is outrageous and unworthy of any priest. It reflects poor judgment and gross imprudence bordering on scandal. Because of your allegations and the scandalous manner in which you have publicized your thoughts, I hereby forbid you to exercise any priestly ministry in the Diocese of Erie…. I consider your statements reckless charges that hurt the good name of the priests and students at Saint Mark Seminary.” Curiously, the “if you wore” comment was not made about St. Mark Seminary, and Fr. Trigilio explicitly held Bishop Trautman blameless for what he suffered. But Trautman didn’t wait to read the full text on Fr. Trigilio (over 16 pages) before going ballistic. As a result, Fr. Trigilio went into exile (in the Diocese of Harrisburg, Penn.). We called Fr. Trigilio for an update, but he has apparently been so intimidated by his exile that he would not speak to us, even off-the-record.

You make light of the difference between an anonymous source and a pseudonymous source. For your information: An anonymous source is unknown to a reporter whereas a pseudonymous source is known. Pick up a few newspapers, from The New York Times on down, and see how many times you read something like this: “a usually reliable source reported that…,” or “sources who witnessed the crime said that…,” or “employees who cannot reveal their identity accused management of….”

(5) You say that “only the seminary Rector is authorized to see files from students who have left the institution.” So explain this. When a seminarian who leaves or is booted out of seminary A and later applies to seminary B, why is it that seminary B can request and receive the seminarian’s file from seminary A? Obviously, the seminary Rector has discretionary power to share files with others. And you, you are also the Director of Pastoral Formation! You have an obligation to know how formation issues were handled in the past. Moreover, even without opening up old files, it would have been easy for you to ask various people involved in formation, including psychological counseling, whether the sorts of things mentioned in Rose’s book were known to happen at the Josephinum. You actually admit that you “hear reports that all was not well” in the early 1990s. Did the “all was not well” pertain to formation issues? C’mon, tell us about it!

You accuse Rose of not asking “seminary officials for their side of some of the stories he tells,” and many of those stories involved seminarians who were forced out. You say you are not authorized to see the files of those who left, and yet you fault Rose for not finding out what was in those files, when there was no way that any seminary rector would have given an investigative journalist such as Rose access to those files.

No cigar for you, Fr. Buffer.

Norfolk, Virginia

Curtains for Homosexual Priests

In the February 3, 2003 issue of The Catholic Virginian, the paper of the Diocese of Richmond, there was an item from a certain Wade Edwards disagreeing with Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez’s position that homosexuality is a greater obstacle to priestly chaste celibacy than heterosexuality.

We know that at least 80 percent of priestly sex abuse is committed on boys. There have been very few reports of girls or women being molested, even though many women work in parish and diocesan offices and schools, and there are more girl altar servers than boys, so the opportunity was definitely there.

If, as argued by Edwards, chastity is no harder for homosexuals than heterosexuals, then we would expect the molesting of boys and girls to reflect the percentage of homosexuals and heterosexuals in the priesthood.

So, if Edwards is correct, then the priesthood is overwhelmingly (at least 80 percent) homosexual. Or, if the priesthood is not overwhelmingly homosexual, then homosexual priests are the big problem and the Cardinal is correct — which is what I believe.

Jerry Harwood

Graford, Texas

An Open Letter to Cardinal Law's Replacement

Dear Bishop Lennon: In September 2002 Fr. John Gremmels, Pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton Catholic Church in Keller, Texas, announced to his parishioners at all Sunday Masses, as well as in the weekly bulletin, that even though José Sanchez, the Democratic candidate for Governor, was a Catholic, he would not be allowed to have a political rally on church property. Sanchez was a well-known prochoice politician and therefore preaching against Catholic Church policy on the sanctity of life.

The very liberal Fort Worth Star Telegram published between 35 and 40 letters to the editor supporting Fr. Gremmels. Many wondered where the other Catholic churches were on this issue. Most people felt the Catholic Church — especially the bishops — were sinfully silent on the issue.

In mid-December Msgr. Edward Kavanagh would not allow California Governor Gray Davis to play Santa Claus (photo-op and albpat his parish orphanage Christmas party, unless he (Gov. Davis) would repudiate his prochoice stance and strong public support for Planned Parenthood.

Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento issued a stern warning that Gov. Davis must renounce abortion or at least show his personal integrity and stop receiving Holy Communion.

The recently published Vatican document “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life” plainly states that those who are involved in lawmaking bodies have a clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. You can’t be both an active Catholic and prochoice at the same time.

The climate seems to be changing, and now just might be the best time for Your Excellency to clarify your prolife support, and affirm your solidarity with Fr. Gremmels, Msgr. Kavanagh, and Bishop Weigand. You can publicly request that the two senators from Massachusetts also repudiate their prochoice stance and support for Planned Parenthood, or demonstrate their personal integrity and refrain from receiving Holy Communion in any of the Catholic churches in your Archdiocese.

Your Excellency, you just might be very surprised at the reaction of the parishioners in your Archdiocese. The press has given the Boston Archdiocese a rough time regarding the sex abuse scandals. What with that and the national economy, your contributions may lag behind previous years. If you show your flock leadership and stand up for the sanctity of life as professed by the Catholic Church, and request that both Senators Kerry and Kennedy repudiate their prochoice stance and their support for Planned Parenthood, or at least show their honorable intentions by refraining from receiving Holy Communion, your parishioners might respond with increased Mass attendance and donations.

Jim Borman Jr.

Groton, Connecticut


Thomas Martin’s article “Can We Please Have Some Compassion for People of Height?” (March) was hilarious. Yes, it’s open season for so-called human rights violations by any and all who wish to partake. I’m delighted that the NOR had the guts to print Martin’s article.

Bill Simpson

Daly City, California


Thomas Basil’s article “At Mass in Lenin’s City” (March) was so heartbreaking to read that I found myself in tears and barely able to finish it. What a commentary on the sad state of things Catholic in the U.S.! I moved to Daly City about six years ago, and still am not a permanent member of any one parish because of the poor quality of the liturgies, the mundane homilies, and the dreadful musical offerings.

To the NOR, I say: Continue to tell it like it is, for there are many people who agree with you.

Mary J. Feerick

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