Volume > Issue > My Soul-Shattering Experience in the Seminary

My Soul-Shattering Experience in the Seminary


By Martin Heinz | May 2004
The Rev. Martin Heinz has been the pastor of Holy Angels Catholic Church in Aurora, Illinois, for four years, having served for the previous six years as the vocations director for the Diocese of Rockford. His seminary experiences did not take place in that Diocese.

As I sit with a priest friend, we grow angry about the priestly sexual abuse scandal painted across the headlines of papers and shown on TV. We are not upset because it has become public, but because the sordid, tawdry, vile, and perverse nature of the accusations and acts defy reality. Priests sodomizing young men and children — who would do such a thing? Mirrors of Christ who squandered their trust for a few moments of lust. But even more surprising was the cover-up. Bishops, the spiritual fathers of the Church, hid the truth. They abdicated their responsibilities and perpetuated a forty-year scandal due to pride, arrogance, and lame excuses. They almost never addressed the sin, and seemed to excuse the perversion. Passing perverted priests from parish to parish, believing the psychobabble of the day and then hiding behind it when confronted with the truth, failing to challenge brother bishops who secreted such crimes, placing questionable young men in seminary formation: These were the seeds that would grow to haunt us.

As my friend and I talked, I grew more silent. Thoughtful, really. Finally, in an extended silence, he asked a heartfelt question born of grief, “How did we come to this?” Slowly, in answer, I began to tell him the stories of perversion in my minor seminary. Disgust played across his face. Mine is but a single story, generously mild in its telling. It is a tale of what I saw and experienced, back when I had no one to tell.

It was 1974 and I was 14 years old. Nearly 10 years had passed since the final days of Vatican II. The nation was still stinging from the social consequences of assassinations, Watergate was beginning to explode, and the sexual revolution was in full swing. In the midst of all this, on a hill, stood Mother Church with her windows wide open, letting in the “fresh” air. But someone forgot to shut the windows. The air was poisonous with dissent, confusion, and chaos. The windows needed to be shut because the winds that were blowing were not those of the Holy Spirit. They were expressions of man’s pride clothed in the guise of freedom. There was a genuine hope that as the Church engaged the modern world she would find it open to the message of her truth. However, the world was not listening. Experimentation, uninformed consciences, and self-expression were quickly becoming the new pillars of the culture — and even of religion. They were manifesting themselves with lessened guilt and emboldened pride. The results would soon be devastating. The gates of Hell cannot prevail against the Church, but it doesn’t help when we spend so much time playing in front of the gates, rather than fleeing from them.

From the shadows of such chaos my heart heard a voice. Jesus Christ was calling me to be a priest. From the first days I knew that priesthood was to be my vocation. Yet, what I was pursuing at that time was a future built on illusions, not truth. The atmosphere in which I heard my calling was filled with murmurings about optional celibacy, married priests, women priests, and do-your-own-thing Masses. Many were abandoning the priesthood and fleeing the convents. The fruits of Vatican II had yet to genuinely manifest themselves. To see Rosaries ripped out of hands, doctrines discounted, devotions diminished, and iconoclastic renovations promoted seemed odd. But it was a changing Church, and who was I to question or reason why.

I had been to “French Bread Masses” in which we broke loaves apart only to see pieces of Jesus fly through the air. We even had a youth Mass in which pizza (with pepperoni slices because they looked like Hosts) and Pepsi were used for “consecration.” The priest told us it was all right. And it was cool!

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