I recently took a few classes at the seminary of the local Catholic diocese through the university which I attend. This experience was quite unique, so it seems worthwhile for me to share some of my observations.
Let’s start with a bit of background information. The area in which the seminary is located has a higher percentage of both blacks and Catholics compared to other northern American cities. As for the diocese itself, it is considered to be “conservative.” However, this label does not mean that it is particularly right-wing or traditional. The most liberal parishes I’ve ever had the displeasure of setting foot in are in the diocese. Still, it is not a place where the bishop is endorsing gay “marriage” or spouting liberation theology. Luckily, there are a few Tridentine (Latin) Masses offered.
Perhaps the most apt description of the diocese would be neo-Catholic, a term that is often used by traditional Catholics. As the name implies, it is tied to neoconservatism. In theory, neo-Catholics are orthodox as they follow Church doctrine, but they also enjoy the sweeping changes made at the Second Vatican Council. Sure, they may believe in transubstantiation, but they’re glad that the Mass is no longer in Latin, that there are no more communion rails, that you can receive the Eucharist in the hand, etc. It is a rejection of most tradition in favor of the “New Church” put into place by Vatican II and the modern popes. The great hero and epitome of neo-Catholicism is the so-called Pope Saint John Paul (II) the Great, kisser of Qurans and material heretic; again, theoretically orthodox (he was against the ordination of women and contraception), but a slap in the face to anyone who knows what Catholicism was before the sixties.
But, I digress. My interaction with the seminary and seminarians was on a purely educational level. I had little to no experience with their spiritual, administrative, or daily duties beyond what I heard in the classroom, so I do not have the complete picture.
The main instructors included a woman and an older priest. It was interesting that they had a woman, and a lay woman at that, teaching men who are preparing for the priesthood. The Church has always had a place for women, but this role is not one that a woman should have considering that they do not, and will never, have any direct experience with priestly formation. Thankfully, she was extremely intelligent and one of the most traditionally minded people there, which partially redeems the situation. The priest was neo-Catholic through and through. He had grown up with the effeminate and liberal Catholicism of the late twentieth century and retained certain aspects of it. He liked to be inclusive, which meant having open dialogue with heretics who wanted female priests and the implementation of liberation theology. He disliked Latin, saw no problem with many traditions falling by the wayside, sometimes called traditionalists “Pharisees,” liked to give homilies on sports and pop culture (based on what I heard), and so on. The less said, the better.
The seminarians were almost all of European stock; unsurprising given the current lack of Latinos in the north. Many were fresh out of high school and realized that the seminary offers a place for stability, structure, and shelter. However, the ones in this group seemed the least interested in actually becoming priests and just went to the seminary since they didn’t fit in anywhere else or had no other attachments. Others were raised in large Catholic families and were the sons expected to become priests, so they followed their families’ wishes. No doubt most of them will be ordained and become typical neo-Catholic priests. The most interesting, and smallest group was composed of older men who had already graduated from college or dropped out part of the way through. This shows a strong religious conviction and true desire to be a servant of God. They were generally the most intelligent, interested, and conservative of the bunch. Of all, this kind inspires the most hope for the future, but there are few of them and they are in the hands of neo-Catholics. The seminary does not foster any sort of traditionalist sentiment. For example, the seminarians do not wear cassocks. The priests there hardly wear cassocks. Their talent will probably be wasted.
A few weeks into my study at the seminary and I realized how odd it was for me to be there. There were a handful of us outsiders from the university, including women. This would never have been allowed before the recent reforms. Seminaries before then were often run like monasteries with seminarians having little contact with anyone outside, even family members. Yet, it was too late for me back out and the classes there were much better than anything else that was offered.
One of the first things that struck me was praying before class, occasionally in Latin. While expected, it is something that is often not seen in the modern world. The actual classwork and lectures centered around Catholic figures and thought. Doctrine was explained and supported with various texts, different historical views were presented and evaluated, and problems and heresies were covered and refuted; a nice change from the usual poz and liberalism. But, Pope Francis, John Paul II, and their ilk were hailed as great champions. The seminary utilized what I will call the “hermeneutic of pseudo-orthodoxy” to explain away all the errors and heresies that modernism brings along with it. This is common for neo-Catholics. To them, Francis is only misquoted and misinterpreted; it is never his own fault that what he says borders on heresy. Neo-Catholics don’t see the contradiction in defending doctrine with the words of Church fathers, such as Aquinas and Augustine, while stripping away everything that is not the bare essentials just to get along with the liberals and have a Protestantized Mass. They would rather sit on the fence and take the “moderate” position because choosing a side means making enemies and holding strong convictions, which takes work and effort. They do not understand how dire the state of the Church is.
Lastly, the political views of quite literally everyone there were neoconservative. The amount of anti-Trump signalling was absolutely obnoxious. There were a number who said that they would rather have Bernie Sanders. Think about that. People who call themselves Catholic support a pro-abortion socialist over someone who is basically a liberal from a few decades ago. Why they all felt the need to talk about politics, I will never know. The funniest part was one individual who said practically every single neocon line as they came out. First, he was a militant Rubio supporter since he was a great Catholic candidate who opposed abortion. Then, it was Cruz all the way because he supported the constitution, and definitely not because Rubio had dropped out. With Trump winning, he started to look at third party libertarian candidates. There was no way that he would vote for some bigoted “fringe candidate,” who was so “fringe” that he dominated the primaries. This alone demonstrates how right-wing most Catholics are. I heard no one say that all the candidates were liberals and that democracy was a sham or anything even close to that.
It is quite clear that some great Catholic revival is not going to happen anytime soon. There are a few extremely traditional seminaries out there, but the average one is likely the same, or worse, than this one. Good is not good enough. Neo-Catholicism is not good enough. Some people say it’s just a matter of time until the current Pontiff and his cabal of liberal cardinals die and then we will see a wave of traditionalism. I’m not convinced. The priests and seminarians I encountered, and those like them, are the future bishops and cardinals. Now that the liberals have seized power, they will continue to promote only those who either support them or will not challenge them. Even if the masses are pushed further to the right, change can only come from those at the top of the hierarchy. Unless some formal schism happens, the crisis will continue.
NOTE: My intention with this article was not to show how much holier and better I am than those at the seminary. I have no doubt that probably everyone there is much more spiritual than I am and that they take their faith seriously. They simply don’t know better. Rather, I wished to show that the future is not so bright when we have seminaries that are producing priests who will only maintain the status quo.