Sunday, July 29, 2018

My experiences of homosexuality in the seminary

The Church “believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture"”

From the document: "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders"

When I entered the seminary I felt secure in my masculinity.  I had those formative experiences in my life that taught me about masculinity and manhood.  However, I knew that what I needed to work on now, as a man beginning my seminary journey, was how to enter into authentic relationships with people. I knew enough to know that being not just a man but a "man who can love as man loves" would be a vital part of becoming a priest. 

1)  One of the first people I met from my seminary class was a really outgoing guy. He was engaging, and we had good conversations at meals and so forth. Very early on, as I was starting to grow in friendship with him and other classmates as well, this guy stopped by my room, and while I was typing a paper at my computer, he started to give me a shoulder rub. When he moved down my back, I immediately stood up and acted like I needed to do something. He left, and I sat in my room for about 10 minutes. “What just happened” was a question I sat there asking myself.  I finally decided to go down to his room and confront him. He was from another culture originally, so I told him “I don’t know if that’s what you all do in the culture you are from, but that doesn’t fly here. Don’t ever do that again." At that time, I had only been a seminarian for about a month, and so it didn’t cross my mind to report him because even though I knew he was living with homosexuality and apparently also was choosing to act on those attractions, I wanted to believe it WAS his culture of origin to blame. About a year later, I found out that the same guy had harassed a fellow seminarian to the point where the guy just left the seminary (“Goodbye Good Men” as an aptly titled book on this topic puts it).  The seminary kicked the harasser out of the seminary.  Unfortunately, though, probably before the seminary had any idea about this guy’s behaviors, he had really messed me up and driven another guy out of the seminary.

2) So I’m still in this mode early on as a seminarian trying to figure out what masculine intimacy and masculine friendship looks like, and I met a religious brother who was around the seminary. He would ask how things were going, and every now and then he’d stop and ask if I could pray for him. I started to get uncomfortable as he was starting to come by more often.  And then he got in some real trouble when he was reported for sexually harassing a male waiter at a restaurant. 

3) There was a priest at the seminary. He was on staff. Again a very kind guy. He would check in on me and the other seminarians and ask how things were going and so forth. Again I thought of this person as a visible indicator that, “OK, I’m getting better at this relationship thing. I’m getting better at this vulnerability and relationship with other men thing."  And then I found out that he was well known for having homosexual paraphernalia and was essentially openly homosexual.

My point in all of this is that a spiritually mature man is hard to develop. And part of the temptation for some men to NOT grow and develop in masculine love is that they believe that intimacy, relational loving, etc. are NOT masculine at all.  It can be easy, as a man, to write off being vulnerable and expressing intimacy for others as being “soft” because so often the images presented to men in our culture today either skew toward the "Homer Simpson drunk moron option" or the "feminized sensitive guy" option.  There's very few examples out there of men heroically loving others AS men.

It is EXTREMELYHARD to learn how to be a man who is also relational and loving in the midst of one’s masculinity. 

Active or even passive homosexuality in the seminary has a REALLY negative impact on the development of priests.  Most guys in the seminary are trying to figure out what in the hell an actual vulnerable and masculine friendship looks like.  So when you are trying to establish and grow friendships in the midst of that environment, and you at some point learn that a guy is pursuing friendship with you for VERY wrong reasons, that will either

1) drive you completely away from the seminary or
2) completely confuse and damage your growth as you seek to develop masculine intimacy in your life. 

My reaction to each of these situations that I described earlier in this post was “Well, I’ll try and enter into a relation with a guy again a couple of years from now.”

It seems like the admission of guys to the seminary who experience homosexual attractions needs to be openly discussed and analyzed. Surely some will accuse me of “gay bashing“ here but I’m not doing that. The Catholic Church welcomes all. This film I put together helps explain it well. 

All are welcome in the Catholic Church, but we do put all kinds of restrictions, hurdles, tests etc. in place for who we allow into our seminaries. Suggesting that it is in the best interest of the Church to not admit to the seminary those who are actually wrestling with same-sex attraction is nothing like saying “those with same sex attraction are not welcome in the Catholic Church.”   We don’t tell anyone what they need to do before stepping foot into a Catholic Church but we DO tell people what they need to do before becoming seminarians. We DO tell guys pursuing the priesthood that if they are wrestling with things they need to sort those things out before going to the seminary.

I think we are right to tell guys with same-sex attraction “you’ll need to seek some counseling and be at a spot where those attractions have been worked through before we can admit you to the seminary” because crucial and vital formation needs to be happening there, and any type of homosexuality, whether active or passive, SEVERELY undermines the very mission of the formation which is to help men become priests who have been given every possible opportunity to develop an authentic masculine form of intimacy and love so that they can be a priest of Jesus Christ, a man who chose to love the world through his masculinity as well.

For further theological delving into this topic, a favorite seminary prof of mine, Fr. Guy Mansini OSB, now the chair of theology at Ave Maria University, contributed this article for First Things magazine several years ago:

Pray, and the rest of it gets done

Monday, July 23, 2018

Unsurprisingly, Cardinal Arinze absolutely NAILS it

Our Archdiocese is getting ready to put together a strategic plan.  I think this is it in two sentences.

Priests, bishops and cardinals abusing children and teenagers

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”

I want to share a story.  In 2001, as I was telling everyone that I was going to the seminary in a year or two, the abuse crisis broke out, first in Boston and then around the country, and eventually the world as story after story of priests abusing children and teenagers continued to come out in what seemed like an endless flood of filth and lives absolutely shattered.  There has never been a greater scandal in the Catholic Church, and it is hard to even imagine how there will ever be something worse.  It affected me greatly, as it surely affected many of you and continues to stick with you and I

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”

Fast forward to the Fall of 2005.  I was a seminarian in Rome along with about 250 other men studying for the priesthood.  We were probably overly idealistic.  We were excited and looking forward to being priests.  And we were determined, as most every other generation since the Garden of Eden, determined to not make the same mistakes as the generation before us. 

Living at our seminary for the semester were about 30 older priests who were in Rome for a sabbatical.  They would go out and travel and see Rome during the day, but they’d be around for dinner and most of us quietly avoided them.  They looked like, judging by appearances, to be the embodiment of everything we didn’t want to be.  They wore jeans and polo shirts, not their clerics.  They seemed, based on appearances, to not be all that enthusiastic about the priesthood.  Did I mention that we were overly idealistic and arrogant?

So the last day these older priests were with us, one of them had been selected to say a few words to the seminary at lunch.  Most of us seminarians were a bit skeptical.  Was he going to get up and tell us we were overly rigid and too traditional and that we needed to calm down and be more loving?  Our biases and prejudices told us that he would.

And this older priest came up in his khakis and polo shirt and took the mic and gave a speech that none of us will ever forget.  It went something like this: “When all of us old guys entered the priesthood, we were respected by our families, our parishes, our communities, etc.  We were thanked and everyone thought really highly of us when we headed off to the seminary.  The Church was, in America at least, in her heyday.  But you guys here today entered the seminary in the midst of the worst scandal in the history of the priesthood.”  And here he raised his voice “The Church is on fire right now with the scandals and sins and you guys RAN INTO the burning building.  You guys said “I want to be a priest” despite people looking at you like you’d hurt children YOU RAN INTO THE BURNING BUILDING and I want to say thanks to you.  My fellow priests who’ve been with you these past few months, we’ve all been talking about how much we admire you guys, and we talk all the time about how the Church looks like it is in great hands.  We applaud you, we salute, and it has been an honor to be with you.  God bless!”

Every guy in the room stood up and exploded into applause.   There were not a lot of dry eyes in the room.  We were moved by the support of this older priest, we were convicted that we had often judged these priests too harshly, but the overall

And the fire continues to burn in the Church – maybe it has always been on fire because of the sins of its members.  The wound continues to be infected and ooze fresh puss.  The past few weeks a flood of stories have been revealed about one of the most prominent United States Cardinals of the last 50 years, and everyone says that everybody knew and nobody knew what to do about it, and there’s a fresh trail of people discovered to have been destroyed by his crimes and his actions

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”

We might be tempted to think this horror of priests and bishops completely and utterly failing to live a life conformed to Christ…we might be tempted to think this is new.  But the best preacher in the history of the Catholic Church said 1700 years ago that “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.”

So what do we do about it?  There’s never been a worse scandal in the Church, scandal being a thing that literally drives people away from the truth because of the behavior of some people.   God says what he will do about it: ““Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”.  What the Church will do about it is anyone’s guess – I pray that the response is dramatic, swift, and far reaching.  500 years ago the clergy was in a pretty sorry state morally and the Council of Trent made DRASTIC changes and put a seminary structure in place.  I hope other changes are made that aim at similarly dramatic reform of the clergy, the priests, and the bishops. 

But what are we to do?  In one sense I’m not even sure I can say I fault people who leave.  It is all just so completely awful.  But I want to challenge you to do something – I want to challenge you to run back into the burning building of the Church, help put the fire out, and help rebuild.  I don’t fault you if these past 17 years have made you seriously question your Faith – it certainly has made me question mine, but I want to invite us to run back in

We are the Church too.   There are a lot of good priests and holy people and so I say let’s do it together.  Let’s encourage good men, our children our friends to be priests.  Let’s recognize that I can still be a saint as a Catholic lay person even if some in the hierarchy of the Church are living completely morally bankrupted lives

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply. 
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;

I invite you to join me as we run back in and double down on our commitment to be Catholic Christians in a Church and a world that needs us.  Let us rise and be on our way to becoming Saints

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"The Handmaids Tale" and Christian Dystopias

A not insignificant number of students and faculty on the campus I serve think that “The Handmaids Tale” is exactly what happens when Christian principles inform a society.

In actuality of course a REAL manifestation of Christian principles informing a society would be 800-1900 Europe and the United States

Both were and are highly NON-perfect places

BUT as Chesterton said: “Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open-air. Catholic doctrine may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.”

It is important to say here that no sane Christian should EVER let their guard down against the possibility that Christian principles CAN be misconstrued to produce dystopia. A healthy approach to governance requires a constant vigilance by a concerned and principled citizenry. We do not believe that if we get the right foundational principles in place, then we can all just stop worrying about our governance

But those who fear a Christian dystopia do not seem to ever confront or acknowledge that the places that have driven Christianity out over the last 1500 years have all been nightmarish hells-on-Earth

So for those who think "The Handmaids Tale" is some work of prophecy, what is feared is a FICTIONAL future unlike anything that has ACTUALLY happened in 2,000 years of Christian societies, while what is ACTUALLY happening now (and what has ACTUALLY happened in the past) in the places where Christianity has been expelled are either

1) ignored or
2) aren't actually known

And it is a terrifying realization that either 1 or 2 above is possible for educated people in our own day

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Homily: The Thailand Cave Rescue

A story EVERYone needs to read!

This is such a positive, heartwarming, powerful story of marriage and sacrifice and love

I hope everyone in the world is able to read EVERY word of this!

Click HERE to read the story

Friday, July 6, 2018

An Apology to Roncalli, my Catholic High School Alma Mater

It is a pretty jarring experience when you are 19 years old and a college professor who is 40-50 years older than you attacks your Catholic Faith directly.  When my Catholic Faith was directly challenged by a professor for an entire semester my sophomore year of college, it deeply affected me for many years.

I didn’t know how to respond to his questions, and in looking back on it now, it is ridiculous to expect a 19 year old to be able to answer the critiques of Catholicism put to a 19 year old by a college professor of religion.

When I entered the seminary 6 years later at the age of 25, I fell deeply in love with my Catholic Faith.  Throughout my entire time in college, I never stopped going to Sunday Mass, and I had felt a deep connection to my Catholic Faith even when it was being attacked, but in the seminary I realized that Catholicism is really REALLY smart.  I was introduced to the writings of now-St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and, going back thousands of years before that, to the writings of St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Mother Teresa, and on and on I began to learn the answers to the questions that had been put  rather forcefully and aggressively to my 19 year old self.

And then a question hit me.  Why didn’t I learn all of this at Roncalli?  Why had I not been exposed to this treasure trove of amazing, brilliant, spiritual, life-altering books, sermons, writings, etc.?

For a few years as a seminarian and even through the early years of my priesthood as a high school chaplain, on several occasions in conversations with brother priests, and conversations with other Catholics as well, I spoke negatively about the theological training I had received at Roncalli and bemoaned that the Catholic Church was not doing more in Catholic high schools to help students fall in love with their Catholic Faith.  My critique was bolstered by the well-known statistic that 92% of college students stop practicing their Catholic Faith when they go away to college.  I and many other priests and Catholics rightly look at that number with horror and we want someone to blame.  For a few years, I blamed Catholic education, even my own.

So here’s where the apology comes in.

Over the past several years, as I’ve worked with college students as a chaplain, I’ve had to time to realize something – Roncalli DID do a lot to help me fall in love with the Catholic Church.

I remembered back in a particular way to the recently retired Mrs. Lauck, who began a second career as a Catholic school religion teacher with my sophomore year morality class.  We all loved her.  And she told us right up front in a very vulnerable way “I’m not sure what I’m doing” and that let her and us take a deep breath, and we loved her so much and we knew she loved us and we wanted her class to work.  And she pulled no punches.  She taught us exactly what the Church teaches, right out of the Catechism, and she told us that we should save ourselves for marriage.  She told us if we were using drugs we were murdering ourselves and abusing the gifts God gave us.  She taught us that contraception was wrong.  She talked about mortal sin.  She taught us about Just War Theory.  She brought in a man she had befriended who was living with AIDS and who begged us to take a different path.  I wrote Mrs. Lauck a note when I was ordained and another one when she retired.  I told her that in the moments where I was struggling with major life decisions to go toward sin or Christ, it was often things from her class that came to me seemingly out of nowhere.  Even in her first year as a teacher, she showed us there was a Catechism, and she wasn’t afraid to open it, and she taught us that there’s a lot of wisdom in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

In getting to help produce a documentary on Coach Scifres last Summer, I was also able to reflect on the formation that I received through Roncalli athletics.  Coach Scifres and Tully on the football field and in the weight room and Coach Niewedde and Kratoska on the track barking at me and telling me, when I thought I didn’t have anything else to give, that I actually had a lot more fight in me.  This may sound strange, but I mean it positively of course, but because of my time in sports at Roncalli there’s a loving voice in my mind a lot that is cheering me on.  It challenges me saying “FIGHT.  WORK HARD.  FIGHT SOME MORE.  WORK HARD SOME MORE!  AIM FOR GREATNESS.  BECOME THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF.  DON’T QUIT.  FIGHT!”  And it was that voice that helped me through getting punched in the metaphorical face in theology class when I was 19.  I didn’t know exactly what to do, but when that prof gave me a hard time, there was a switch in me that said “Don’t curl up and lay down.  Stick to your guns.  Fight for what you know is right!”

I’ve also realized that I received an unbelievable education in Math, which became my undergrad major, and the way in which logic and reasoning and hard work and discipline were drilled into me by my math teachers at Roncalli paid huge dividends in helping me absorb the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.  Now I often think that perhaps the greatest thing that helped me understand my Catholic Faith was my geometry class where we learned that you can build an entire Euclidian Geometric Universe on 5 foundational principles – but if you change one word of one foundational principle of Euclid’s, an entirely different world springs from that change, and I’ve realized that it is why the Church fights for the unborn, and for marriage being between one man and one woman, and why the Church fights for religious freedom, and sex only within marriage and without contraception, and why the Church says that Jesus Christ was both 100% God and 100% man – because a world where those foundational principles are altered even slightly produces, eventually, a hellish alternative universe.

I’ve realized that, as a priest, I’ve fallen deeply in love with literature, and, as Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “beauty will save the world” – and I’ve realized that it was Ms. Fox who really instilled that love for literature in me.  I didn’t appreciate her at the time, we used to just laugh that she took smoke breaks in the boiler room, and when she was teaching she let you sleep if you didn’t want to participate in her class because I don’t think she wanted to deal with people who didn’t care, but a bunch of us WERE, looking back on it, drawn into an appreciation for literature through her guidance.  And we read a lot of the great dystopian novels like “Lord of the Flies” and “1984” and “A Brave New World” (all precursors to the “Hunger Games”) stories that then led into fascinating discussions about Catholicism, technology, what it means to be human from a Catholic perspective, etc.  These were books that I had largely forgotten until they were brought up in the midst of a rigorous seminary academic setting, and I began to recognize what Ms. Fox and my English teachers at Roncalli had given me in introducing me to Poe, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Hawthorne, Dickens, and countless other poets and authors from around the world and across the centuries.

The science classes would also prove extremely helpful in my “reversion” to Catholicism in my mid-20’s.  The more you study science and math, the more the two subjects merge into and lead a person to also ask deeper philosophical questions.  As Benedict XVI said, “Science is the adventure of discovery that God has left to mankind.”  Science doesn’t prove God in a scientific way of course, but I could not help but ask those deeper questions about life when I was studying biology in a Catholic classroom, and when my physics and chemistry teacher were talking about atoms and the big bang – I would ponder where it all came from, matter, energy, life, Earth – who made it?  When did it start?  Why?

 And there were the teachers that helped me learn how to write.  When Mrs. Helbing returned my papers, however many words long the essay was, there were usually 2-3 times as many words of correction written in the margins.  It looked like she had spent more time correcting my papers than I had spent typing them.  She never settled for my 90% effort; she demanded improvement, precision, and, perhaps most importantly, that I not be boring.  Between homilies, blog posts, social media posts, letters, emails, etc. I probably write 20 pages of material a week.  Whatever ability I have to write traces itself back to of course home school and then great teachers in grade school, but it was most notably honed at Roncalli by a team of people who demanded more out of me and my classmates and our writing than any of us knew we had in us.

But perhaps the greatest thing that I failed to remember in those years when I was wishing Roncalli had prepared me better to face the enemies of the Church was the Faith Roncalli instilled in me through the  Sacraments of the Catholic Church.  I don’t remember any particular all-school Mass, but in looking back I began to see that it just became a habit of life.  And the Church says that’s exactly what religion is – a habit.  So many leave the Church because they want to feel the “Spiritual Tingles” or have the “warm fuzzies” but religion is good habits toward God.  Mass.  Every Sunday.  And Roncalli made that a part of my life along with my parents on the weekend.  I’ll always remember Coach Tully telling my fellow seniors and I that we should think about morning Mass before our football games.  It wasn’t a command.  It was just an invitation.  I’ll always remember those Friday morning Masses with my brothers and Coach Tully.  Roncalli also provided confession opportunities throughout the year.  And of course prayer.  Prayer before school, prayer before each class, prayer at the end of  the day, prayer before practice, prayer after practice; while they were happening a lot of times I didn’t care about it in the moment.  At Roncalli, Faith became a habit that would get me through lots of struggles and adversity in my life.

I'm leaving out a lot of teachers and a lot of stories.  Roncalli gave me 6 awesome friends that I continue to lean on for the last 25 years.  Senior retreat.  Service projects.  Learning from big mistakes.  But I'll wrap it up here.

It took me 15 years or so, but I now realize that there was probably nothing Roncalli could have done to prevent me from being in a position where my Faith was directly confronted and challenged as a college sophomore.  Can the Catholic identity of any school be improved?  Sure.  Just like we can all always grow in holiness until the day we die. 

But we don’t learn everything we need to know about our Catholic Faith by the time we are 18.  The attacks are going to come, no matter what.  And what I faced 20 years ago is nothing compared to what 19 year olds face on college campuses and in the larger culture today.

I am now EXTREMELY thankful for all the ways in which Roncalli prepared me to not give up in the face of adversity, and I’m thankful Roncalli taught me how and gave me the tools to fight back against attacks against my Catholic Faith.  To all those who gave of themselves so that I could have those experiences, I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate it sooner.