eyes that see not

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 01, 2005

USA Today has an article on the upcoming Apostolic Visitation of seminaries:

A Vatican evaluation of American seminaries planned three years ago in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis is expected to move forward under new Pope Benedict XVI and will likely tackle the polarizing issue of whether gays should become priests. The appraisal will focus on conditions in the seminaries, including how instructors present church teaching on sexuality and celibacy, to look for anything that contributed to the scandal.

... The Vatican agency overseeing the project --the Congregation for Catholic Education -- has already been given a list of recommended bishops and priests to visit the seminaries. Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the U.S. Military Archdiocese has been appointed to coordinate the review.

I wish I had more confidence that O'Brien's the man for the job. There's no doubt that he knows the seminary scene -- he was rector of New York's Dunwoodie seminary in the years 1985-1989 and again in 1994-1997, and rector of Rome's North American College in the years 1990-1994 -- the question is whether this counts for or against his ability to confront unpalatable truths. Remember the following story from the Kansas City Star's series on priests with AIDS?:

[New Jersey psychiatrist Joseph] Barone directed an AIDS ministry from 1983 to 1993 for students at North American College in Rome. While there, he set up an underground AIDS testing program. Over seven years, he tested dozens of seminarians. Barone gave them false names, drove them to their tests in an unmarked car and paid for the tests himself.

"I didn't know who they were; they didn't know who I was," Barone said. Of those he worked with, he said, 1 in 12 tested HIV-positive. By the time Barone left Rome, he had treated about 80 priests with AIDS. Most of them were gay, he said, and contracted the disease through sexual activity.

I don't know whether Barone is on the level or not, but after a bombshell of this magnitude we'd expect some pretty decisive action one way or the other. If the claim was true, there should have been a rending of garments, followed by lots of heads rolling at the NAC. If false, there should have been a rending of garments, a loud cry of "calumny!" and a prompt but thorough rebuttal. If the claim was of uncertain merit, there should have been a rending of garments, followed by a room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer, hard disk to blood test investigation -- then a rebuttal or a firing squad, as appropriate. What did we get? Head-scratching instead of garment-rending. Hence that eerie feeling that no allegation, no matter how scandalous, is capable of provoking proportionately serious action -- whether vindicative, corrective, or investigative -- in response.

No one wants to come across as Chicken Little, panicking at every shadow and crying that the skies are falling. But bad things do happen -- in Russell Shaw's words, "prophets of doom are sometimes right" -- and if the skies have yet to fall on the U.S. Church, nearly a billion dollars worth of the ground has disappeared from beneath its feet as a consequence of insouciant inertness, not to speak of the damage to the moral authority of its ministers. Catastrophe doesn't come any clearer. So what do our bishops want the faithful to make of a claim like Barone's? That it's false, and no big deal? That it's true, and no big deal? Or that it's no big deal whether it's a big deal or not? Most bishops (not all), in most crisis situations (not all), have acted as if the last were the case.

Your Uncle Diogenes has already voiced his skepticism about the Visitation. Doubtless it will be carried out with punctilious attention to form. The problem is that men can conduct a minute examination and still fail to find what they wish very much not to find (one thinks of Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen, deliberately putting his telescope to his blind eye and saying, "Signal? I see no signal"). If the Team did find and report corruption at Seminary X, that might well lead to an ugly conflict with the responsible bishop. And that in turn could result in sacking the bishop in question -- together, perhaps, with some shonky members of the Team as well. Folks, if the record of the past thirty years is any guide, it won't happen. They'll take the course that's easier (in the short run) for all concerned. "Blackmail? I see no blackmail."

I sincerely want to be wrong here. I hope the coup de Krenn was not a fluke. I hope next year at this time I'll be posting a blog apologizing to the Team and eating my words. If I am wrong, the proof will be unmistakable: miterless heads and headless miters. It won't take long to find out.

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  • Posted by: Hollis - May. 03, 2005 7:16 PM ET USA

    jchrysostom states that in the late 90's none of [the NAC seminarians] seemed ... overly artistic. I was in Rome with a religious community in the early 90's. I too was not very "attuned to the issue at the time", but I remember the shock I experienced after meeting so many "overly artistic" seminarians from the NAC. Although most of the non-US seminarians appeared to be quite "balanced", I could spot the NAC seminarians a mile away. I knew then trouble would be coming soon to the US.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 1:31 PM ET USA

    Perhaps, before becoming the darling of the CTA crowd, Doyle had been keeping up with his requirements. Though I agree that O'Brien's recent comments, as well as his failure to deal with other dissident priests in the military (I know of them 1st hand and have written to O'Brien about them), definitely point to the possibiliity that disciplining Doyle had less to do with the CTA thing than the whistleblower thing. (We had a military priest give a homily one Sun on his CTA conference attendance.)

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 11:44 AM ET USA

    Doyle is a dissident, but O'Brien's various apologia of the episcopacy make any rationale he gave for removing Doyle's faculties highly suspect. I seem to recall that O'Brien acted against Doyle based, allegedly, on some issue of Mass scheduling, but Doyle had been a chaplain for almost twenty years when O'Brien did so.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 9:37 AM ET USA

    O'Brien may not be the best, but I agree with his "cashiering" of Fr. Doyle, who apparently didn't have time to say Mass for his flock because he was too busy speaking at Call to Action and Voice of the Faithless conferences. You are familiar with the CTA agenda, I believe. Fr. Doyle was right to speak out about the abuse, but he is also not orthodox in his beliefs.

  • Posted by: Fatimabeliever - May. 02, 2005 6:19 PM ET USA

    Thanks to CWN I don't think they'll be able to hide anything like this anymore. I'm sure CWN and others will make sure it comes out of the closet and stays out of the closet until someone finishes cleaning the closet.

  • Posted by: - May. 02, 2005 12:31 PM ET USA

    I'll have to re-read The New Men. I visited the NAC a couple of times when my brother-in-law was a student there in the late '90's, including his diaconal ordination, where I met many of his classmates. Although the Scandal (no definition required) had not yet roused the media, and I wasn't as attuned to the issue at the time, none of his classmates seemed ... overly artistic. Then again, these poseurs can be chameleon-like.

  • Posted by: - May. 02, 2005 8:40 AM ET USA

    AP reporter Brian Murphy's 1997 book The New Men mentions that Archbishop O'Brien purged NAC of homosexual seminarians. On the other hand, in the May 2005 First Things (pp. 9-10) Archbishop O'Brien praises Bishop Skylstad's election as USCCB president, denies that Cardinal McCarrick distorted Cardinal Ratzinger's letter on politicians, and condemns "the phrase 'John Paul II bishops,' with its implication that there are bishops in the conference who are not faithful to the Holy Father."

  • Posted by: - May. 01, 2005 9:12 AM ET USA

    Vergessen Sie nicht -- O'Brien cashiered USAF chaplain Father Tom Doyle, who first attempted to sound the clarion about the priesthood's child abuse crisis two decades ago, when it became clear that Doyle was wont to spend his leave time testifying and speaking about the dismal history of the episcopacy's response (which was exactly as UD prophesies for the Apostolic Visitation). No, the Visitation will accomplish little with O'Brien and his blunt instruments of neglect, denial, and silence.

  • Posted by: - May. 01, 2005 8:50 AM ET USA

    Any word on an apostolic visitation for Canadian seminaries? Merely because Oullette is in charge of Quebec City, does not mean that he'd can't use a Rapid Deployment Force to give him some help. Don't get me started on some of the other things I hear about other seminaries in Canada. I'll know they're serious up here when our Prime Minister is barred from Communion or Excommunicated. Until then, I'm from Missouri.