About those ''Rigid'' Seminarians...

Torch of The Faith News on Monday 23 November 2015 - 19:16:03 | by admin

When I had been at Ushaw seminary for a few weeks, a student from several years higher up the house came to give me some well-meant advice. The conversation went something like this:-

''I've noticed that you go to Morning and Evening Prayer every single day.''

''Er... Yes. What about it?''

''I wouldn't do that if I were you.''

''Really! Why not?''

''Well, you see, the staff are going to notice that type of thing and they'll say that you're too rigid. That'll come back on you later on. It has already happened to other lads before you came here. It would perhaps be best if you have a sleep-in some days and skip going to chapel once or twice.''

I was as dumbfounded then as I was when another well-intentioned man came to warn me not to have my orthodox books or devotional material on open show on the bookcase in my room. I was astounded. If you could get labelled as ''rigid'' for just saying your daily prayers, or reading orthodox material, then what hope was there for your vocation, or even your faith, during 6 years in that atmosphere? You've got to remember, too, that I was a fairly recent convert (of 4 years) and had worked in a high-street bank for 9 years before going to seminary. I'd had my own job, car, savings and everything. After about two days in the repressive Modernist atmosphere of the place, I phoned my Dad and said that it felt like I'd gone in a time-machine from 90's England to Hitler's Germany or something.

This sense was only increased one evening after Holy Mass. Shocked that we were not to be allowed to kneel for the Consecration in the seminary, I began to do a profound bow towards the altar at that point during Holy Mass. A lay woman on the staff pulled me over in the cloister afterwards, did a slow impression of my gesture and then narrowed her eyes at me, as if to say: ''I'm on to you, young man!''

When my late friend Fr. Mike and a few of us used to pray novenas of reparation in St. Cuthbert's chapel at night, we chuckled amongst ourselves about the irony that we would be lumped with a so-called ''formation issue'' if we were to be discovered by the staff, but not if we were seen to be propping up the bar three nights a week. We felt like the underground Church.

As I was attending Divine Office primarily for God, and not for the staff or anyone else, I ignored the well-meant advice of that seminarian and kept heading down to Morning Prayer each day. Too rigid you see!

For some reason, I never got labelled with the ''Rigid'' moniker by the staff. They did say that I needed to have a ''broader model of church'' in one of my reports. Well, I could live with that: as limited creatures we can always have a deeper appreciation of the awesome mystery of the Church. After once teaching some primary school children about the Rosary, I was hit with a report which suggested that I had taken an ''Old-fashioned faith stance''. It seemed odd to me, because I was not taking a stance at all. As far as I was concerned, I was just passing on the Faith to Catholic kids.

A Modernist student did once call me the ''Vatican Police'' and a ''fascist b*****d'' for having ventured to get some swear-words removed from the script of a college play, which was to be performed before local villagers and their teenaged daughters, but nobody ever called me rigid. At least they never said it to my face!

Still, some of the other lads did earn some quite negative labels on their end of term reports. We were told that students before our time had been pressured for being too ''pious'' during Mass. A good man I knew got tagged as ''rigid''. He was kept waiting until the very day of his ordination to the diaconate, after five long years of persecution, to be told that he was being held back and would not be getting ordained that evening with the rest of his peers. Further setbacks eventually hindered his priestly ordination by another 18-months.

I had a good friend, a mature and highly educated young man, who got labelled as being ''scrupulous''. He had been too-obviously checking the palms of his hands for crumbs from the large, crumbly and powdered triangles of bread which were used for the Holy Eucharist. There was no receiving on the tongue in that regime.

Another good friend was labelled as ''homophobic'' for simply quoting from the teaching about homosexuality in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, during a class discussion.

Yet another friend made it to the diaconate and had all the ordination cards and invites printed ready for his priestly ordination day. He was pulled up for wearing clerical attire; and then only for Sunday Mass and when taking Holy Communion to the sick. His ordination was suspended for six months and he had to lose out in relation to the printing costs.

Rigid. Narrow model of church. Old-fashioned faith stance. Homophobic. Scrupulous.

None of these are helpful labels to get stamped on your report in an environment largely controlled by dissenting Modernists.

In his seminal book Goodbye Good Men - How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church, Michael S. Rose explores the phenomenon of the persecution and weeding out of orthodox seminarians, in favour of dissenters and active homosexuals, which prevailed for several decades in the American situation.
One year after leaving Ushaw Seminary in a profound state of psychological and spiritual exhaustion, I met Angeline at a friend's wedding. We got married in 2002. Soon after our wedding, Angeline found and bought me a copy of Rose's important book. I sat down and read it in just 24-hours. I must say that it was one of the most cathartic experiences that I have ever had.

When I had come home emotionally, psychologically and spiritually battered from Ushaw, in the late 90's, people in the parish told my parents that I should not speak of the bad things that I had experienced during my two years in seminary. We basically were left with no help. In that dark time, the text of Matthew 24:13, the love of my poor parents and the support of my best friend, Fr. Mike Williams (R.I.P.), helped me to keep on going before I met Angeline. When I eventually got Michael Rose's book from her, I realized that I could speak about this stuff. I understood, too, that I was not going crazy for wanting to do so. There were others - many, many others - who had suffered similarly from the bullying, heresy, immorality, psychological warfare and sacrilege that constituted so much of the so-called seminary formation in those grim days.

In Goodbye Good Men, Michael Rose exposes the fact that seminarians who began to stand up against the evils around them soon found themselves being labelled as rigid, pre-conciliar, or somehow anti-community. Quoting from the famous Fr. John Trigilio, author of Catholicism for Dummies and co-host of EWTN's Web of Faith, Rose compares the kind of constant surveillance and persecution, which faithful Catholics received in Modernistic seminaries, to the type of psychological warfare employed by the KGB in Soviet Russia. In light of that, Fr. Trigilio explained: ''The one book that helped me persevere through my 12 years of seminary, was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago.'' Funnily enough, together with Michael Rose's book, this is one of the titles which has most helped me in the years of trying to recover after the spiritual-gulag of Ushaw. 

During my time at Ushaw, and in the decade or so afterwards, I began to meet and speak with former seminarians from America, Germany, Holland and Ireland who had all come through similar experiences. Some had made it to priesthood, others were still trying. One thing that kept coming up in conversations with these men, was the fact that orthodox seminarians found themselves being labelled and persecuted as ''rigid''. Between us, we began to piece together the fact that there must have been a concerted effort from somewhere for this very word to keep cropping up and to have been used so effectively, in such disparate cultural situations, to destroy orthodox vocations.

And destruction is the right word. Fr. Trigilio explained to Michael Rose: ''I actually saw vocations tortured and killed by those who were supposedly there to promote and foster vocations.'' He adds that he witnessed, ''a real persecution and systematic extermination of orthodoxy and manly piety so as to artificially create a climate for married and women clergy.''

So there you go!

All of this, together with his frequent negative comments about orthodox Catholics, formed the backdrop to my hearing of Pope Francis' words, to a conference of priestly formators at the weekend, about seminarians.

He said: ''When a youngster is too rigid, too fundamentalist, I don't feel confident (about him). Behind it there is something that he himself does not understand. Keep your eyes open!''

Francis framed this rhetoric with suggestions of neurosis, psychological instability and the concept of rigid priests ''biting'' people.

I must say, that Francis seems to paint caricatures of clergymen which would be worthy of the Gothic novels of Charlotte Bronte. His depiction of orthodox young men as rigid fundamentalists, calls to mind the stereotypes of the wolf-like terror of Mr. Brocklehurst, or the decent, but frigidly uptight, Sinjin Rivers in Jane Eyre.
Mr. Brocklehurst to the falsely accused Jane Eyre: ''No sight so sad as a naughty child... especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death Miss Eyre? They go to Hell. A pit full of fire. And should you like to fall into that pit and be burning forever?''

Don't get me wrong. There are some young men who are too rigid in an unhealthy way. Often, some of these edges get rounded off through pastoral experience and growing clerical responsibility. However, Pope Francis seems to see traditional seminarians as though they were a throwback to Jansenism, or as the Calvinistic bundles of fun from Bronte's imagination. 

From my own experience, I have to say that there are plenty of unbalanced characters who have been ushered through toward ordination, even though - or likely because - they were irreverent and effeminate dissenters from the Magisterium. At the same time, plenty of good men were put through the wringer, or even prevented from getting into the seminary system to begin with, just because they were faithful and orthodox Catholics. I've said here before, that I've seen lads turned away at selection for believing that the Church is hierarchical, for supporting Humanae Vitae, or for being forthrightly pro-life. 

And what of the men who have suffered emotionally, psychologically and spiritually after their experiences at the hands of Modernists in the seminaries? 

What of the men who were made to consume dozens of consecrated Hosts? Or who had to endure a large piece of unconsecrated bread being mopped around a paten, with particles of the Blessed Sacrament on, and then thrust aggresively into their face, with the words ''Get Eating''? What of those who had to endure an odd character listening outside of their door night after night in the dark? How did they suffer when the men who did these things were ordained and went on to run several parishes? What of those put through the grinder every fortnight in so-called spiritual direction sessions, which had more in common with interrogations? What of those who could not sleep for weeks and became ground down after partying ''gin queens'' kept them up with their rowdy parties until 2.30 am each morning? Or of those who had their private mail interfered with and illegally defaced with mocking slogans?

At the weekend, Fr. Ray Blake wrote a thoughtful article, entitled A Place for the Damaged, in response to Pope Francis' latest comments about ''rigid'' seminarians. Judging from the responses he received, Pope Francis has touched a raw nerve with many good people by his latest comments; and Fr. Ray has provided something of a pastoral space for a lot of wounded souls.

Having suffered so much in the spiritual-gulag that was Ushaw college in the 1990's, and having witnessed the ''rigid'' label being abused to destroy and hinder good and orthodox vocations from England, America, Germany, Holland and Ireland; I must say that Pope Francis' comments to seminary formators at the weekend have put me back a long, long way.

I imagine that now they will be used by Modernists in seminaries everywhere to do just that - in the sense of putting them back in their formation - to plenty more orthodox young men who are presently in the system.

I also think that Jorge Bergoglio would have got along just fine among the staff at Ushaw; either as a student or as a staff member in those times.

I always like to try and end articles on a happy note. So here goes: I once asked my late friend Fr. Mike Williams how it was that he, being so orthodox, managed to survive six years at Ushaw and reach ordination. He immediately replied: ''It was Our Lady. Sheer Our Lady!''

Let us then look to Our Blessed Mother for all that we need. If you are a young man considering priesthood, think very carefully of where you will go; everyone has a breaking-point. From what I have seen of them, and of the pastoral care they have provided to my family, I would highly recommend the ICKSP. The formation seems to turn out plenty of good, young men who are orthodox, but not rigid. And unlike so many dioceses that have capitulated to Modernism, they are not having a vocations shortage.

As Michael S. Rose says in the conclusion to Goodbye Good Men: Orthodoxy begets vocations.

Our Lady, Mother of Priests - Pray for us!