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Arguing, Through Repetition, That Liberals Caused Priest Scandal

GOODBYE, GOOD MEN: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church; By Michael S. Rose; Regnery Publishing Inc., $27.95, 276 pages

June 29, 2002|WILLIAM LOBDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Many conservative protesters at the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops conference in Dallas this month stood outside in the sweltering heat and held above their heads a book that revealed exactly what wickedness led to the church's sex scandal.

They may have even thumped the book a few times, though it wasn't the Bible.

It was Michael S. Rose's "Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church." The well-timed book places the blame for the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the bishops' cover-up largely on the liberal teachings of America's seminaries and the gay subculture he contends it fostered.

Rose, a Catholic journalist, spent two years interviewing 150 people associated with seminaries in the U.S., including bishops, priests, faculty members and administrators, seminarians and seminary dropouts.

His unflinching conclusion: There's been a "deliberate infiltration of Catholic seminaries by ... a clique of homosexual dilettantes, along with an underground of liberal faculty members determined to change the doctrines, disciplines and mission of the Catholic Church from within. Through the seminaries, liberals have brought a moral meltdown into the Catholic priesthood."

Some of the bricks Rose uses to construct his argument are sound and not disputed by church liberals, conservatives or statistics:

* Between 1966 and 1999, the number of seminarians in high schools, college and graduate programs dropped from 39,638 to 4,826, a stunning freefall in candidates for priesthood that endangers the Catholic Church in America.

* A thriving gay subculture has emerged in the seminaries over the past few decades--earning them nicknames such as "Notre Flame" (Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans), "Theological Closet" (Theological College at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.) and "Pink Palace" (St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore--creating an uncomfortable environment for some heterosexual students.

* And the Catholic sex scandal of the past six months has revealed a disturbing number of priests and bishops who no longer seek holiness but pleasures of this world, specifically sex and power.

Unfortunately, Rose takes this solid foundation for his book and builds a house made more of straw than concrete.

One of the book's problems, in both literary and logical terms, is its anecdotal nature. It's as if the author tried to make sure all 150 of his interviews were squeezed into the book. In Chapter 3, for instance, Rose managed to wedge the stories of 16 interviewees, illustrating again and again (and again) his point that orthodox Catholic students--whom he defines as those supporting Pope John Paul II and official church teachings--are routinely rejected by liberal seminaries.

Reading the flurry of anecdotes is like watching cars zoom by on the freeway: It's difficult to track anything, and you're left with no lasting details.

The other problem with the anecdotal approach is that it's impossible to get a sense of how many people these orthodox men--students, clergy and seminary officials--represent. Rose contends that militant liberalism and homosexuality within seminaries have driven away thousands of orthodox students and artificially created a priest shortage. But that's pure speculation.

Couldn't it also be that Catholic families have gotten significantly smaller in the past two generations, shrinking the pool of potential priests? Or that the church's teachings in the 1960s on birth control and other sexually related issues turned off a significant number of candidates? Or that the priesthood has simply fallen out of favor among faithful Catholic parents who once pushed at least one of their sons toward the vocation?

This is what makes the Catholic Church, at 2,000 years of age, a wonderfully complex organism. Simple explanations don't fit well. The dwindling number of clerics isn't due, as Rose argues, to the liberal establishment's wish to create an artificial shortage that will force the church to allow married and female priests. Chances are, the priest shortage has many causes, including liberal theology that turns off some students and the presence of homosexual majorities at some seminaries. It is here that Rose's book has value.

The stories told by orthodox students who refuse to accept their professors' liberal teachings are disturbing. If they devoutly follow official church teaching--and show devotion to traditional acts of Catholic piety such as the rosary--they routinely are labeled ""too rigid," "insubordinate" or "homophobic" and sent to seminary-approved psychotherapy.

"There were psychological screws under which we seminarians were constantly pressed," said Father John Lewandowski, who attended Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon. "The fact was, we had to hide devotion to Mary and to the Eucharist, or any other pious exercise of faith which was not on the list of acceptable activities."

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