If You're Not a "Nice Guy"...
By Jeffrey Jackson
Crux News [Providence RI]
December 31, 2003
Searching for one’s vocation in life is a most daunting task. This is especially true given that society today is not only apathetic, but perhaps hostile, to the meaning of the word "vocation." It is no longer within the standard definition of the term "success" to have found a vocation. Oftentimes, a man of faith searching for his vocation, perhaps with lack of encouragement from his family and certainly no help from society, will turn to his diocesan vocation office for much needed wisdom and guidance on these critical matters. The expectation is to find spiritual fulfillment there — not officials with agendas seeking uncritical conformists.
It was to a degree my misfortune to have taken this path, for being a critical thinker, my critical thought led me to fully embrace the truths of Catholicism as taught by the Magisterium. My loyalty is unswerving, particularly when confronted with the shifting whims of the world. This was my position as a seminary applicant in a place that has long since abandoned its Catholic identity — the State of Rhode Island, which, ironically, has the highest percentage of Catholics, both practicing and non-practicing, of any state in the nation. I was confronted with certain grim realities upon applying to the seminary formation program in the Diocese of Providence (Rhode Island) a few years ago, when I would join several applicants in recent years in that Diocese and elsewhere to be rejected for an outward embrace of orthodoxy. It is time for me to speak out about this experience, and about the state of my home diocese.
A Novel Approach?
I do not stand in opposition to media campaigns on the part of dioceses for recruiting vocations, so long as the media venue is appropriate, and the advertising does not take precedence as the recruiting method. However, Providence is a novelty, because it advertises on the Music Television Network (MTV), a soft-porn channel that epitomizes the cultural, moral, spiritual, and intellectual degeneracy of today’s youth. Any diocese that makes a point of pitching priestly vocations to the lowest common denominator, which comprises the better part of MTV’s audience, opens itself up to particular scrutiny. The basic message of the Providence Diocese’s commercials was and is: Hey, come be a priest; it’s cool. The Diocese also expanded its ad campaign in 2002 to include ads for priestly vocations in the preview portion of popular films, specifically those that appeal to young adults (and I don’t mean G-rated ones). Such recruitment tactics are definitely not in line with the time-tested methods that successful, orthodox dioceses utilize in their recruitment strategy. Given all this novelty, it is the right of anyone to question the caliber and spiritual health of those recruited for seminary as a result of these campaigns.
Some have mentioned to me that they believe this media campaign is not a bad thing in itself, if only because it perhaps represents the "New Evangelization" — i.e., is consistent with the Pope’s mandate to use all means to evangelize. But this is completely beside the point. I have no problem with using all avenues of the media to evangelize, and in doing so reaching all populations with basic tenets of the Truth. But here’s the rub: Many in Rhode Island, myself included, have a major problem with advertising on MTV for vocations, because it opens the gates of a priestly formation program to potential candidates who, chances are, have not even been evangelized. Nor will they have reformed themselves, in many cases, of what are flagrantly deviant lifestyles and habits — particularly those promoted by MTV. A seminary is not a place to conduct CCD — or Al-Anon or any other such cleansing period.
Applying to the Diocesan Seminary
Much of the discussion of the Diocese of Providence and its MTV commercials now centers around Vocation Recruiter Fr. Marcel L. Taillon (the Vocation Director is someone else). The matter of the MTV commercials was dealt with in four paragraphs in a column by Michael S. Rose in the NOR (Feb. 2002), although Fr. Taillon was not mentioned by name. It was also dealt with in four paragraphs in Rose’s Goodbye, Good Men, where Fr. Taillon was mentioned, but only by way of his defending the MTV commercials. The issue did not become a cause célèbre — with Fr. Taillon as the focus of attention — until the National Catholic Register carried a lengthy article (June 30-July 6, 2002) by Features Editor David Pearson, a self-proclaimed "personal friend" of Fr. Taillon’s who heatedly defended Fr. Taillon in very personal terms.
Pearson claimed that Rose, in both the column and the book, accused Fr. Taillon of "offenses against orthodoxy," but Rose did no such thing (and Fr. Taillon wasn’t even mentioned in the column). Pearson also claimed that Rose, in both the column and the book, injured the "reputation" of Fr. Taillon. But Fr. Taillon wasn’t even mentioned in the column, and if Fr. Taillon’s reputation was injured in the book, Fr. Taillon did it to himself in his quotes defending the MTV blitz. (For the ensuing controversy, see the Sept. 2002 NOR, pp. 20-33, and the March 2003 NOR, pp. 20-22, 24).
Because of Pearson’s overreaction, Fr. Taillon became the epicenter of the controversy. Actually, I do not hold Fr. Taillon personally culpable, for his role in the MTV commercials has been greatly exaggerated. Given his role as Vocation Recruiter, Fr. Taillon is directly responsible to the bishops. He must receive their approval prior to promoting an ad campaign, which the bishops enable and likely fund — at least in part — just as they set the standards for the matriculation of seminarians. This is particularly the case in Providence, where the Auxiliary Bishop, the Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, also bears the title and assumes the responsibilities of Bishop-Rector of Our Lady of Providence (Minor) Seminary. While I wish to assure David Pearson that I do not question Fr. Taillon’s orthodoxy or character, there are nonetheless major problems that have yet to be addressed.
When I initially met Fr. Taillon, just prior to applying to the Diocese, I did not feel uncomfortable in expressing my orthodoxy. In our early conversations, he seemed accepting of it to a degree, that is, until we began discussing various pastoral approaches. It was then, when I approvingly told him about a priest I know of who had given a firm exhortation about mortal sin and Hell to a younger crowd in his parish, that I felt rebuffed. Fr. Taillon told me that a priest speaking that way to people under any circumstances is "not cool," that it causes "great harm" by "hurting people’s feelings," and would drive people away from the love of the Church by being so "pre-Vatican II," "extreme," and "judgmental."
I would continue to meet Fr. Taillon, as well as other prospective seminary applicants, at the periodic Associates meeting held at Our Lady of Providence (Minor) Seminary. There, Fr. Taillon would lead the group in evening prayer. I recall much of the group laughing over and celebrating the MTV commercials, in addition to partaking in more solemn periods of Eucharistic Adoration.
Through the early stages of discerning my vocation, while applying to the diocesan formation program, I had been attending Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., a university run by the Religious Sisters of Mercy, a progressive order of sisters specializing in educational ministries. But spirituality of any kind on campus was about nil. Only about 15 out of the more than 2,000 students attended weekly Mass in the campus chapel. In fact, there was not even a priest chaplain assigned to the campus for one of the two academic years I was there (1998-1999). Curiously, the President of the institution, Mercy Sister M. Therese Antone, continuously boasted that she is personally acquainted with (former) President Bill Clinton. She personally introduced students to Clinton at a function in Newport some years ago (I was present), and she is pictured with the then-President at the White House on the University’s website (salve.edu/pellcenter/about.html).
It was perhaps during my fourth meeting with Fr. Taillon, a self-described "moderate," for the purpose of assessing my spirituality, that I made reference to the difficulties of spiritual life at Salve Regina. Upon which Fr. Taillon proceeded to chew me out, admonishing me that being critical of the sisters that run the University for any reason was inappropriate behavior for a seminarian or a priest — especially in this case, he said, because Bishop McManus is a good friend of Salve Regina’s President.
According to the Our Lady of Providence Seminary website, "The college seminarian ordinarily attends Providence College" — another local Catholic institution of higher learning. Certainly this college designated by the Diocese for college and pre-theology seminary studies would be a far cry from Salve Regina, right? Wrong. For the second year in a row this past spring, during the Holy Season of Lent, Providence College stood among the good number of Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. (including Salve Regina) that hosted the vulgar and pro-lesbian Vagina Monologues. The Administration of Providence College, consistent with its usual masquerade of conservatism, published its official "disapproval" of the play in the Cowl, the main house-organ of the campus, claiming to have not granted approval for the play and disclaiming any role whatsoever in its production. With this superficial nod to the institution’s bygone Catholic identity, the play, according to the Cowl, "could only be represented [sic] by a faculty department in the name of academic freedom," whereby "eight academic departments are behind the performance…." The last time I checked, academic departments receive their funding directly from and otherwise answer directly to the college administration. Not surprisingly, years ago some seminarians told me that they doubted the authentic Catholic identity of Providence College, especially since it is considered by many to be a "party school," a label denoted in some popular college guides.
With regard to seminarians’ enrollment at Providence College, the Seminary website states, "The college seminarian is responsible for the cost of tuition, room and board." In other words, the seminarian himself must shell out $22,500 per year directly to Providence College (aptly known as PC) along with another $4,000 per year to the Diocese in order to live at the Seminary. This represents a departure from the practice of most dioceses, who cover most, if not all, essential seminary educational expenses for the seminarians they sponsor, and certainly the expense of room and board in the diocese’s own seminary residence. I’m sure it’s difficult, though, considering that Rector-Bishop McManus presumably opted to burn much of the denoted seminary funding on the MTV commercials he is intent on producing, instead of funding education for his college seminarians.
It’s Up to the Shrinks
A couple of months later, I was given the standard psychological evaluations. These began with an interview with a gentleman who would administer the psychological survey. Over the course of the following week, at the end of which I was scheduled to return for an additional interview with a woman psychologist, I became engrossed in the then-popular new book, What Went Wrong With Vatican II? by renowned philosopher and writer Ralph McInerny. According to a book review in First Things (Jan. 1999), the book "explain[s] that the Council’s teachings (with which, [McInerny] takes pains to say, nothing whatsoever is wrong) were hijacked by theologians who mis-characterized, deliberately or otherwise, the ‘spirit of Vatican II.’" In other words, the book tells how the liberals hijacked the Council, and what the result of this has been, especially the loss of Catholic identity, especially among the post-Conciliar generation.
The meeting with the woman psychologist would be quite telling. She made inquiries such as "What is your sexual preference?" When I replied that I am unequivocally straight, she pompously barked, "And how do you know this?" Her queries were certainly appropriate, but, in retrospect, it seemed to me that her problem with my answer was not with "straight," but with "unequivocally." Shrinks like her seem to prefer people who are conflicted and ambiguous over those who are definite and unequivocal.
The questions would become more open-ended, allowing me to elaborate on my personal understanding of the Church and Christ’s priesthood. In doing so, I naïvely figured that I would speak about the Vatican II book then fresh in my mind and my understanding of the priesthood in light of the current struggles the book describes. Since the woman had not heard of the book or even (amazingly) its author, I gave a synopsis as she inquired about my own personal impressions of the situation in the Church. I told her about the liturgical flippancy that is so common, with guitar Masses and celebrants’ vestments that look tie-dyed. Continuing on this thread, I mentioned the overall lack of Catholic literacy among today’s young Catholics as seen at Salve Regina University and Providence College — oftentimes through no fault of their own — and the tolerance of dissent in the Church.
At the conclusion of the session, the woman requested that I draw a picture of a man, which I did — wearing a cassock. Then the woman drew her own picture of a man — hanging.
Six weeks later I received a rejection notice from Our Lady of Providence Seminary. The letter, signed by Bishop McManus, advised that I continue my discernment with the help of Fr. Marcel Taillon. Once again, I stress that Fr. Taillon functioned as a messenger for the hierarchy of the Diocese, and in no way am I rendering judgment on his character or orthodoxy.
Upon consultation with Fr. Taillon following the rejection notice, I was read the "psychological" report by the woman in its entirety. It portrayed me in melodramatic, neurotic-sounding terms, namely, that if I were ordained, I would repeal the reforms of Vatican II and replace them with my own warped, rigid, anger-driven notion of what the Church should be — making me a reactionary crackpot. Disregarded, among many things, was the fact that my supposedly warped notions about the Council were derived from the scholarly writings of a man most known for his fidelity to the Church — and for his fidelity to the documents of Vatican II. Fr. Taillon, after reading this, proceeded to elaborate on this point himself, stating that the Diocese "doesn’t need priests from 1952," but rather "needs priests that will move with the Church into the 21st century." He accused me of insulting the Holy Father and all bishops with my remarks about the toleration of dissent and the general sad state of affairs in the Church. With regard to my comments about Salve Regina University and Providence College and the general lack of Catholic literacy among Catholic youth, Fr. Taillon mentioned that Bishop McManus, who is also Vicar of Education for the Diocese, was "offended." Regarding this matter, Fr. Taillon’s precise dictum was, "What did I tell you about that?" He said the Mercy Sisters, some of whom I criticized for having too liberal an approach, had served as a personal inspiration to Bishop McManus during his own priestly formation. To sum it all up, Fr. Taillon remarked, "We know you’re a good guy, but you’re not a nice guy."
The Right Kind of Guy
It is instructive to inquire as to just what type of candidate the Diocese of Providence finds suitable for priestly formation. I scratched my head over this question for quite a while until I found out just who: a former good acquaintance of mine who, by societal definitions, is a hip, open-minded, politically correct, self-actualizing man who is, above all else, a "nice guy." Let me explain: He came to Rhode Island from out of state and had been in the Providence area only briefly when we met at the monthly Associates gathering at the Our Lady of Providence Seminary. Upon his initial introduction to me, he identified himself as being in the process of conversion — i.e., in a local parish RCIA program. What? That’s right, coming from a liberal Protestant denomination, he wasn’t even yet a Catholic, and would not be until the Easter Vigil of that year. As a graduate of an art program at a very liberal college, he told me that he had experimented with various elements of what he described as a hippie lifestyle (such as drug use). He described to me his fascination with Hinduism and Buddhism, which he said led him for two semesters abroad to Asia. His journey to "find himself" would eventually lead him to a Catholic monastery, where he boarded for several months and where he would meet retreatant Fr. Taillon. He mentioned that in gaining an appreciation for the contemplative experience, he had begun to hear a summoning to the priesthood, prompting his impending conversion to Catholicism.
He stated to me that despite praying, and attending the Seminary’s sessions of Eucharistic Adoration, he had his doubts about the Eucharistic Real Presence — even after his conversion. Also troubling were his views on homosexuality. While celebrating the Easter Triduum together a full year after his reception into the Church, I related to him the essence of the Holy Thursday homily I had heard, in which the practice of state-approved same-sex "marriage" was condemned. This future seminarian did not restrain himself from furiously expressing his objections, and condemning the Church’s stance as "bigoted" and "outdated," giving the examples of "gay" friends of his who would be severed from their "significant other" in cases of illness and other crises in the absence of same-sex "marriage." I do not believe this individual to be a homosexual, based on other stories he told me, but he did seem very easygoing about homosexuality.
While I do believe that a good number of Providence seminarians, including a classmate of mine from high school, have the potential to be great priests, it seems that for many of the others, personal crisis and confusion are the precursors to their interest in the priesthood. I am cognizant of other men having been accepted into formation in this Diocese whose pasts include having been committed to substance-abuse rehab institutes. In psych lingo these days, being "admitted" or "committed" to any such institute underscores the presence of a major psychological disorder that is not easily treated or correctable — and which anyone can see would surely be exacerbated by the demands of the priesthood.
Not a Liberal Diocese?
The Editor of the National Catholic Register, in one of his rants against Michael Rose (July 7-13, 2002), faulted Rose for his description of the Diocese of Providence as one of the East Coast’s "more liberal" ones. True to form, the Register Editor did not bother to present any evidence refuting Rose’s characterization. Well, I can attest to Rose’s description — and with a doozy. On January 6, 2003, the Most Rev. Robert E. Mulvee, Ordinary of the Providence Diocese, delivered the invocation at the inauguration of Providence’s Mayor-elect David N. Cicilline. As of his election the previous November, Cicilline lauded himself as "America’s only openly gay, Italian, Jewish mayor" — having renounced Catholicism to become Jewish. After this received national publicity, the "gay" Mayor apostate received his inaugural invocation from none other than our local Catholic Bishop, who prayed: "Bless his honor, Mayor David N. Cicilline…. Help us…celebrate our diversity…" (Providence Visitor, Jan. 9, 2003).
By now, it should be abundantly clear why I was rejected. Not only am I rigid (the code word for orthodox) but I am angry (the code word for being outspokenly orthodox).
I spoke with an acquaintance on the faculty of Salve Regina University who is professionally acquainted with the woman psychologist who interviewed me. I was informed that she is a former nun. I would later learn that neither she nor the gentleman who administered the psych survey to me are "licensed, board-certified clinical" psychologists. Although never producing any sort of clinical diagnosis, these "psychologists" suggested, with the seminary staff going along, that I should seek special counseling to deal with my issues of "anger." Yeah, right.
Nonetheless, I did go to a psychologist, but a licensed, board-certified clinical psychologist. I was pronounced "normal."
Many who have been rejected or dismissed from various seminary programs across the country have had similar experiences, although sometimes the reasons for their rejection have been vague. In my case, I was told flat out, unambiguously, that my orthodoxy was an impediment.
Although Fr. Taillon pronounced me a relic from 1952 (way before I was born!), I do at least credit him with being forthright, when he didn’t have to be.
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