The Death of Seminaries

“I used to be against married priests… until I had children.  I wish we had more priests who knew what parenting is like.”

“Married priests in the Roman Church would be a disaster!”

“More of a disaster than the priests of the last century? Worse than all the pederasts?”

Seminaries have failed.  That’s all there is to it.  Go to a church staffed by most priests from Econe, Winona. or Denton Nebraska and you will likely meet a naive and innocent young man who gets all his theology from a manual.  He knows nothing of Patrisics or history, thinks the height of ministry is giving a forty minute sermon at a Low Mass (about such relevant topics like the “great” Cornelius a Lapidae… you know, because the homeschooling mother with her five children is so interested in that), and is ill-prepared to deal with people and their everyday problems.  His idea of confession advice to a young man struggling with lust is to tell him, “Save yourself to be the bride of Christ. Just say ‘Blood of Christ wash over me’ every time, it works like a cookbook!” (No it doesn’t, and only bad cooks use cookbooks for anything more than a reference). The church-ladies surround him to curry his favor and soon he is in their grasp.  Soon, they have become the masters of the church.

Seminaries not run by traditionalists fare little better.  Perhaps the pink palaces talked of in Goodbye, Good Men are less prevalent than they used to be, but there is still a dearth of knowledge being imparted to these gentle young men.  Perhaps that is the problem?  Perhaps young men being plucked from the grind of reality to be indoctrinated for a few years is not the model for priestly formation?

The seminaries were built in the Counter-Reformation so priests wold be better trained and disciplined to combat heresy.  Ideally, priests would be better prepared due to their formation.  Clearly, this has not been the case.  How many priests have we met who spout heresy from the pulpit?  How many traditionalist priests lack basic interpersonal and communication skills?  The seminary has become an isolated bubble that increases the distance between the faithful and the priest.  Too often the priest is the fool while the layman is more practical.  The layman can come up with a solution to a problem while the pastor nervously and impotently twitches.

And we have the gall to complain about a lack of vocations.

Much prayer and action will be needed for this situation to be reversed.  In the meantime, the best I can put forward is a new model for the priesthood: “The Council of Deacons”.

One of the positive changes to come from the 1960’s was the revival of the Diaconate as something more than a stepping-stone to priesthood.  One can argue about the quality of the formation, but the concept was good.  Furthermore, married deacons eliminates the “either-or” conundrum a young man faces with regards to marriage or orders.  I propose we use this to our advantage.

First, there must be an effort to grow the diaconate in both quality and quantity.  Efforts must be made to reach out to young and old men to inspire them to serve God and his church.  Helping at the liturgy, giving communion to those who need it, preaching, and decentralizing the pressure faced by the priests, are all things that they will need to be taught to do at least serviceably.   If a church of a couple thousand can pool fifty deacons from varying walks of life, what need have we of altar girls?  Would we be able to complain (as Podles did) of women driving the men away from church?

Second, we could use this to select priests.  Priests who are local, priests who understand the congregation, priests who have ministered to them for years.  Upon the death of a priest the deacons could meet to pick his successor from among their ranks (like a tribal moot to pick a new chieftain).  If there is a conflict, they can pick several candidates if they wish (who says the priesthood cannot grow?).  The results would then be submitted to the bishop who would either confirm or reject their choice.  The result would be a priest that is not Rome’s priest or the bishop’s priest, but OUR priest.

Keep in mind, I am aware of this idea’s limitations.  It would a nightmare to implement if one church decided to take this bold step forward.  Also, some bad priests will ALWAYS slip through the cracks and there will be corruption at times.  It is already that way with the current system.  That is human nature.  The present hope is to turn around our current problems and have a better system, not a perfect one.  We can’t have a perfect one.  Not here.

St John Chrysostom, Patron Saint of Preachers, help us in this our need!

Note: I have met some good priests in the SSPX and FSSP in my time, most of them from continental Europe.  There was one particular SSPX priest who could silence the church with his sermons against the cowardice of lazy fathers or the false piety of churchladies.  Last I heard, he is still going strong teaching in a boy’s school.  Would that more traditionalist priests opted for masculinity instead of limp-wristed effete Baroque piety!


14 thoughts on “The Death of Seminaries

  1. An insightful post, as always. But since we are dealing with almost utopic ideas, I beg you permission to go a step further in one concrete matter:

    If a church of a couple thousand can pool fifty deacons from varying walks of life, what need have we of altar girls?
    Here you are pointing to something almost fallen in oblivion: the Minor Orders. Not so long ago, I wondered if there would be any chance for the establishment of some kind of “permanent subdiaconate”, which would allow some disposed and liturgical-minded laymen to help increasing the liturgical level of the parish. Of course, this is today impossible, not the least because of its abolition by Paul VI (I still wonder if the bishop of Rome – no denial of his primacy intended – really can throw away the Minor Orders even within his own diocese). With a permanent subdeacon and a couple of permanent acolytes, who would need altar girls?

    K. e.


    • I would love to see the return of the minor orders. There has been talk among the Orthodox about bringing back the role or deaconesses with its historical functions. Just because something was done away with doesn’t mean it can’t be reintroduced.
      I think it would be interesting to see one diocese reestablish minor orders and tell Rome that this is a “trial run”.


      • Diaconesses… well, I know almost nothing about their historical role, but I have read somewhere that they still exist in the Armenian Church; like married clergy, they are part of the traditions of the Church. The Tradistanis, of course, would blame us of being on the Devil’s side. But it could be a feminine counterbalance against churchladies.

        I once thought of writing Francis on the subject of subdiaconate (my papolatrical Spanish bishop would have never acted without Roman permission), but I do not think it would be useful…


      • The Orthodox were considering reviving the deaconess as an accommodation to modernity and contemporary gender ideas, not for a good reason. The Greek word for deacon has no gender and literally means “helper.” Male deacons read the Gospel, administered Communion, and watched church finances. Deaconesses had special roles related to the practice of full nude baptismal immersion. They would help undress and anoint female catechumens in the baptistry prior to the actual baptism in order to keep the priest or bishop blameless. As more and more Christians were baptized as infants the deaconess died. They had some unique privileges, such taking Communion at the Holy Table in the Hagia Sophia, but this does not seem too extraordinary to me, as the Emperor had the same right (he was the living image of God the Father on earth according to pre-1453 Greek theology). Reviving the role is a bit anachronistic.


  2. If there was any Priest I would love to meet, it would be Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi. He was by far one of the most manly Priests I have ever read about. If a man entered the house of his future bride, he would get beat up. He once helped a woman who was being harassed by pagans by fighting them off. He even punched a pagan in the face who dancing around in their diabolical parade!

    Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, pray for the clergy!


  3. “Priests who are local, priests who understand the congregation, priests who have ministered to them for years. Upon the death of a priest the deacons could meet to pick his successor from among their ranks (like a tribal moot to pick a new chieftain). If there is a conflict, they can pick several candidates if they wish (who says the priesthood cannot grow?). The results would then be submitted to the bishop who would either confirm or reject their choice. The result would be a priest that is not Rome’s priest or the bishop’s priest, but OUR priest.”

    This conflicts with the traditional understanding of the priest as an extension of the bishop’s sacramental power though, not his communitarian role. Until Trent, only the bishop and those licensed by him could preach. The same was true of Confession outside of emergencies. Parish priests said Mass, led devotions, and had a communal role, but no one thought of him in the same manner as the modern priest (East or West). The priest exists because the bishop cannot be everywhere at once. Your solution is communally friendly, but it misses the point that the episcopacy is the problem (and yes, no one wanted Mahoney in Los Angeles, but after having him they would elect another like him if we turned episcopal selection over to the locals).

    Lastly, do you not think there would be the least disaster in changing a discipline so deeply tied with the priest’s daily life and its traditional Latin understanding for the last 15 centuries?—although only law for 10 of them. Would it not be a shot to the good priests who sacrificed family ambitions for what they perceived to be their calling? Studies show pedophilia was no higher among priests than among protestant ministers or rabbis, who both can marry. The Church is a target in the press because of its institutional cohesion and cultural opposition to what the media want, so it is easy to present the priesthood as having a ubiquitous problem rather than a failure of bishops to select and control their own priests (some dioceses were better than others at this). To discard the celibacy of the Latin priesthood would be a very myopic solution to a much greater problem.

    Start firing bishops instead.


    • The problem is that bishops SHOULD be local. He will likely reflect the problems of that community, but that is their problem and the faithful should be empowered to fight back rather than feel that Rome thrust the bishop on them. If a bishop goes completely mad and starts “ordaining” women or some such thing, then it’s better to do away with that diocese and begin a new one to replace it (that is the sort of thing neighboring bishops should be able to do in that situation). Better to cut off the gangrenous member so a new one can grow in its place.

      I am not in favor of ditching celibacy on the flip of a coin. I would be open to more exceptions being made to the rule on a case-by-case basis (such as say… a well respected and holy married deacon who has been at it for 30 years). If celibacy is ever removed it must be done with all due deliberation and for the right reasons. (I am aware of the married pedophilia problem. The Byzantine Orthodox had it almost as bad proportionally and the Eastern Catholics, while not having it nearly as bad, were by no means immune. Nothing is perfect.)

      Basically, even if a model similar to this one was adopted there would still be rules such as the widower and single deacons being the normal candidates. Exceptions could be made, but they would be exceptions. The beauty of decentralization is that people can observe what works and what doesn’t.

      Rome’s record of dealing with bad bishops has been atrocious of late. Resistance to a heretic bishop must be more widely practiced by the faithful (as was done in Arian times) instead of this absurd emphasis on “obedience at all costs”. With some particular bishops, I would not be averse to them being fired by way of actual fire. If we are going to deal with bad bishops we cannot wait for Rome. Top-down solutions are not and will not be forthcoming.


  4. “Aurelius, the bishop, said: We add, most dear brethren, moreover, since we have heard of the incontinency of certain clerics, even of readers, towards their wives, it seemed good that what had been enacted in various councils should be confirmed, to wit, that subdeacons who wait upon the holy mysteries, and deacons, and presbyters, as well as bishops according to former statutes, should contain from their wives, so that they should be as though they had them not and unless they so act, let them be removed from office. But the rest of the clergy are not to be compelled to this, unless they be of mature age. And by the whole council it was said: What your holiness has said is just, holy, and pleasing to God, and we confirm it.”

    I know more than one married priests, and I don’t think that they are any more personable than the celibate priests in our diocese. Those qualities are largely natural ones. Some have a knack for it and will be great at relating to others regardless of whether they ever marry or not. Others don’t and never will. In a lot of ways, this is like the meme that homeschoolers are all clueless geeks. In general, the homeschoolers I meet are more sociable than a miserly public-schooled individuals like myself. Likewise, if public-school was effective at instilling social, where would all the nerds be for people to beat up. And in some cases, I’m sure that public schooling exerts a long-lasting negative influence either by trauma due to bullying and situations of social anxiety or exposure to anti-social behavior on the part of their peers. It’s like putting someone in the room with a piano and expecting them to become a great musician. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, especially if the piano keeps giving them a wedgie.


    • The main thrust I was getting at is less about married/unmarried priests and more whether we should accept men from other walks in life besides the seminary. Though I might have been a bit aggressive in my rhetoric, realistically I know we can’t and shouldn’t make changes like those floated here overnight or in more than one place at a time. The rashness of the reformers in the 60’s and 70’s does not invalidate the point that something needed to be done, just what they did and how they went about it. The cool minds must prevail.

      I will point out, though, that in the current state of affairs an Augustine of Hippo would have been entirely impossible as no seminary would have accepted him.

      I, myself, am homeschooled and have known other homeschoolers. Like anything there is a right and wrong way to do it. One child may have parents with poor education, who have no idea how to instill character or discipline, and do not allow their child to socialize. Another might have highly educated parents who impart a strong moral set of ethics, give their child some siblings, and allow the children to play sports or other social activities. In the former “nightmare” example the child will grow up socially stunted and will, at the very least, struggle with the world around him. In the latter “ideal” the child will likely be far better off than if he had gone to public or private school.

      There will be both good and bad in whatever path is taken.


  5. Pingback: Hypothetical idea… Priests in the Common World? | The Ecclesial Vigilante

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