Should seminarians still keep their heads down about being, say, Catholic? Still?

TwitterIn my US seminary days, we had to hide going certain places, such as parishes where the priests believed in One God, Creator of heaven and earth, etc.  One of my classmates was thrown out because he had a statue of Our Lady of Fatima in his room ("exaggerated Marian devotion").   Latin liturgy?   Ha.  In my Rome seminary days, it was anything having to do with the older form of Mass.  Some men were yelled at because they went to St. Mary Major and visited the tomb of St. Pius V … on the feast of St. Pius V, the new calendar’s feast of St. Pius V. 

In many ways times are changing, and they have been for a long while.  But there is still a long way to go.  It is better in some places than other.  The restoration, the "Marshall Plan" is taking effect, after the devastation.  It will work, but there is still resistance in some places.

From the blog of Damian Thompson:

English seminarians who follow Benedict are keeping their heads down

By Damian Thompson

This isn’t news to English seminarians, but perhaps other Catholics are not aware of a situation I find rather shaming.

If you’re a seminarian or prospective seminarian who wishes to implement the liturgical renewal inspired by Pope Benedict XVI, it’s best to keep fairly quiet about it. Things aren’t as bad as they were a few years ago, when any seminarian caught reading Ratzinger would be tested for “psychological immaturity” by a feminist. [That’s the sort of thing that was happening in my US seminary over 20 years ago.  If that is going on in English seminaries, still, they are … how do you say this delicately … a little behind the curve.] The worship in certain seminaries has moved on from the 1960s to the 1980s (hence the discreet shoulder pads sewn into those zip-up albs) [LOL! ZOT!] and staff have reluctantly accepted that tomorrow’s priests will be more conservative than they are (not difficult, in truth). But it’s still not safe to express too much enthusiasm for the Extraordinary Form, lest you identify yourself with fringe Catholics like, um, the Pope.

Oh, and don’t be caught reading this blog.

There is a list of blogs they shouldn’t be caught reading, or books.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Our Catholic Identity, Pope of Christian Unity, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Central Valley says:

    “There are a list of blogs they shouldn’t be caught reading, or books. “……..I bet there are seminarians who are afraid to write the letter Z for fear they will be associated with the great Fr. Z. The good news is the hippies are approaching retirement, look at Californai. Many seminarians wear cassocks these days and are wanting to learn the Extraordinary Form. We have been in the catacombs for a while but we are seeing the light of day now. Pray for the Holy Father.

  2. God bless you, Father, for surviving that! I don’t think I could have. I am now sure God guided me to my the Western Dominicans, where not only I served at public solemn Dominican Rite Masses (3x as a novice, 1976-77 and many times after) and no one ever asked questions about images of Our Lady or even (mirabile dictu) acceptance of Humanae Vitae.

    Today even out older “spirit of Vatican II” friars respect the “new” kind of priests. We now have three houses with regular celebration of the Dominican Rite (Portland, Seattle, and Santa Paula) and judging from the newly ordained that will only increase.

    I pray that no new seminarians will have to face what you did today.

  3. edwardo3 says:

    Fr. Z, I think things are so much better in the vast majority of the seminaries than they were when I was in during the early 1990’s just from things I hear from seminarians and Priests. It is a different world, but still a world where prudent caution is wise.

    One of my best memories from that time in my life happened one morning when I was going to leave my room and under my door someone had slipped a copy of the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Catalogue. It was one of the most amazing things I had seen. I missed “Moaning Praise” and my first two classes while I was locked in my room pouring over the catalogue. I still don’t know where the catalogue came from.

  4. Tim Ferguson says:

    Having attended a college seminary contemporaneously with Fr. Z, I can certainly echo his experiences. We all have battle stories, and the battle scars that go along with them, some of which, through the goodness of God, have been occasions of growth in grace.

    In my current situation, I have occasion to interact regularly with seminarians at a different seminary. I am consistently amazed at how much things have improved. Not that there are no longer any problems, but, as Central Valley and Fr. Augustine both point out, things are improving year to year, and day to day, and the quality of the young men responding to God’s call is inspiring.

    It is sad to realize that there are still places where men need to hide – or at least guard – their outward displays of orthodoxy, devotion, and interest in “Catholic things.” Those of us in the pews need to keep praying and keep supporting solid vocations.

    The good young priests who’ve made it through the system (and each year it seems there are more of them) aren’t out of the tunnel entirely – in a way, as seminaries improve, the real battles begin after ordination. They need our support as well, as they deal with aging heterodox pastors and lay ecclesial ministers.

    Demographics are on our side, but there are still a number of people wounded by “the system.” A saintly priest once told me, shortly after I was kicked out of the seminary, that he was convinced that those who suffered injustice in the seminaries, religious orders, and chanceries would be the people God uses to build up a much stronger Church for the future – a Church that would need to be familiar with the grace of suffering, because suffering is on the way.

  5. Magpie says:

    I wonder what would happen if you were caught reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Truth really is stranger than fiction.

  6. edwardo3 says:


    We were given copies of the Catechism by our Bishop, which some of us more traditionally inclined seminarians were advised to leave at home.

  7. B.C.M. says:

    I was a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Boston at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. Many of the professors were solid and supportive, and in-fact one of the… staff members… was a subdeacon at a parish in a nearby city which was an “indult” parish before 7/7/7…

    I was reprimanded many times by the priestly faculty, and my vocation directors for having a traditional bent, and preferring a certain liturgical style, and for wearing my cassock most days, (which was required for Mass, and allowed for everything else) and for having a proper respect for clergy. I was accused of “associating too-much with the clerical state” and was told that I had a “human formation issue.”

    Eventually I was sent to Franciscan University (as a seminarian!) with the unstated goal being my “conversion” from my traditional bent, to a more Charismatic experience. I was told that I did not have a “wide enough appreciation of Church”. I was dismissed shortly after beginning my first semester on trumped up charges, but having been told that “this was a long-time coming” because I could not “fit in” with the “Lord’s Day” dancing, and singing, and hands-in-the-air, and rock-music adoration.

    Long story short, even at what is widely considered the most orthodox N.O. seminary in the country, most seminarians who would be inclined to read this blog have to become submarine-seminarians, keep their mouth shut, and/or prepare for harassment from other seminarians and faculty, and even for dismissal. As recent as 2007.

    Side note, every single one of my classmates from Boston at St. Charles are gone. For similar reasons. Every single one.

  8. JamesA says:

    Father, I am currently a seminarian and can identify with these sentiments. I am a late vocation, and I thank God every day that I did not start seminary 20 yrs. ago…I would never have made it.
    I can say that my school is pretty “middle of the road”. Not particularly liberal, but not very conservative (by my lights) either. I know the roof of the chapel would fall in if we had the Extraordinary Form here. No training in the EF, or chant, or Latin at all unless we make special arrangements. Many of the professors are good, a couple are…um…not so much. I have to watch what I say and who I say it to, but there is a small contingent of traditionally minded guys here. Much,much better than in your day, but still a long way to go toward implementing the Marshall Plan.
    Everyone please remember to pray for seminarians as well as for priests and the Pope. We all desperately need it !

  9. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Shades of “Goodbye Good Men.” It also explains why a local pastor, in formation in the ’80s, admonished his parishioners -“Don’t call me priest. I am a presider. This is not a sacrifice. This is a community meal.”

  10. jbalza007 says:

    I remember going to a 3-day discernment retreat at St. Patrick’s (Menlo Park, CA) many years ago. I was stunned to see each seminarian had their own room that seemed to look like a hotel suite! Morning mass was right after breakfast (no, they didn’t seem to observe the one-hour fast before Holy Communion). After mass, the seminarians went to their classes (no time given for thanksgiving after Communion either — I remember being told that you can say your prayers anytime during the day). The overall atmosphere seemed very lax and I knew right after the retreat that I wouldn’t probably last long.

  11. Clinton says:

    I’ve often wondered if our current shortage of priests isn’t an ‘engineered famine’. Those seminary gatekeepers that have
    sabotaged men’s vocations will have much to answer for.

    During one liturgical free-for-all that was Mass at the parish of my college days I must not have concealed my dismay very
    well, because afterwards the seminarian stationed there for his diaconate year approached me to whisper “At the seminary, l learned to just let that stuff wash over me”. I cannot imagine the difficulty of maintaining the appearance of having drunk
    the kool-aid for years on end.

  12. Incaelo says:

    I think that it’s not so much a case of being behind the curve, but rather that the curve has gone down deeper in some areas. Certainly in western Europe, a lot of tradition has not so much vanished, but never been passed on to subsequent generations. Tradition, to a large extent, has really become a thing of the past. Living Tradition is therefore suspect, as all things that are deemed old-fashioned are.

    In the Netherlands, where I live, the majority of priests and bishops are from generations who were hardly or never exposed to the living Tradition as it existed in the 1950s and before. It is exceedingly difficult for them, even for those who are good and holy priests, to understand the value and appeal of Tradition, be it the Extraordinary Form, certain authors, or too-consistent support of Pope Benedict in certain matters.

    But the curve is going in the right direction. There is simply more of it to climb.

  13. Magpie says:

    edwardo3 : Why were you advised to leave the Catechism at home?

  14. DWB says:

    I have a son, 25 and in grad school, who recently told me that he was considering the priesthood. I could not be more proud. The irony is that my single biggest fear for my son should he decide to pursue a priestly vocation, is what might happen to him in the seminary. I have read “Goodbye Good Men,” and am very apprehensive. There must be a list somewhere of solid, orthodox seminaries – and those to be avoided. Any ideas where to look?

  15. Igne says:

    Whatever about the difficulties of standing up for tradition in English seminaries, which are not small, there is the further difficulty that a friend of mine found was endemic in houses of formation there: the prevailing culture among a very large proportion of seminarians is a camp ‘gay’ culture; in some instances replete with nights spent out clubbing. ‘Camp’ culture can be found among both ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’. I know of a number of vocations lost because of the discomfort experienced as a result of being marginalised by a ‘camp’ mainstream. This state of affairs should not have been allowed to develop. Pray for Pope Benedict and may he reign for many years.

  16. pcstokell says:

    Those seminary gatekeepers that have sabotaged men’s vocations will have much to answer for.

    Of all the things I have read on this blog, this rings among the truest of all.

  17. Desertfalcon says:

    You should be very proud of your son, DWB, I am as well. The only way these houses will change is for faithful Catholics like your son to go in and change the culture, one seminarian at a time, if need be.

  18. William says:

    As with all of you, the past few weeks of scandal and re-scandal have been harrowing for me. Let us consider, however, that these scandals have ridden us of many, many bad clergymen and have tightened up admissions and training to and in our seminaries. God does indeed write straight with crooked lines.

  19. Ralph says:

    My friend left the semminary, the now closed St Johns in California, beacuse of the openly homosexual atmosphere. The experience nearly cost him his faith.

    My pastor once told me that in his seminary days the traditional guys refered to themselves as “submarines”. Keep your traditional beliefs “underwater” so you can survuve to fight another day.

    Our diocese has a five year permanent deacon program. It is lead by an adrian dominican sister. Men with traditional tendencies, if not weeded out in the selection process, are pushed put during formation. Our new deacon read us a homily about “God the Mother” written during his formation.

    I too read Goodby Good Men. As a Father of three sons, I don’t know what I would do if one of them wanted to enter a seminary.

  20. FrCharles says:

    Poised as I am to be sent back to school in the fall, I read this with trepidation, but also with hope.

  21. mwa says:

    Ralph @9:32am–
    Is there more than one St. John’s in CA? To the best of my knowledge, the one in the LA Diocese (which also scared friends of mine away) is still up and running

  22. Ralph says:


    The one I am refering to was in Camarillo. I thought it closed, but perhaps I am wrong.

  23. Falcon281 says:

    We pray for our priests and religous at Mass every Sunday. I am happy to say Fr. Z was at St. Raphael’s a few years back. I saw in his reverance all that is good in his vocation and reinforced my love of the Liturgy and Eucharist. My parents were very devout and that was a great example to help my formation. My wife is Catholic and we have raised our family with the same devotion, but the secular and sometimes conflicting views in the Church have made it difficult at times. We will perservere and remain faithful knowing that we are all sinful in nature, but understand our hope lies within the redemption found in the Holy Eucharist and Holy Catholic Church.

  24. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I was in Jesuit formation from 1991 to 1999. The Liberal Hegemony & Submarine Culture was alive and well.

    The first novice master ruled the house through a tyranny of psycho-babble. Labels like “rigid” were flung around with regularity. One novice with a BA in Latin from Harvard & a MA in Latin from Oxford was admonished for leading Morning Prayer in Latin.

    Said novice master was an alcoholic and in love with a scholastic who was dying of AIDS (contracted pre-novitiate). The scholastic died & the Novice Master left.

    I used to visit a traditional Benedictine monastery, where I would wear the Jesuit cassock. On a later car trip, one novice announced that he heard about this through “friends” (the Lavender Mafia). He & another novice proceeded to berate me for my traditional attitudes. The phrase “sieg heiling with the rest of the Nazis” still sticks in my mind. One of those novices left, one is still in.

    I made it to vows and went to First Studies. The Lavender Mafia was alive and well. We were told to shut up and get ordained. I made it through First Studies, but so beaten down I could scarcely recognize myself.

    I left after Regency because I couldn’t stand being the man I had become. The Legionaries never appealed to me, and in hindsight, there were reasons I couldn’t vocalize at the time.

    I am now happy married and active in ministry as a layman & instituted Lector & Acolyte. I help run RCIA classes, where my theology training has proven invaluable. My wife & I have already discussed my becoming a deacon after we have kids and they are older.

    If a man shuts up until he gets ordained, he won’t know how to speak once he is.

  25. robtbrown says:

    God bless you, Father, for surviving that! I don’t think I could have. I am now sure God guided me to my the Western Dominicans, where not only I served at public solemn Dominican Rite Masses (3x as a novice, 1976-77 and many times after) and no one ever asked questions about images of Our Lady or even (mirabile dictu) acceptance of Humanae Vitae.

    There are many reasons for that, but the presence of Fr Moreno was chief among them. He had considerable influence there. In fact, he once told me that almost all the priests at St Albert’s used him as their confessor.

    For others: Fr Moreno was a Spaniard who had studied under Ramirez. He had entered the OP’s with a doctorate in architecture after having lost an eye fighting in the Spanish Civil War. As an OP he obtained a doctorate in philosophy and master’s in physics from Cal Berkeley. He taught classes (and wrote) on the Spanish mystics–and taught and wrote on Freud and Jung.

    Today even out older “spirit of Vatican II” friars respect the “new” kind of priests. We now have three houses with regular celebration of the Dominican Rite (Portland, Seattle, and Santa Paula) and judging from the newly ordained that will only increase.
    Comment by Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P.

    A lot of that is simply a matter of demographics. The liberal ideologues (e.g., pro women ordination), with their pre Vat II hangups, are older and out of power.

  26. Seraphic Spouse says:

    I was very moved by your testimony, Rob Cartusciello. I hope it becomes easier for orthodox men to survive the seminaries and formations and for orthodox men and women to make it through theology departments, sanity intact.

  27. I was in Jesuit formation from 1991 to 1999. The Liberal Hegemony & Submarine Culture was alive and well.

    Let me assure that it is alive and well in whatever program formed the young Jesuits recently sent to Cincinnati; we have received two of them in the past three years or so. One signed the petition opposing the translation of the revised missal, and the other carped on Respect Life Sunday that he wasn’t going to give “one of those anti-abortion homilies.”

  28. Flambeaux says:

    I know a few guys who recently left Jesuit formation because of this, too.

  29. edwardo3 says:

    Magpie: I wasn’t given a reason, I was just told that it would be best to leave it at home.

  30. brjeromeleo says:

    Rob Cartusciello wrote: I used to visit a traditional Benedictine monastery, where I would wear the Jesuit cassock.

    Would that by any chance be the Benedictine monastery in Petersham? If so, I have long been wondering what became of you.
    Br. Jerome Leo, OSB

  31. LarryPGH says:

    DWB: you won’t be choosing a seminary for your son; his bishop or superior will be.

    Rob: in re: to “If a man shuts up until he gets ordained, he won’t know how to speak once he is.” I disagree. However, a man *does* need to have the requisite prudence to know when to shut up, and when to speak up.

  32. Hidden One says:

    The man who has a vocation to be a priest must deal with whatever is between him and God’s goal for him. Period. It’s as true today as it ever was.

  33. Agnes of Prague says:

    One of my good friends is at St. Charles Borromeo. I read edwardo’s comment and felt happy, and B.C.M.’s and felt sad. Hm. Well, I hope he doesn’t get kicked out.

  34. I am likely going to be going to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, MN, this fall, and I’d say that the atmosphere there is solidly orthodox. The staff is orthodox (The rector is one of the most orthodox priests in the diocese, and the new director of spiritual life has said Mass in Latin (OF) and ad orientem with some regularity)

    No EF Mass (yet. we’re working on it), but they have recently brought back cassocks and surplices for Mass and formal occasions (hasn’t hit the regular dress code yet); Rosaries in Latin for the past couple months; working on more Latin in the Mass (currently the Sanctus, the Agnus, and the Mysterium Fide are in Latin); the topic of ad orientem has come up in house discussion, although nothing has come of it yet; Give us a couple more years, and I would not be all that surprised to see the freestanding altar replaced and Mass to be in Latin on a regular basis, with all the guys in cassocks for everything.

    I had a traditionalist friend of mine tell me I’d probably be “too conservative” for a “Novus Ordo Seminary”. I promptly replied with the fact that I’m not even the most conservative guy on the block. There isn’t much concern about being “too orthodox” there, unless you’re going overboard (ie sedevacantism), in which case you’ll get in trouble. (Which is a good thing)

    At IHM, you’re good to just go ahead and be Catholic. As for the rest of the seminaries, I can’t say much.

  35. One thing I forgot to mention. The University with which the seminary is affiliated (St. Mary’s University) is pretty liberal. There’s a list of good reasons why they haven’t made the Newman Guide. I won’t go into a tirade about that. Suffice it to say that there is pretty much a running battle between the seminary and the university’s Office of Campus Ministry (i.e. bunch-of-liberal-almost-if-not-already-heretics-who-think-they-know-better-than-the-Vatican). That’s the major contention point. I don’t know enough to say about how they’re reacting to the rest of the shenanigans that crop up every so often, like “Day of Silence”. Safe to say they’re not appreciated.

  36. geoff jones says:

    I would not recommend anyone become a parish priest. Become a priest of an (orthodox) Order or movement (eg, neo-cats, Opus Dei), or not at all. My experience is that (here in Australia) parishes have become so dysfunctional, the people so cynical that it’s not worth trying to change. It will wear down your faith and might destroy your children’s.

    There is life in the Church yet, just not in the parish system.

  37. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Br. Jerome Leo: Yes, one and the same. I owe you folks a visit some time soon.

    Pray for the Jesuits. There are many who are good and faithful sons of the Church and deserve our prayers. There are others who need our prayers.

    Special thanks for the expressions of sympathy from others. It is appreciated.

    Humility also dictates that I confess that I was not the best Jesuit – and learned to be rather vicious passive-aggressive. It was one of the reasons I realized I needed to leave.

  38. Rob Cartusciello says:

    On a further note, it is disturbing to see some of the most loyal, idealistic & committed young men of the Church treated like this by their formatores.

    These are people’s lives that are being messed with – and years lost that cannot be recovered.

  39. Falcon281 says:

    Faithful Catholic, You might remember the commencement address given by an acedemically honored as well as nationally recognized athlete at St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. He was a seminary student at the time and I don’t know where he is today, but it was reported how his speech extolling the virues of orthodoxy and repenting from sinfulness was met with boo’s and jeering from the graduates and their parents. Some left in tears that their special graduation day was ruined. The speaker later apologized and now all speeches are reviewed for content prior to speaking. Very sad response indeed. I guess when Notre Dame and the like can confer honorary degrees upon legislators who are pro-abortion, that makes our journey more difficult

  40. DWB says:

    Are we turning our sons over to Eli, Hophi and Phineas?

  41. brjeromeleo says:

    Rob Cartusiello (glad to see you have the original form of your name back!) I pray for all Jesuits daily in my morning offering. I know some as you say deserve the prayers and others need them.

    Please e mail me at jeromeleo(at) so I can have your e mail address.

  42. Falcon281: I hadn’t heard about that, but that is very sad. Is there a news story on it anywhere that I could read?

    Honestly, I think the bishops need to get more stringent about enforcing adherence to Catholic dogma in colleges/universities that purport to be Catholic. Notre Dame should have been immediately stripped of its Catholic title. Schools are doing nothing but causing scandal and danger to souls when they claim to be Catholic and yet refuse to live it. I hope and pray that in the coming years bishops will be more apt to stand up to universities and other organizations that contradict the Church’s teachings.

  43. Cricket says:

    I live in the same diocese as the seminarian who gave the “controversial” commencement speech at St. Thomas/St. Paul. We were all very proud of him, on the other side of the state line! Unfortunately, he left seminary a year later.

  44. As a former teacher and formator in a seminary in the US, I have to say that while certain standards were absolutely kept (moral teachings, doctrinal teachings) the “weakest link” in my experience was the liturgical.
    And, as Fr. Z. says again and again, the Sacred Liturgy is the point of reference for all true reform.
    If seminarians are being criticized and “docked” for liturgical and devotional issues, this is wrong. Unless, of course, what they are doing is contrary to the mind of the Church and to good judgment (devotions can get a “bit off” if not integrated properly). Things are getting better, bit by bit. We just have to pray and hope that Pope Benedict will have a lasting influence upon the formation of seminarians (and seminary faculty, yeah?)!

  45. Falcon281 says:

    St. Thomas honor student apologizes for grad speech

    Ben Kessler was the student. Sorry to hear he has left.

Comments are closed.