Fidelity  + Culture Wars logos




Goodbye, Good Men, by Michael S. Rose

Aquinas Publishing, 368 pp., price unavailable, 2002.

Reviewed by Rev. Robert J. Johansen, M.A.

This article appears in the May 2002 issue of Culture Wars magazine.

Read the response to Father Johansen's review of Goodbye, Good Men in the July/August 2002 issue of Culture Wars magazine along with the feature article "Was the Implementation of Vatican II a Homosexual Fantasy: the Unanswered Questions behind the Weakland Scandal."

Send $5 plus $2.00 S&H for the July/August 2002 issue, or subscribe for one year for $49 (U.S delivery only) or receive the e-edition for $35 annually. You can order by calling 574-289-9786. We accept VISA and MC. Or you can
subscribe on-line or by mail through Culture Wars, 206 Marquette Ave., South Bend, IN 46617.

In 1995, Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, Nebraska raised eyebrows and hackles throughout the Catholic Church by writing and publicly saying that the so-called vocations crisis and priest shortage were “artificial and contrived.” The Archbishop’s words came as a shock to many lay Catholics, confirmed the suspicions of many others, and provoked outraged hostility among Catholic “progressives”. Michael Rose took the Archbishop’s statement as his starting point for Goodbye, Good Men, in which he describes and chronicles the reasons behind the drastic decline in the number of young men entering Catholic seminaries in the 1970’s and 80’s.

GGM CoverBefore examining Rose’s book, a few words are in order about my own background and perspective. I first began exploring a vocation to the priesthood in the mid-1980’s, while in college. I met with some of the same difficulties and obstacles faced by “orthodox” seminary candidates that Rose describes in his book. After graduate school, I studied at two different seminaries for two different dioceses: St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, in Philadelphia, for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia and Sacred Heart Major Seminary, in Detroit, for the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was ordained for the Diocese of Kalamazoo in August 2001. I consider myself to be a priest that tries to be faithful to the Church’s teaching and discipline.

Fidelity to the Church, its teaching and discipline, would seem to most people, Catholic or otherwise, to be a sine qua non for Catholic priests. But in Goodbye, Good Men Rose describes an environment in many Catholic seminaries during the 70’s and 80’s which encouraged dissent and disobedience, as well as moral and doctrinal laxity. In these seminaries, Rose writes, those responsible for recruitment and admissions actively sought out men who supported the “progressive” or liberal Catholic agenda: abolition of priestly celibacy, ordination of women, acceptance of the gay lifestyle, and liturgical experimentation. Those few men with more traditional views who got into these seminaries were subjected to harassment and attempts at re-indoctrination. Rose describes an atmosphere in which expressions of reverence such as genuflection or kneeling were derided, and traditional devotions such as the rosary received scorn and hostility.

Goodbye, Good Men has twelve chapters, each of which details some aspect of the vocations crisis. In the first three chapters, Rose shows how some seminaries and vocation directors (the person in a diocese or religious community responsible for the recruitment of candidates) actively attempted to screen out candidates who voiced loyalty to the teachings and discipline of the Church, or who showed an attachment to traditional expressions of piety such as the rosary or Eucharistic adoration. In the fourth and perhaps most disturbing chapter, Rose describes a homosexual “subculture” which came to dominate some seminaries in the 70’s and 80’s. The middle chapters of the book describe the denigration and deconstruction of Catholic doctrine, liturgy, and devotion which subsisted in some seminaries during the same period. Other chapters detail the misuse of psychology in the seminary admissions and formation process, allegations of whitewashing of seminary problems by the American hierarchy, and how seminary admissions and formation were taken over by people with a “death wish” for the priesthood. The book concludes with an examination of the Church’s standards for seminary life, and a look at some dioceses which are experiencing success in fostering priestly vocations.

Goodbye, Good Men is not easy reading. Rose’s portrayal of vocational and seminary abuses could lead the reader to the conclusion that American Catholics have, by and large, been deliberately deprived of priests by men and women whose agenda was “reshaping” and “re-imaging” the Church. In Rose’s view, there hasn’t been a shortage of vocations, there has been a shortage of what the progressive Catholics in power desired as the “right kind” of vocations: those supportive of the progressive agenda of women’s ordination, married clergy, and the like. Rose’s contention is that many men who had genuine vocations were deliberately screened out of the priesthood because the liberal Catholics in control of the process found them unsupportive of their agenda. Those who read Goodbye, Good Men will come away with an appreciation of the prophetic nature of Archbishop Elden Curtiss’ claim that the vocations shortage is “artificial and contrived.”

In order to evaluate Rose’s contention that the seminary screening and formation process has been misused, one must first have some understanding of how it is properly used. Rose correctly points out that the seminary is a place where one’s vocation is tested. Not every man who shows up at the seminary’s or vocation director’s door has a genuine vocation. Rose is also correct when he says that the Church, through the bishops and seminary officials, is the judge of a man’s suitability for ordination. The vocation director and seminary rector must find answers to many questions about a candidate: Does he love Christ and His Church? Is he prayerful? Does he have a genuine desire to serve? Is he docile and open to correction? Does he have the basic social skills necessary to interact with people? Is he psychologically healthy and stable? Does he have the intellectual aptitude to study Philosophy and Theology? If a man has some deficiency in one or more areas, can the seminary help the man remedy or overcome it, or is it so severe as to preclude his admission?

These are weighty questions, and the people charged with finding the answers to them have a grave responsibility, both to the Church and to the candidates. The vocation directors and seminary formators also have a great deal of authority and power. They are theoretically accountable to their bishops, but many bishops have simply “handed off” the responsibility for vocational discernment to their delegates, leaving them practically unaccountable. In such a situation, there is potential for abuse of power and authority.

Christ with the holy womenIf those in charge of seminary admissions and formation confined themselves to issues such as those mentioned above, there would be little controversy, and Rose implies, not much of a priest shortage. But, he writes, there has been a broadening of seminary evaluation criteria beyond that which is legitimate, at the same there was relaxation of the moral standards expected of seminarians. Rose presents a litany of horror stories: the abuse of psychological evaluations in the screening process, seminarians sent to therapy or counseling because they took offense at homosexual advances; stories of flagrant liturgical abuses. Rose also describes an academic curriculum in some places that is inane and even promotes dissent. The reader is led through a narrative which seems to go from one outrage to another even worse.

There is too much evidence of the abuse of authority in certain dioceses and seminaries to dismiss Rose’s claims as baseless. It is still the case, even in a seminary with a reputation for orthodoxy such as St. Charles, that seminarians would not openly admit to members of the formation committee that they attended a licit (under the Ecclesia Dei indult) Tridentine liturgy for fear of being branded a “reactionary” and hounded out. I know many priests and seminarians who were subjected to harassment similar to that which Rose describes. I personally was turned away by a Midwestern seminary in the mid-1980’s for being “rigid”, “doctrinaire”, and “lacking in pastoral sensitivity.” These terms are recognized “code words” for describing seminarians and candidates who are loyal to Church teaching and discipline, and are attached to traditional forms of piety and devotion. The genius of using such terms is that they do have a legitimate use: There really is such a thing as being rigid or inflexible; there really are priests who lack sensitivity to people’s needs or situations. By co-opting and re-defining such words, those who wished to advance their own agenda were able to masquerade as agents of the Church. Rose is correct in identifying the existence of these people and their agenda and the damage they caused.

But while Rose may be correct in certain respects, and while his claims have foundation, neither are they entirely accurate, and his methods are at least questionable. The first and most basic problem is his technique: He piles on horror story after horror story, relying on the weight of the indignation aroused in the reader to carry his point. There is a great deal of narrative and relatively little analysis until the last two chapters of the book. His conclusion seems to be that the climate of experimentation and dissent of the 70’s and 80’s stifled or sidetracked many vocations to the priesthood. He further concludes that orthodoxy and reverence provide a fertile breeding ground for vocations. These statements are certainly true, but they did not require a 360 page litany of horror stories in order to be demonstrated.

One difficulty in dealing with the allegations of ex-seminarians is that of checking facts. Often when a man leaves or is dismissed from the seminary with good cause, the seminary officials are bound either canonically or by the common duty of charity to remain silent about the reasons for his departure. That leaves the author with only the ex-seminarian’s version of the story. From the standpoint of journalistic accuracy, this is a highly problematic situation. Just as in any other area of reporting, one simply cannot rely on one person’s version of an event. A case in point: while in seminary I knew a seminarian who was quite devout: he prayed for literally hours of the day in chapel. However, he did this at the cost of the complete neglect of his studies. When confronted by brother seminarians and seminary officials about this problem, he was dismissive, saying that he didn’t “need to bother about that stuff”. What mattered, he said, was that he be holy. This man was eventually dismissed, and rightly so. While it is certainly true that seminarians should strive for holiness, the church also expects them to be diligent in their studies. But after his dismissal, this man told anyone who asked (and some that didn’t) that he had left because they “wouldn’t let him pray.”

It is certainly conceivable that a man dismissed from a seminary might “color” the facts to make himself appear in a more favorable light. Furthermore, “orthodoxy” in a seminarian isn’t necessarily enough. A man could be perfectly orthodox and nonetheless entirely unfit for the priesthood. The Church, in documents such as the Program for Priestly Formation and Pastores Dabo Vobis  (I Will Give You Shepherds), makes it clear that suitable candidates for the priesthood must have and develop a whole range of intellectual, spiritual, and psychological qualities, as well as doctrinal orthodoxy and piety.

Rose does not take adequate account of these precautions, and can be shown not to have checked his facts in some instances, and thus he has a very serious credibility problem. I know some of the individuals mentioned in the book. Most are known to me as men of integrity and truthfulness, and their stories are presented accurately. But there is also evidence of inaccuracy and perhaps even selective attention to the facts. I also know individuals that Rose interviewed for this book, again reliable men of integrity, whose version of events would have called into question certain accounts found in the book. Rose omitted their version from his book: one can only conclude that Rose selectively presented only the evidence that tended towards his conclusion. Furthermore, he relies upon testimony which is known to be unreliable or even untruthful.

One unfortunate case of this is Rose’s inclusion of Jason Dull’s highly tendentious claims regarding Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Mr. Dull was a seminarian in the College division of Sacred Heart during the 1997-1998 academic year. Mr. Dull claims to have been the victim of the sort of ideological persecution symptomatic of the worst seminaries. He claims that he was sent to counseling because of his orthodoxy, and furthermore, that “every orthodox seminarian” that he knew was sent to counseling. While Mr. Dull may indeed have been asked to see a counselor, it strains against common sense to believe that “every” orthodox seminarian was sent to counseling. During my time at Sacred Heart I would characterize most of the seminarians as orthodox, and many of them were never sent to counseling. Furthermore, the mere fact that a seminarian was asked to receive counseling is not per se  indicative of malicious intent. A seminarian may be perfectly devout and orthodox, and may nonetheless have a real emotional or psychological maladjustment which requires professional help. Church documents such as Optatam Totius  (The Vatican II document on priestly formation) and Pastores Dabo Vobis  (an Apostolic Letter by Pope John Paul II on the same subject) not only allow but mandate the legitimate use of psychology in the formation of priests.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Mr. Dull and Sacred Heart Major Seminary have appeared in Rose’s writings. In the summer of 2000 Mr. Rose published an article in the St. Catherine Review (which publication Rose edits) which almost wholly relied on Mr. Dull’s account of Sacred Heart (See “I’d Burn it Down... If It Wasn’t a Sin, ” St. Catherine Review, July/August 2000). The article was highly critical of the Seminary. The article was also highly inaccurate. In it Rose published Dull’s contentions that seminarians were forbidden to pray for more than 15 minutes a day, and that seminarians were encouraged to date, as though they were fact. These allegations, and many other things Dull said, were demonstrably false. Furthermore, Dull’s contention that he had left Sacred Heart voluntarily because the classes were “too liberal” was also demonstrably false. In fact Mr. Dull left because he was unwilling to face seminary discipline for his own misconduct. Dull’s allegations about Sacred Heart were a concatenation of lies, half-truths, and self-serving misrepresentations.

It is certainly possible that Rose was duped by Mr. Dull into believing his story. Rose even admitted later in the St. Catherine Review that some of Dull’s allegations are “not independently verifiable”. Rose did not, and to this day has never interviewed the Rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Bishop Allen Vigneron. Bishop Vigneron is well known for his orthodoxy and loyalty to the Magisterium. As a bishop he deserved at least the courtesy of an opportunity to speak for himself, but that was never afforded him. Furthermore, faculty members such as Dr. Robert Fastiggi (again, someone known for his orthodoxy), priest alumni, and seminarians wrote and spoke to Rose to point out the error of Dull’s account and defend Sacred Heart’s reputation. Two seminarians even met with Rose and thoroughly demonstrated Dull’s unreliability. At this meeting, according to those seminarians, Rose promised to publish a retraction.

Rose did publish a one page editorial entitled “Apologies to a Knight in Shining Armor,” but in the view of many at Sacred Heart this article fell far short of a retraction. While Rose, in this editorial, did attest to Bishop Vigneron’s sterling character and reputation, he continued to maintain that Bishop Vigneron’s subordinates are the locus of the problems: that they, in effect, are continuing to carry out a program of harassment of orthodox seminarians under Bishop Vigneron’s nose. It is unaccountable how Rose could write his characterization of Vigneron as a “knight in shining armor”, but in the same breath maintain that Sacred Heart is a poorly run seminary without awareness of the inherent contradiction. He justified his one-sided and irresponsible article as warranted by the interview format. He continued to defend Dull’s credibility as “unassailable,” long after that credibility was thoroughly demolished. Indeed, to all appearances Rose remains largely unrepentant for the damage he caused.

After eliciting such a storm of controversy, one would think that Rose would refrain from using Mr. Dull as a source in his book. But he does not show such restraint. He again publishes Dull’s allegation as though it was fact, without even a hint that his credibility has been challenged. It may be pointed out that Dull’s testimony appears on only one page of the book. But this in no way obviates criticism. The fact is that Dull’s allegations are demonstrably incredible. One cannot use a discredited source in a book which purports to be factual without calling one’s own credibility into question. Rose’s use of a patently discredited source such as Dull is simply unjustifiable. Indeed, readers of the book will readily see that Dull’s testimony is in no way essential to Rose’s argument.  One cannot use testimony which is demonstrably false without calling into question the veracity of the rest of his account. Why does Rose insist on the use of such material, when it only undermines his credibility?

I know both from personal experience and that of many other priests and seminarians that many of Rose’s allegations are true. But Rose’s tendency to play fast and loose with facts, to use dubious sources, and to stick to stories which have been shown false undermines his credibility. This is unfortunate, as it only serves to obscure discussion of the real remaining weaknesses in American seminaries. Furthermore, Rose’s method is in itself potentially misleading. Most of the stories Rose relates date to the 1970’s and 80’s, in many cases twenty or more years ago. But Rose’s relentless style might easily lead readers into believing that these stories are representative of what is going on in most seminaries today. Even the secular press, such as the New York Times, has published articles marveling at the devout and loyal atmosphere prevailing in many American seminaries, and the devotion and orthodoxy of most seminarians today. If a book like  Goodbye, Good Men had been written ten years ago, it would have been timely, provocative, and maybe even prophetic. But why, at a time when many people acknowledge that things are improving, does Rose choose now to bring out his catalogue of horrors from the past?

In fairness to Rose, he does point out in the later chapters of his book that there are signs of encouragement in American seminaries, but this admission is confined to just three or four institutions. That hardly balances out the overwhelmingly depressing portrait that he paints. If one could be confident about the accuracy of that portrait that would be one thing, but Rose’s questionable methods and his manipulative technique cast a pall of doubt over his account. The fact is that the grip of the “progressives” in American seminaries has loosened considerably since the nadir of the 80’s. In most seminaries today, men of outspoken loyalty to the Church and deep devotion, who might have been turned away fifteen years ago, are welcomed and find encouragement. Even places notorious for scandal and dissent in the 80’s have seen the return of traditional devotions such as Eucharistic adoration.

This is not to say that American seminaries have turned the corner, or that everything is OK. Many weaknesses still exist, and priestly formation is not all it could and should be. Most American seminaries, although making an honest effort, do not come close to living up to the norms and standards set by the Church. It is even possible that some of the same people responsible for the abuses catalogued in Goodbye, Good Men are still occupying positions of power in some seminaries. But there have been enormous improvements in seminaries across the country in the last decade. Seminaries such as Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis and Sacred Heart in Detroit have shown remarkable development in the last decade, and now enjoy the confidence of bishops known for their orthodoxy.

Goodbye, Good Men is in many ways an unfortunate book. It is unfortunate because the story of the problems in American seminaries needed to be told, but it needed to be told with scrupulous concern for accuracy and truth. It needed to be told in such a way as to elicit more than righteous indignation from the faithful. It also needed to be told with more nuance and penetration. It is also unfortunate because Rose’s failure to make distinctions will actually distract attention from the real remaining problems in American seminaries. Rose’s credibility problems and his relative lack of analysis do little to shed light on what may be done to strengthen our seminary system. Only in the last two chapters does he have anything to say about what factors come together to make a good seminary. Goodbye, Good Men may create a great deal of controversy, but I fear that ultimately it will do little to serve the good.

– Rev. Robert J. Johansen

Note: A draft version of this review was inadvertently published online prior to 6/7/02. The above version is the actual, published work which appeared in the May, 2002 print edition of Culture Wars magazine.

Libido DominandiLibido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control by E. Michael Jones. Libido Dominandi – the term is from St. Augustine’s City of God – is the definitive history of the sexual revolution, from 1773 to the present. This book examines the development of technologies like psychotherapy, behaviorism, advertising, sensitivity training, pornography, and, when push came to shove, plain old blackmail – that allowed the Enlightenment and its heirs to turn Augustine’s insight on its head and create masters out of men’s vices. Libido Dominandi explains how the rhetoric of sexual freedom was used to engineer a system of covert political and social control. Libido Dominandi is the story of how that happened. Now Available in Paperback, $30.00 + S&H. [When ordering for international shipment, the book's price will be adjusted to offset increased shipping charges.] Read More Read Reviews

Links of Interest:

• Order the July/August 2002 issue of Culture Wars magazine
• Rev. Robert J. Johansen's website and "blog" (i.e. weblog)
• Aquinas Publishing - Michael S. Rose/
• St. Charles Borromeo Seminary - Philadelphia, PA
• Sacred Heart Major Seminary - Detroit, MI
• Comments on this article? [email protected]


Top of Page

Culture Wars • 206 Marquette Avenue • South Bend, IN 46617 • Tel: (574) 289-9786 • Fax: (574) 289-1461