by Thomas J. Herron
This article was published in the March, 2006 issue of Culture Wars magazine.
I happen to be one of those happy Catholics … in the mainstream of “moderate/progressive” theology, ecclesiology, and biblical studies, [who] is a feminist (pro-life at that), hopeful for future development in the Church, but who, despite all appearances to the contrary, is Catholic through and through…. Sometimes I feel as if groups and individuals engaged in apologetics see me as an even more urgent target than are Protestants.
This Rock magazine, March, 1990
If you insist on using political labels to identify Catholics, here’s the way it works: the “liberals” aren’t interested in us because we make fun of them. The “conservatives” like us until they find out our histories, because there’s no worse epithet – not “pagan,” not “Protestant,” not even “heretic” – in a conservative Catholic’s vocabulary than “ex-priest,” a word which comes with a “p” conveniently built in so it can be virtually spit out of contemptuous lips.
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Commonweal, January, 2003
As its devotees state, it is a parish unlike any other in America. It has no boundaries, no assigned clergy, no Masses or devotions and no parishioners. It also takes up no collections. But its fans call St. Blog’s Parish the wave of the future for the Catholic Church in America because it the first circle of Catholic writers in the world known as cyberspace. But then it wasn’t just America’s Catholics who have been caught up in admiration about the expansive power of the Internet. The demographic bulge known as the Baby Boom and their progeny have been caught up in the endless adulation over the great potential in the expansion of knowledge that an ever increasing number of web sites and blogs are said to create. However, some observers have said that the creation of celebrity on the internet and the fanning of causes such as the demonizing of countries like Iraq before the American invasion of 2003 are just the clever manipulation of traditional crowd psychology by unseen agents while appealing to the viewers pride by telling them that they are getting cutting edge information. Starting with the Baby Boomers, Americans became more concerned of how their counterparts thought on any given issue and as economic commentators Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin state in Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century, “What has never been fully realized is the extent to which-unlike any previous group in the history of man-the boomers were subject to the madness of crowds on a monumental scale. The boomers adopted every idea that appealed to them and dumbed it down … broadcast it … vulgarized it … and took it up as they would their favorite pop song.”
Many blogs come and go but some are maintained by known Catholic authors who have immense popularity and influence with people who are always logging on for a debate or to find out what to think about things that are happening in the Church and the world. A large number of these Catholic blogs might be described as attempting to be politically conservative and theologically orthodox. One of the best known of this type is maintained by Catholic author Amy Welborn of Ft. Wayne, Indiana and is presently titled Open Book. One of the initially curious facts about so amorphous an undertaking as St. Blog’s Parish is that she is, by popular acclaim, the reigning queen, and devotees are constantly checking with Amy to see how they should view issues. According to a recent story about the prominence of religious blogging on the internet and in particular the St. Blog’s web-ring; God and the Internet by Jonathan V. Last, in the December, 2005 issue of First Things, “in the world of Godblogs more than two-thousand page-views per day makes you a fairly heavy hitter.” This article notes that Open Book is currently getting twelve thousand daily hits and comments, as a down-side to this phenomena which has been previously discussed in these pages a tendency for these conservative Catholic blogs to quickly become politicized in a Republican Party direction, become excessively commercialized with the hosts hawking their books or speaking venues and the fact that, with all the links to the same sources, they have in fact become a giant echo chamber. The politicization of the Catholic blogs that Mr. Last notes in his articles may not be due entirely to osmosis but due to the fact that the Bush White House has been reported as having full-time personnel devoted to cruising the blogs to shout down comments deemed anti-administration. This was particularly evident in the efforts of the shadowy figure of Michael Herndon a Republican city councilman from Steubenville, Ohio who just happened to have worked for the Catholic outreach arm of the Republican National Committee until he established the catholicjustwar.org web site in the days preceding the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 which featured an open letter signed by prominent American Catholics which supported the “prudential judgment” in questions of war and peace of George W. Bush and, implicitly, opposed the peace making efforts of the pope and American bishops. It should be noted that with the passing of time and the ephemeral nature of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the fact that the Bush administration either deliberately falsified the intelligence or was totally incompetent it interpreting it, appeals to the president’s alleged “prudential judgment” have subsided although patriotic appeals to “staying the course in Iraq” still echo among some right-wing Catholics.
For a mother with two small children and three older ones you have to admire Amy Welborn’s energy which allows her to comment on a wide range of issues as well as write books and articles on an almost 24/7 basis. As you might expect from a frequently published authoress, in Open Book Ms. Welborn tells us of her new books and articles and her increasingly frequent speaking engagements to such stoutly orthodox groups as Legatus in various cities. In fact Amy Welborn is getting quite a reputation as “the Catholic stay-at-home mom from the Midwest” and favorably compared to such liberal Catholic females as the never-married Maureen Dowd of the New York Times op-ed page. Ms. Dowd, for all her later forays in liberal journalism, is one of five children of a Washington D.C. policeman and did receive something of a Catholic education at Catholic University there, as opposed to Ms. Welborn who attended the state-related University of Tennessee, the only child of a professor there. The creation of Amy Welborn as the Catholic anti-Dowd always features pejorative comments to the frustrated fifty-something Irish maiden Dowd’s Manhattan life being something out of the network drama Sex and the City to be unfavorably contrasted to the savvy Catholic right-wing mother of five from Fort Wayne. Apparently this contrast in Catholic female paradigms appears to date to The Corner blog of National Review Online to Holy Week, 2002, March 27 to be exact, when conservative Catholic convert, Rod Dreher, who was then working for National Review and seems to throw the loudest echo in the St. Blog’s echo chamber, noted Amy’s response to Maureen’s take on the priestly pedophile scandal. Rod’s exact statement was:
I am on a Holy Week fast from Catholic scandal blogs, so I’m going to be a very good boy and not respond to Maureen Dowd’s asinine column explaining the Church scandal to us. Instead, I refer you to the takedown accomplished by the estimable Amy Welborn, who, as usual, makes more sense on the scandal than just about anybody. This Midwestern stay-at-home Catholic mom has her head screwed on straighter than the flame-haired “Sex In The City”-style scribe who has one of the highest-profile jobs in American journalism. And now, thanks to the almighty blog, Amy has a public voice.
Or, more to the point, it was Mr. Dreher who gave Ms. Welborn a public voice, at least as public as the conservative Catholic world of St. Blog’s web ring is concerned. But the favorable comparison to the “flame-haired Sex in the City scribe” when describing Amy, due to the echo effect of the blogs immediately caught and was most recently used, without attribution to its originator by another leading Catholic author, pundit, and blogger on various and sundry topics for a large community of readers. Mark Shea, at his Catholic and Enjoying It, blog had this to say about Ms. Welborn on November 7, 2005, which just happened to be the day before Ms. Dowd’s latest book Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide was published:
This seems as good a place as any to say something I’ve been meaning to say for some time. Three cheers for Amy Welborn. She is the anti-Dowd. I don’t mean simply that she also dislikes Dowd’s work and does a nice job critiquing it. I mean she’s one of my heroes, not only as a Catholic writer, but as a common sense Catholic thinker….Amy’s work as a Catholic writer is prodigious, first-rate, clear, and thoughtful … This is why she’s been so invaluable following the vicissitudes of the “Situation” as she tartly dubbed it in 2002. And this is why she remains such a rare treasure today….One of the things that I love best about Amy’s work is that you get to see it happening precisely in the context of family. You hear about her marriage. You watch the kidlets grow up … I could go on and on, but I just thought I would say out loud something I’ve bene [sic] thinking for quite a while: Amy Welborn’s [sic] don’t come along everyday. If you haven’t told her how much you appreciate her fine work, please do. She and her husband Mike Dubruiel have created a family that is making a huge and unique contribution to the life of the Church. Such people don’t come along every day.
Now, as Rod Dreher and Mark Shea are both converts to the Catholic faith they must be forgiven in not understanding that every Irish Catholic family has a maiden aunt like the Dowd family. Whether my late Aunt Monica would have generated as much prurient interest from these guys about her suspected sex life is another question altogether. However, their comments about how great a defender of the Catholic faith and morals Amy Welborn is over a number of years should make any reader want to make a determination of what positions she actually holds. The results might be a little difficult to determine, more so than learning that Mark Shea is a plagiarist. But the real story about how good a Catholic in faith and practice Amy Welborn and her husband, Michael Dubruiel, are is out there even if it lies hidden in numerous moves around Florida and their ultimate reinvention as pillars of orthodoxy in Indiana.
Both of the Dubruiels are published authors and connected with the Our Sunday Visitor Catholic press group in Huntington, Indiana; Mr. Dubruiel started to work for OSV in 1999 as an acquisitions editor while Amy Welborn began her career as a columnist in that newspaper the following year in which she married her husband and moved from Lakeland, Florida to Fort Wayne. She has a series of books published by the OSV press called Prove It and dealing with certain issues in Catholic apologetics written in a style that is supposed to appeal to adolescents, Ms. Welborn’s titles are frequently advanced for sale at Open Book, along with those of her husband. Mr. Dubruiel, at his web site Annunciations of a New Springtime advertises the sale of his titles, the most recent of which is The How-To Book of the Mass, while his wife is currently recognized in Catholic blogdom for her refutation of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. So we suppose these titles are what Mark Shea means by their family “making a huge and unique contribution to the life of the Church,” even if their constant sales pitches and announcements that they each are available as speakers would tend to verify Jonathan Last’s comments about the commercialization of religious web sites. Open Book seems to be driven by hot topics in the Catholic world particularly its scandals while Annunciations is all sweetness and light about spiritual matters with a smattering of ecclesiastical job appointments similar to the Drudge-like Whispers in the Loggia by Philadelphian Rocco Palmo. As Amy and Michael are both highly literate people the mottoes on their respective blogs are instructive, Ms. Welborn has a quote from a fellow Catholic Southern writer, Flannery O’Connor, “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.” Mr. Dubruiel’s motto is more religious, “A great sinner reflects on the even greater gift of God’s mercy.” However when the history of the Dubruiels’ is fully examined perhaps we need to go back in American literary history before Flannery O’Connor to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale and in one of Amy’s published pieces she seems to attempt to become the Lady Macbeth of Fort Wayne with a lot of hand wringing.
What all good bloggers do is to tell their readers when they have a book or magazine article published in “dead tree format” as it is widely called. In this Amy Welborn is usually no exception so it was puzzling for me to find out that such a well-known author in her previous blog, In Between Naps, never told her reading base at St. Blog’s, who would have known of her work at Our Sunday Visitor, that she just had an article in the January 17, 2003 issue of Commonweal titled My Husband the Priest. I find that strange; she tells her readers about everything else she publishes, but throughout all of January 2003 she never mentioned this article on her blog. It might have been helpful because, from my experience, the devout Catholics who pick up Our Sunday Visitor in the church vestibule usually don’t read the liberal Commonweal, and for the woman whom her many supporters seem to find the Oprah Winfrey of Catholic orthodoxy, it does show something of a split personality when it comes to Church teachings.
The link was first identified by a commenter at Mark Shea’s web site when some ripping comment made by Ms. Welborn echoed at his Catholic and Enjoying It site a few days later. That’s the way things go in St. Blog’s Parish, or anywhere in cyberspace, Mark comments on what Amy thinks or Amy comments on what Mark says and both wait to see what Rod Dreher will say about a Church scandal or what alleged Catholic gay activist Andrew Sullivan’s take on an issue will be, but never a Pat Buchanan or a Joe Sobran. However when the Commonweal article was mentioned there seemed to be a whole lot of somewhat devout Catholics in St. Blog’s Parish who were incensed over big, bad Dale Vree of New Oxford Review questioning sweet, little Amy’s rise to prominence as a writer and lecturer on topics dealing with Catholic orthodoxy in an article from the April, 2003 issue titled If Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right Would Three?, which was written as a response to Ms. Welborn’s My Husband the Priest. But it would seem from a review of the evidence that Mr. Vree was being very circumspect in his criticisms, the fact of her divorce and annulment and her second husband’s laicization are not the only issue. The timing of the events leading to the breakdown of her first marriage weighs heavily in the question of her orthodoxy.
A Lot of Money
The Commonweal article is written in Ms. Welborn’s jabbing style with a lot of homey references to her marriage and children which Mark Shea finds so endearing; however we find that this is Ms. Welborn’s second marriage and that her five children are by two different husbands. She tells us that this “union of souls” is the second marriage for two people in early middle age who both bring a lot of “history” to their current relationship; although she thinks it’s a “ridiculous position” for two forty-somethings to be chasing around after toddlers. Tell me about it. As for her three children by her first marriage she seems to have been psychologically able to reduce her ex-husband to a “twice monthly check,” with the aid of a Decree of Nullity from the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately it appears from the Commonweal article that her present husband, Michael Dubruiel is not having an easy time psychologically dealing with his former “marriage,” in fact he’s “haunted” about his former life to use his wife’s term. It’s not three teenagers at the dinner table, it’s a box up in the closet which contains, “his first chalice and paten stored … [with] his sick-call set … with little containers of oil, a purple stole, and an empty pyx. Just in case?” adds his wife. Amy does say he did give his vestments away to a Brazilian seminarian, but still reads his office every day.
The balance of the article is about the problems currently encountered by Amy and Mike with uncaring bishops and evil right-wing Catholics for, as Ms. Welborn states, “We’re actually in a rather odd spot theologically. I guess you could call us ‘orthodox,’ Mostly. We’re both well schooled in modern interpreters of faith, and have found them wanting, to say the least. You can tell by what books are allowed to live upstairs and which are relegated to the basement.” But, as with so many other guys who left the clerical state, Mr. Dubruiel found it a little hard getting down off the pedestal. Here’s how his wife views the priestly life, and perhaps, indirectly, his initial abilities as head of a household: “priests work hard, but priests are also given a great deal as well. They benefit from scads of professional privilege, from dry cleaners to dentists. Doctors write prescriptions for them in the sacristy after Mass. They are showered with gifts-mostly booze or checks-at Christmas. Most of them have housekeepers, cooks, and car allowances. They have the promise of being taken care of the rest of their lives. So the priest who leaves, leaves all of that and faces, perhaps for the first time, or at least the first time in a long time, the pressures of real, practical responsibility with consequences, not only for himself, but for others as well.”
It isn’t just that Jonathan V. Last finds “Godblogers” like Amy Welborn somewhat mercenary in using their on-line religious writings to hawk their wares; she looks at the priesthood from an economic perspective. It is obvious that she seethes at the fact that her future husband was cut off by his bishop from pension and health benefits for simply wanting to “legitimize a heterosexual relationship in marriage.” Thus, when they see bishops keeping accused pedophile priests on the payroll both Amy and Michael “seethe”; in fact it has “renewed his sense of cynicism” from when he first departed the clergy and in her fueled “rage”. This may help to explain why her web site, Open Book, gives prominence to every story concerning priestly misconduct and links to the SNAP organization.
However, as both the Dubruiels would wish to associate with the theologians who would write in his current employer, Our Sunday Visitor rather than Commonweal and who both “love shrines and relics and bizarre saints’ stories” and ordinary parish life the economics of the priesthood seems to constantly trump its theology for Amy Welborn: Leaving the priesthood is, of course, difficult on every level. Unless you’ve obtained another professional degree in the process, you’re stuck with one of the most useless credentials known to humanity, even if you have three of them, as he does: degrees in religion. I should know-I have one too.
And, unfortunately, as “no one offered to pay for any degrees to make him more employable after he left” Michael was forced to seek employment in some endeavor related to the Catholic Church, even if he’s in a gray area as his wife says, even the office of lector is prohibited under Canon Law to laicized priests. Whether priests departing the active ministry should be given funding to pursue an MBA by their bishops or religious superiors as a matter of justice, Amy doesn’t say. She also doesn’t examine the flip side of this question: should the departing priest compensate the diocese for the education he has received? It appears that they couldn’t stay in their small diocese where everyone knew them and that many of his former priest friends, in a most unbrotherly and unchristian manner, have dropped him like a rock. Being the literary person that she is, Amy would undoubtedly know the title of one of her fellow Southern writers, Thomas Wolfe’s works, You Can’t Go Home Again. And there may be good reasons why you have to start over somewhere else, but more on that later.
As a former lector who got a letter from the pastor when I concluded 11 years of service but, also, as a 31-year civil servant in the Defense Department approaching retirement age, I find all this talk about pension benefits and health care that the Church “owes” out of “justice” to its former clergy to be somewhat puzzling. Amy Welborn has recently pushed the book on the childhood memories of Peter Manseau titled Vows: The story of a Priest, a Nun and their Son. I was hoping to read this book as background to writing this article but the ebook download from amazon.com and my computer weren’t compatible. But the outline of the story of the Manseau family is clear from the first chapter contained at the web site, the father was a priest from Boston who ministered in the Roxbury ghetto and who married a nun after being a priest for about eight years and having been exposed to the “new theology” in the seminary. It appears that the Manseau family left Roxbury and the author has childhood memories of attending CORPUS meetings on Sunday morning where dad and his fellow ex-priests could vent their feelings about the Church. Peter Manseau’s mother, the former nun, did bring the three children to Mass in the parish after the coffee table Eucharists celebrated by the angry ex-priests. One of the things that the elder Manseau and his colleagues at CORPUS are angry about these days, over and above the fact that the Church didn’t let them back in the ministry after they married, is the economic justice that they should be getting a pension for their years of service.
The opening chapter concerns the elder Manseau’s pilgrimage to the Boston Archdiocese’s chancellery, after the removal of Cardinal Law to plead the CORPUS case just as he had done with all the previous archbishops. Peter Manseau accompanied his dad to his meeting and, in what must be evidence of the strange workings of the Holy Spirit, after his upbringing among angry defrocked priests and dabbling in Buddhism the young author is considering joining the Trappists at present. While Amy and Michael may not be in total harmony with the radical theological outlook of CORPUS, it would appear they have adopted their outlook. In fact, if I may coin a technical term, groups like CORPUS, SNAP, and VOTF (Voice of the Faithful) are bitch groups for people who have a chip on their shoulders about something in the Catholic Church they don’t like and nothing apparently will ever make them happy. I recently got an email from the local VOTF chapter here in Philadelphia which was given prominence in The Inquirer’s recent coverage of the pedophile priest scandal, ninety percent of which involved adult males on adolescent males. It appears that the Vatican delegation to investigate homosexuality in American seminaries was due to arrive at the local St. Charles Seminary the Sunday after Thanksgiving. VOTF sent an urgent email to all supporters to get out on Lancaster Ave. that Sunday afternoon to hold up signs saying NO WITCHHUNT OF GAY PRIESTS and attempted to get media coverage for the demonstration. Some people you just can’t satisfy. But I do have word for the Manseaus and the Dubruiels (Michael is also from New England originally and also had about eight years of “service”) for that amount of time with an organization you don’t get much of a pension, if the federal government is any guide. By the way if you think my terming Amy Welborn as the Catholic Oprah is unfair, the left rail of the Open Book site presently lists Vows as part of her current reading and she has initiated a favorable discussion of it with her readers. Unlike Ms. Winfrey, there is no book club, as of yet.
As I said above Amy and her husband Michael obfuscate their past but some facts are readily apparent from their biographies at their respective web sites. They are both part of the aforementioned Baby Boom Generation who “adopted every idea that appealed to them” in the words of Bonner and Wiggins and as they were born in 1958 and 1960, respectively, Michael and Amy are at the latter end of that demographic boom that produced that left-wing Irish hussy, Maureen Dowd and me a few years prior in 1952. But some things stand out such that Ms. Welborn has her undergraduate degree in history from the University of Tennessee and her master’s in church history from Vanderbilt Divinity School. While she states that her entire professional life has been either directly or indirectly in the employ of the Catholic Church as a high school religion teacher in Virginia and Florida, parish director of religious education and diocesan paper columnist in the Sunshine State as well as the author of the many books and articles on Catholic faith and practice already mentioned, she has never attended any Catholic institution of higher education.
The same cannot be said for Michael Dubruiel. A native of New Hampshire, he enrolled in a college in Jacksonville, Florida in 1976 but lasted less than a year and then spent four years as an enlisted man in the Army. After discharge he enrolled in the now defunct college division of St. Meinrad’s Abbey in Indiana, majoring in philosophy and classical languages and then at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Florida where he earned a Masters in Divinity in 1987, although he states that he was “attending graduate school” for this period of his life. He would also receive an M.A. in spirituality from the Jesuit Creighton University of Omaha in 1992. It is interesting to note, in view of his apparent angst over his career change in his thirties, that Michael did not attend a high school seminary nor enter a college formation program at age eighteen but was able to experience a different side of life as well as travel through Europe in his Army years. His priestly formation, it should also be noted, did not occur in the pre-Vatican II cloistered environment that produced the rebellious clerics of the late ‘60s like Peter Manseau’s father; in fact his training took place in the ‘80s when psychological maturity was being evaluated and the life-long nature of a celibate commitment was being explicitly emphasized in Catholic seminaries. Of course one could make a counter-argument that Michael Dubruiel went from one form of regimented life in the Army to another in St. Meinrad’s Abbey with only a change in the color of the uniform.
However, from Mr. Dubruiel’s web site you would never know that he was ordained a priest of the diocese of St. Augustine, Florida around 1987. That point is obfuscated perhaps due to the fear expressed by his wife over the vindictive nature of right-wing Catholics in the quote from the Commonweal article that leads this essay. In an earlier version of his on-line biography Michael Dubruiel states that he was “employed” by the St. Augustine diocese in two parishes in the late eighties and early nineties, St. Catherine’s Orange Park (1987-90) and the other in the university town that is the home of the University of Florida, Gainesville’s Holy Faith parish (1990-92). It should be noted that after the time I started my research into this story Mr. Dubruiel has changed his web site resume and no longer mentions the fact that he was “employed” by the diocese in these two parishes and the period 1987-92 is not discussed. There are other interesting facts from each of their web based resumes and those that are would appear that Dale Vree was correct to take issue with Ms. Welborn’s statement that her husband “did nothing wrong” in his rejoinder to her article published in New Oxford Review. The facts of Michael Dubruiel’s return to the lay state and Amy Welborn’s divorce and annulment did not happen in a vacuum. Her Commonweal article would lead the reader to believe that they met in a bar years after their respective Canon Law cases were adjudicated. That perhaps is unfair, Amy and Michael are both devout Catholics so they would more probably have met on a parish committee or at a novena but they didn’t have to; they were collaborating on literary projects in Florida when their prior states of life changed. In fact when the then Father Dubruiel was stationed at Holy Faith parish in Gainesville the Director of Religious Education was one Mrs. Amy Welborn-Vining and they published at least one book The Biblical Way of the Cross which gives a different grouping of the fourteen stations than is traditionally found depicted in Catholic parishes (although the authors inform us that “in 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced a new version of the Way of the Cross that follows the more ancient practice”) and several articles from that collaboration in the early nineties. Obviously these events are related as reading all these web sources simultaneously will show. Now there may be no problem with the close collaboration of a married woman and the parish priest, but as we are now dealing with Boomers there were different results than what happened due to the collaboration of Father Leonard Feeney, S.J. and Catherine Goddard Clarke in Boston in the 1940s which eventuated in a number of married couples taking religious vows as the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and deciding to raise their children communally. Of course Feeney, Clarke and the rest of the Slaves had been excommunicated for disobedience by the time the communal arrangements were made.
Perhaps in her position as Holy Faith’s DRE Amy Welborn-Vining received the initial issue of This Rock magazine in 1990 which was issued by Karl Keating’s Catholic Answers apologetics organization. Her letter from that era as posted in This Rock’s web site and quoted in the introduction to this article, would appear to show that even then she considered herself as a pro-life feminist, “moderate/progressive” in theology and biblical studies and seemed to have a big problem with right-wing Catholics who viewed the positions that she espoused with more alarm than those held by Fundamentalists. In view of the many changes her life saw in the succeeding decade, the Commonweal article would appear to show that she still has a major problem with those she calls conservative Catholics only now she feels they have it in for her for having caused the fall of a priest. And this may be an accurate reading of the available evidence. But even right-wing Catholics can applaud a life-long support of the pro-life cause as evident in Amy’s writing and The Gainesville Sun on December 29, 1990 interviewed a local Right-to-Life official, Amy Welborn-Vining, concerning increased police surveillance of pro-life groups in response to abortion clinic bombings.
The diocese of St. Augustine, while the oldest in Florida and the first place where Spanish missionaries said Mass in what was to become the United States of America in the 16th century, has two major centers of Catholic population. One would be the megapolis known as Jacksonville which has expanded its boundaries in recent decades to include most of Duval County. However, while it now is the most populous city in Florida, a major basis of its economy is the transient Navy personnel who man the numerous shipyards and airbases there. It is a Catholic population that Father Dubruiel, with his military background, could have no doubt successfully ministered to. The other center would be the parishes of the equally transient college town of the Florida Gators, Gainesville. A recent visit by the author to Holy Faith parish in that town took place at night on a cold November night (this is northern Florida) when the modern church, parish center, and hall were closed; the parish doesn’t have a Catholic school but the cluster of parishes does support Catholic education.
While I don’t know what Holy Faith was like 15 years ago, from its web site you can say it’s quite typical of the modern, involved parish. By this is meant there are plenty of “ministries” to go around among the parishioners who want to get involved and there was a “ministry fair” after all the Masses on a weekend in October to sign up volunteers. If Gainesville is typical of the college towns around the country there are plenty of highly educated, middle class folks in the parish of pleasant one-story ranch houses in the surrounding neighborhood who would fill these jobs and most probably are connected with the university as faculty, staff or employees of spin-off local foundations that feed off the school. In fact, in the early ‘90s, Holy Faith parish was the site of a Catholic version of a Great Books seminar, with one of the priests and a laywoman leading a discussion of such Catholic authors as Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, and J.F. Powers and Georges Bernanos whose Diary of a Country Priest has the protagonist receiving absolution from a defrocked married priest. Indeed the diocesan paper, The St. Augustine Catholic November/December 1992 (pp. 10-11) said that this discussion group was: “a unique form of catechesis. Most parish adult-education focuses on communicating abstract ideals to its participants or engaging in a vaguely conceived faith-sharing. But novelists whose characters are struggling in their faith journeys bridge the gap between abstraction and real life, and the stories they weave provide a solid basis for exploring issues of faith. Since they deal with complex issues in subtle ways, however, it is important to have a facilitator who is knowledgeable about the Catholic faith.” And who would have been more knowledgeable at Holy Faith in leading this group in discussing “characters who are struggling in their faith journeys” than the Director of Religious Education, Amy Welborn-Vining, and Father Dubruiel, who by the time of the publication of this article was on the staff of the seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida? One begins to wonder if her life story in this era might have been titled Desperate Catholic Housewife if it had been made into a television drama; move over Maureen Dowd.
Based on Michael Dubruiel’s resume on his web site he was an assistant professor of homiletics at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida during the years 1992-94, teaching courses in homiletics, spirituality and theology and serving as a spiritual director. While this follows the receipt of his masters in spirituality from Creighton University, it also immediately follows his brief stay in Gainesville and collaboration with Mrs. Welborn-Vinning and involves a posting outside his diocese. A review of the current web site of the seminary shows no equivalent position and one is forced to wonder if Father Dubruiel was parked in south Florida after something disrupted his stay at Holy Faith parish. While at the seminary he continued to publish articles on spirituality in various Catholic publications either in collaboration with his future wife or alone; and interestingly one was in Dale Vree’s New Oxford Review.
In 1994 Michael Dubruiel started teaching theology in a Catholic high school in Tampa and resided, according to a public records check, in an apartment in Lakeland, Florida. Amy Welborn-Vinning was also in motion during this period and started teaching the same subject at a Catholic high school in the Orlando diocese; at least one of her Prove It books would have the imprimatur from that diocese’s bishop. For her the public records show a relocation of her residence from Gainesville to two locations in Lakeland, one of which was two tenths of a mile from Mr. Dubruiel’s apartment. The record isn’t clear but it may have been during this period that the bishop of St. Augustine terminated the medical and pension benefits of Ms. Welborn’s future husband. Michael Dubruiel, in what may have been an attempt to escape from the economic orbit of the Catholic Church, states that he spent part of 1998 in Hollywood writing a screenplay for NBC entertainment for which he was paid but the drama was never produced. Early in 1999 Michael accepted the position with Our Sunday Visitor and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, the destination that Amy followed him to after their marriage at St. Joseph’s Church in Lakeland in June, 2000, the paperwork of their annulment and laicization having obviously been completed. Amy has written movingly of the importance of travel on interstates as milestones of our lives’ events, for her it was Interstate 75. Both she and her husband would have driven north on I 75 from Lakeland to Fort Wayne through the site of their former lives in Gainesville, a few miles from Holy Faith Parish.
Now I’m a Boomer myself and I well remember the Lord’s injunction in John 8:7 about casting the first stone at the Dubruiels, even if their reinvention of themselves concurrent with a move to a different section of the country is rather typical behavior of our generation. But it needs to be said that being conservative in theological, political, or economic terms is not exactly the same as living a moral life in the light of the Gospel. It is easy to educate yourself that what has been taught in most religion classes offered by Catholic institutions of this country has little to do with what the Church has always and everywhere taught. I well remember what I was taught in Catholic high school and college in the years following Vatican II, and the only reason I kept my faith was that my father was something of a working-class intellectual and had purchased some books from the Catholic revival authors back in the thirties and I came across The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adam in the basement of our row house early in my college years. I could see for myself that what I was being taught as cutting-edge Catholic thought was merely professorial spin based on articles in Commonweal and America. In this I was fortunate as I didn’t lose the faith as many of my contemporaries did. It appears that Amy and Michael came to the same conclusions for themselves some years later. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of becoming a political conservative in the National Review mold as a reaction to the religious and political liberalism I was learning; this too was a mistake that many young Catholics made before me and, sadly, still are making if the young folks who maintain web sites at St. Blog’s Parish are typical. The problem is that maintaining a conservative ideology in theological and political terms trumps attempting to live a life in harmony with Church teachings. This will lead you for a big fall with the sexual revolution raging all around you, even for right-wingers. However, there are a lot of Catholic conservatives who hang out at St. Blog’s web sites who basically said when the Dubruiels’ history was revealed with the link to the Commonweal article in the discussion at Mark Shea’s blog: hey, what’s the big deal? She has an annulment, he’s got a laicization decree; of course they can be conservative Catholic icons.
Well, it seems that they’re forgetting some people, namely Amy’s ex-husband and her children by him and by Michael Dubruiel. What will the kids say when they grow up? Are they going to maintain the practice of the Catholic faith into adulthood or will they think it’s optional like marriage and religious vows? The public records check on Amy Welborn’s migrations show that she lived in Blacksburg, Virginia, another college town, prior to relocating to Gainesville, Florida in 1988. It would appear that she was married to a man who had obtained his doctorate in statistics from Virginia Tech and then went south to teach at the University of Florida in that year. About a decade later he would return to Blacksburg to become the chairman of the statistics department at V.T. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Tennessee, Ms. Welborn’s alma mater. It would appear that his interests are in statistical process control pioneered by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and has written a textbook in statistics for engineers. Most interestingly, for me, is the fact that around this time Deming’s Total Quality Management was being implemented across the board in Defense Department bases like those in nearby Jacksonville. However, whether we use the much-abused left-brain/right-brain dichotomy, graduate level statistics is somewhat different from spirituality. While the professor doesn’t respond to emails, if he is Amy Welborn’s ex-husband, what would he say if he spoke out someday? What would he say of Amy and Michael’s “family that is making a unique contribution to the Church,” in Mark Shea’s words? What did he feel about his ex-wife taking his kids out of town to be near her boyfriend and reducing him to a “twice monthly check’? What are his feelings toward the once Father Dubruiel? Would he say he was the cuckolding curate of Gainesville?
But there are all types of scandals in the Catholic Church these days, although we only seem to be concerned about priests buggering the altar boys. And that may be the biggest scandal of all: the death of scandal among Catholics since the end of the Second Vatican Council. And this is a problem that should haunt all of us Boomers as there hasn’t been a priest ordained, a religious who professed final vows or a couple who married in the past four decades in this country who didn’t know in the back of their minds that when the going got tough they could get out of their commitments with the paperwork supplied by the Church. So it is much easier to throw stones at the hierarchy for mishandling the pedophile priest crisis in Catholic parishes. But, then, not all the pedophiles in these Church scandals were priests and not all of the people responsible for the mishandling of these cases were ordained. A case at Holy Family Parish, Gainesville, Florida will serve as an example.
The story on p. 2B of The Gainesville Sun for August 8, 1995 was titled “Three years later, parents told of sex offender at church.” The story related to the fact the parishioners at Holy Faith were told of the fact that one Kevin Williams, then twenty-two and a University of Florida student had been arrested over two years before for seven counts of lewd and lascivious assault against a pubescent boy when he served as a church volunteer. The parents were just then being told of the plea agreement about the contact that started in a parish religious education class and the assault which took place on a church-sponsored cruise. Mr. Williams was given probation and the parish and the diocese appeared to be stonewalling the irate parents. Most interestingly is the fact that the person who was the Director of Religious Education at Holy Faith when Kevin Williams was used as a volunteer in the religious education program was at that time starting a new life further south in the state and so not mentioned in the Sun’s story. As Amy Welborn is part of the conservative Catholic crusade against Church cover-ups of pedophile scandals the obvious question is what did she do in her years as DRE in Gainesville? Did she have oversight responsibility for Kevin Williams, who was an older teen when the assaults took place at a parish sponsored event? Where was Father Dubruiel at this time, what was his responsibility for youth religious education in the parish? Were Father Mike and Amy too busy with their Catholic Great Books discussion group to see what the young man was doing with the younger kids? Were they too involved with each other to see what was going on at Holy Faith? Is this why so many of the Church Fathers said lust darkens your mind? So maybe we should start examining the background of our crusaders against clerical hypocrisy and cover-ups and find out if they have skeletons in their closets. Gainesville, Florida might be a good place to start. And when Mark Shea comes into your parish to teach you about the Catholic faith be sure and ask him which National Review writer he’s currently ripping off. It might be interesting as one of the most famous editorials in that magazine, dating from 1961, expresses the opinion of the voice of American conservatism regarding Catholic social teaching. It was titled Mater Si, Magister No.
Thomas J. Herron is a frequent contributor to Culture Wars.
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