Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg
where many of the Arlington clergy are
Keating had made his mark as a canon lawyer with his Doctoral Dissertation at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome “The Bearing of Mental Impairment on the Validity of Marriage.” This dissertation was a game-changer for Catholics seeking annulments to their marriages as it opened up the issue of psychological maturity (or, actually, lack thereof) as one the grounds for a marriage being declared null in Church courts. In fact, Keating was no conservative during his tenure where he served as Vicar General of the Chicago Archdiocese under Archbishop Cardinal John Cody from 1979-1983. He also was apostolic administrator of the Chicago See from the death of Cardinal Cody to the tenure of the new archbishop, Joseph Bernadin in 1983.
While Keating had a reputation for being a progressive, he and Bernardin were not cut from the same cloth and Bernardin wanted rid of him. Yet, his years of service in the difficult final period of Cody’s tenure which saw the diocese in chaos because of Cody’s deep unpopularity and the allegations of financial and moral impropriety against the Cardinal, meant that Keating had to be pensioned off in some way and not merely returned to a parish posting as a pastor. And so he was named to be the second bishop of Arlington. Bishop Welsh was translated to the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania—a lateral move at best—and Keating was ordained bishop in his place on August 4, 1983.
As I wrote above, John Richard Keating was not a bad man but neither was he particularly religious. He always reminded me of a 12th century Bishop of Reims to whom is attributed the declaration: “This wouldn’t be a bad job (being a bishop), if you didn’t have to sing Mass.” The liturgical duties of being a bishop seemed a torture for the canon lawyer. Allegedly rather than officiate in his Cathedral or a parish church in his diocese on Sunday Mornings, he said a private Mass in his chapel and then headed out for a standing tee-time of 9 a.m. Sunday mornings at the Washington Country Club. When he did say Mass publicly, he wanted the ceremonies had to be abbreviated as much as possible. Confirmations were streamlined. At the Easter Vigil he permitted the minimum of only two readings from the Old Testament and no baptisms or confirmations; you would be out in 90 minutes from a rite that took at least two and a half hours in most parishes. After his body was entombed in the new mausoleum constructed in the crypt of Saint Thomas More Cathedral, the clergy joked that it was the first time that Keating had been present for all the Holy Week ceremonies in his Cathedral.
I am not faulting Bishop Keating for his detesting the long and complicated rituals of his office—actually I think it could be seen to his credit. As I have often complained about Cardinal Burke, most of the rituals surrounding prelates are more to their glory than to God’s. But I don’t think the man was interested in the oversight of his diocese and he let many things go somewhat unsupervised. One of them was vocations recruitment.
From this point out I am not going to give names to most of the figures I will write about as they are still living and perhaps they have repented of their misdeeds but one of the unnamed is a priest who served as vocation director for most of Bishop Keating’s tenure.
In just over ten years as bishop, Keating ordained 84 priests for service in his diocese—record numbers for a small diocese in what was a national vocational drought. How did he do it? Well, let me tell one story.
Among my friends is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who served as a driver for Cardinal James Hickey during Hickey’s tenure as Archbishop of the nation’s capital, just across the river from the Arlington diocese. This good priest has a poor sense of boundaries and loves to put the needle of jest, sometimes poisoned and always barbed, into anyone higher up the ecclesiastical food-chain than himself. So one day he said to Cardinal Hickey: “How is it that Bishop Keating is ordaining twelve men this year and you are ordaining three.” Hickey’s response was: “I don’t want the lawsuits.”
The Vocation Director (they are called V.D.’s for short) for Arlington was notorious for grabbing any candidate he could in order to “make the numbers.” A student was dismissed from a seminary for failure to make the grades—Arlington would grab him and send him on to a seminary where the standards might be a bit more, shall we say, “flexible.” A seminarian was let go because his bishop thought he was too rigid or too conservative—no problem Arlington would take him. Many—not all, but many—of the Arlington seminarians were part of the ‘biretta brigade’—seminarians who collected the antique vesture and vestments of the past with dreams of restoring the days of priests in the gender-amorphous regalia of nineteenth-century French abbés. (When you think of it, you never saw Father Chuck O’Malley, aka Bing Crosby, dressed in all that folderol. He wore a black suit, a clerical collar, and a straw hat. No biretta.) While Arlington managed to acquire some good men in this period, it also acquired a significant and disproportionately high number of highly dysfunctional ones thanks to this particular V.D.And it was not only the V.D. who was proactive in creating the ecclesial fantasyland that we developing in the northern reaches of the Old Dominion. There was a small coterie of priests in the diocese who would train the young blood in the ways of reconstructing 1950’s Catholicism. I remember one time asking a professor at Mount Saint Mary’s, the Emmitsburg seminary where many of the Arlington clergy train, “what are you teaching them there?” in response to some recent bizarreness I had witnessed. I was told by this professor: “It isn’t us—it is what they are getting from Father X, Father Y, and Monsignor Z back in Arlington.” And it is true. But more on that next time.