I had dinner Saturday evening with an old friend from graduate school along with her husband and two sons. The older son is a student in the pre-theology program of Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. In the course of dinner he told me that “many” of his colleagues in the college seminary program do not accept Pope Francis as the legitimate pope, claiming that “their pope” is Pope Benedict. The objections are that Pope Francis is too liberal, he is a Jesuit and not a diocesan priest, that he favors liberation theology, that he is not strong enough against homosexuality and/or abortion, that he has “abandoned” Summorum Pontificum and the (alleged) program of Pope Benedict to re-institute the Tridentine Mass as the official Liturgy of the Catholic Church. There are some also, the young man told us, who believe that Pope Benedict was coerced into abdicating and thus is resignation is not valid.
Now this could just be the wild imagination of a 20 year old. The young man himself doesn’t—or at least didn’t in the conversation—dispute the authority of Pope Francis. His family are pretty middle-of-the-road Catholics, somewhat more conservative in their piety than I, but who attend Mass in English. Their father teaches CCD in their parish. I have been to their parish for Mass and it is a pretty typical middle of the road parish. They are very involved in social outreach to the poor and in particular with immigrants from Latin America. Their faith is important to them and while the parents were encouraging their son to tell me about this submarine culture in the seminary, they themselves seemed pretty unnerved by it.
And Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall is one of the better seminaries today. I mean this is no Mount Saint Mary’s, or Immaculate Heart or Holy Trinity (Irving). The Archdiocese of Newark has had its ups and downs regarding its archbishops, but it has a fine presbyterate. There are many first-rate parishes served by priests of the Archdiocese. The Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River has long had an excellent reputation way beyond the Archdiocese of Newark for a “Vatican II” style parish. Fathers Thomas Ivory and Tom Kleissler of the Archdiocee of Newark was responsible for the RENEW program that swept American parishes in the ‘80’s. Father Frank McNulty of the Archdiocese of Newark was the priest chosen to address Pope John Paul on behalf of all the priests of the United States during the Pontiff’s 1987 visit to the United States. The late Monsignor John Osterreicher (d. 1993) was a theological consultant for the Second Vatican Council and was on the team of theologians who drafted the decree Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on non-Christian religions that changed so much in the world of inter-religious dialogue and which especially cleared the Jews of complicity in the death of Jesus.
“Submarine Seminarians” are not a rarity these days but they bode ill for the Church. They go through the system saying everything they are supposed to say, concealing their true thoughts and beliefs, impervious to the sound theology being given them in their classes. They are able to parrot back what their professors say but they have developed their own particular Catholicism, unique to them and their clique, and keep it under wraps until they are ordained. All one has to do is look at the Diocese of Madison or the Diocese of Lincoln or the Diocese of Arlington and see the damage to the faith of the People of God these crypto-schismatics can wreak.
Now the good news—such as it is—is that this problem is manifest at the College level and hopefully is discovered and weeded out before these burgeoning schismatics and sedevacantists advance to public ministry. Immaculate Conception has some fine professors on its theological faculty and hopefully as these young enthusiasts are exposed to the authentic teaching of the Church their intellects—and their faith—will mature. But if not, the road looks even rockier ahead and the threat of schism grows darker.
On a somewhat related note of seminarian dysfunction, the famous blogging priest, Father Z (Father John Zuhlsdorf) was appalled when attending a recent “Pontifical Mass at the Throne” in his adopted diocese of Madison WI (you would have to go to Madison, or through the Looking Glass, to find a Pontifical Mass at the Throne these days) the seminarians appeared “nude.” Well it is not nearly as interesting as it sounds. What Father Z meant by “nude” was uncovered in as that they lacked birettas. You may not remember birettas. They are the snappy little headpieces worn by the clergy of yester-year (and prelates of today). They consist of a somewhat squared cap topped by three or (in the case of some religious) four “horns” or raised ridges and centered by (except for those same religious and members of the Sacred College) a pom-pom or tassel. The origins of the biretta is the academic hat for university scholars but it crept into church use in the sixteenth century. Father Z is just appalled, beside himself with indignation, at the lack of proper headgear for these seminarians and has started a fund provide the young men with the old hat. Good grief. It looks like sanity no longer has critical mass in our seminaries.