FAITH IN FOCUS America. The Jesuit Review.

Colleen Duggan

Every summer, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where I reside and attend church, offers a Quo Vadis (“Where are you going?” in Latin) discernment retreat.

High school boys gather at a local Catholic college with seminarians, priests and others for fellowship, prayer and guided discussions to help young men explore God’s potential call to the priesthood.

The four days are filled with opportunities for Mass, adoration, Liturgy of the Hours and confession.

During recreational time, the boys along with the seminarians and priests play sports, hike, talk and eat good food.

I have six children, three of them boys, and after much prayer and discernment, my husband and I decided not to send our 15-year-old son, who has already said he would consider the beautiful vocation of priesthood, to Quo Vadis this year.

My husband and I desire to support and encourage vocations. I come from a family that has produced several, including a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia in Nashville and a diocesan priest.

We daily pray for the good clergy who have served our family, and we ask God to send more workers into the vineyard. I recognize the great need in dioceses across the United States for an increase in vocations, especially within my own, where priests are retiring at a faster rate than men are being

My husband and I are saddened my son missed this unique experience for Catholic high school boys.

But after last summer’s revelations of systemic sexual abuse and its cover-up within the highest levels of the church—the McCarrick scandal, followed by the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield in West Virginia—I do not feel confident that the bishops can answer the same question they want my son to consider: Quo vadis? Where are you going? And why should we, why should my son, follow you?

I do not feel confident that the bishops can answer the same question they want my son to consider: Quo vadis? Where are you going?

Archbishop William E. Lori has written about the measures he has taken to ensure accountability for abusers and to foster greater lay involvement in the archdiocese following the first round of the sexual abuse crisis in 2002.

Some of his reforms include establishing rigorous vetting systems for seminarians, clergy and lay employees who interact with minors; overseeing the development of programs to help children recognize inappropriate adult advances; ensuring the immediate referral of accusations to the police; implementing a lay review board; and establishing protocol to notify affected parishes of credibly accused clergy. The number of abuse cases has reduced drastically since the diocese implemented these safety measures, a fact that cannot be overlooked in our current church climate.

Still, the average lay Catholic, myself included, knew nothing of the depth of the scandal before last summer. We are still, even one year later, reeling from the revelations. Efforts to reform the clerical culture within the seminaries and the church at large that directly or indirectly enabled sexual predators have been incremental and slow going at best. Much of what I have heard from the church over the course of the last year in letters, newspaper columns and online articles amounts to: “Yes, but here is what we have done to protect people since 2002, and here is how these measures have worked.”

My trust in the institutional church has been broken and will take a great deal of time to rebuild.

While I am glad safety measures exist and are indeed effective, the fact is my trust in the institutional church has been broken and will take a great deal of time to rebuild. I believe, however, there are some basic things the hierarchy can do to help parents like me. It would have helped, for instance, if before returning to business as usual—and Quo Vadis definitely falls into that category as a business as usual—the bishops had met with parents to address concerns about safety and faith formation, especially if the bishops want parents to entrust their children into the church’s hands for four days.

To be fair, the vocations director did hold a meeting with parents after the revelations last summer, but that is not enough, at least not for me. The bishops need to show up, to build rapport and to repeatedly engage in difficult conversations.

Trust is not built on policy and paperwork.

What is required of the bishops at this point in time is one-on-one connection and ongoing discussion with parents in the pews. The shepherds must be with their sheep, listening and tending to the concerns of their people, especially if the they are asking families to encourage vocations. This perhaps will require a shift in how they understand their role as the head of the diocese, but it is what is needed if the hierarchy wants to gain a modicum of trust with parents like me.

The bishops need to show up, to build rapport and to repeatedly engage in difficult conversations. Trust is not built on policy and paperwork.

I believe the laity, too, are called to a new way of behaving and thinking. In families where generations of abuse have existed, at least one family member must change their behavior in order to stop the cycle of abuse.

This requires them to do something different—move out, cut ties or report abuse to the authorities. A survivor cannot simply do what the family has always done.

In the same way, if lay Catholics want to end the cycle of abuse, the power plays and the toleration for illicit lifestyles among some of the clergy, as well as ensure proper spiritual formation for all Catholics, we need to do something different this time. We must start asking tough questions of the bishops, and we must not stop asking questions until we are satisfied with answers.

Why should we consider Quo Vadis for our boys, especially given the egregious history of sexual abuse in the church? How are the bishops regularly communicating the measures they have taken to protect children and to offer the best spiritual formation possible to the parents? How can the bishops ensure the spiritual formation the boys receive at Quo Vadis is orthodox and rightly ordered? What is different between last summer and now that should persuade us to entrust our sons to an institution that has failed us in its handling of sexual abuse from the top down?

If we want the scandals in the church to stop, the laity must refuse to be content with the status quo.

“But what about vocations?” a good friend asked me when I expressed my concerns about the Quo Vadis retreat. To which I say: We must not fear losing priests because we ask the right questions of our bishops. The Scriptures remind us that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. I believe there will always be a holy remnant—good men and women willing to live and die serving Jesus Christ’s Catholic Church. I believe Jesus Christ himself will provide the priests we need.

But I also believe he needs participation from laypeople. In this moment, he asks for our help; he asks us to refuse to participate in potential abuse by allowing things to be done as they have always been done. To end the history of abuse in the Catholic Church, the laity must continue to ask—over and over again—the same question the diocese asks our sons: Quo vadis? Where are you going?

And we must demand they give a satisfactory answer.


A powerful piece by a devout Catholic and parent.

The answer:

Her son would not be safe in a Catholic seminary at the present time.

If he handsome he will be eye candy.

Other seminarians and priests will try all they can to get into his trousers.

If he reciprocates they will turn him into a gay sex addict without morals or boundaries.

If he is straight and does nor reciprocate, they will harass him to the point of nervous breakdown and he will leave a very broken young man.

Would any caring and responsible parent leabe a paedophile to babysit their children?

I think not.

Then let no responsible parent allow their son into Maynooth, The Irish College, Allen Hall, Wonersh etc.


I most certainly would not allow a son of mine to go anywhere near a seminary until such time as he was of majority and understood a lot more about life, sexuality, relationships etc.
I have some knowledge of seminaries in the UK, and I always detect in them and in the people who are staff and students an underlying homosexual and gay culture. It is a dominant culture and atmosphere in these places. It is quite clear to even the casual observer that the vast, and I mean vast, majority of staff and students are gay, whether actively so or not.
I note that bishops nowadays make judgements on their clergy who have been accused but not proven to be guilty of inappropriate behaviour or worse, and many clergy are sidelined as a result, because the bishop does not have confidence in them, and judge that there is a likelihood of their not being suitable for ministry.
I apply the same test to seminaries, both staff and students. It is highly likely that this gay culture predominates in their lives, some actively, some not so. But, on this basis I most certainly would not allow a young man to be placed in that environment for his own safety and security. It’s a question of probabilities.
The seminary system is broken and not fit for purpose. It is not a healthy environment in which to train priests, and to put young men. It is dysfunctional. I think that bishops know this, but simply do not know what to replace it with. They are stuck with a tradition and with infrastructure that they can’t shake off. As a result, we get priests who are largely ill fitted for ministry and for a healthy integrated way of life, with so many of them falling by the wayside or getting in to trouble within the first early years of their priesthood. And so often it has to do with issues of sexuality, particularly homosexuality. Surely that tells us that something is not right ? Any other organisation or industry would not tolerate a training system that abjectly fails to produce the people with the right skills after many years of training. They would change the system and the training. Why does the Church not do likewise ?
By and large what our seminaries turn out are men who are clericalist, entitled, privileged, out of touch with real life, inadequate and immature in relating to people, especially women, who have a gay sub-culture of lifestyle, conversation and entertainment, and cover it all up by being incredibly orthodox and traditional in liturgy and theology, but privately are engaging in all sorts of dysfunctional behaviour which is damaging to them personally but also undermining and damaging of the Church and the people whom they are supposed to be serving.
So, Catholic parents, do not let your sons be drawn in to this odd and dysfunctional world of the seminary.


That any Roman Catholic diocese, or archdiocese, should present a ‘Quo Vadis’ weekend for young guys, in the 21st century, should make every discerning Catholic parent immediately suspicious…because it means that the traddies (or those with such pretensions) are in charge. And where ‘tradism’ is afoot, there might also be paedophilia, ephehbophilia…and God-knows-what-else.


2:06 am
But this promiscuous corrupt plague sweeping the Rcc priesthood is occurring across the board.



Are you sure about that?

In the closed shop world of self-perceived clerical privilege, entitlement, exceptionalism, wouldn’t the opportunities for ‘sexploitation’ (given the all-male environment) be numerically and qualitatively greater?

I remember my very first day in seminary; I was a good-looking teenager. A more senior seminarian made a bee-line for me to take me under his wing, so to speak. He was obviously gay and obviously interested in me homosexually. I had no known experience of being around gay people, but I knew, immediately, that this guy was interested in me for my looks; no other reason.

For a time he more or less controlled my days: where we would go and when, what we would do. I allowed this, out of newness and politeness.

I remember his coming to my room while I was trying to study; he threw himself, suggestively, on my bed, and struck a languid pose. I wasn’t concerned; just amused: he was as subtle as a nasal carbuncle.

Eventually, it became obvious to him that I wasn’t gay, and he dropped me as though I were a red hot potato; it was as sudden as that.

Thanks to the media, much more is known today about Roman Catholic priesthood and priests, their history and their moral corruption. Frankly, I’d wonder at any teenager, or young man, attracted to such a, er, career.

Specifically, I’d wonder why.


10:55 MC, this behaviour in Seminaries is not only confined to traddies.
This behaviour goes back generations. It’s commonplace at this stage.
God only knows how many young men had their lives ruined as a consequence
of trying out a vocation to priesthood.


You are right: this type of predatory-grooming behaviour is not confined to ‘traddies’. However, I think it more likely to be present among them.
‘Tradism’ is a culture in the Church, not a form of piety or holiness. And it stresses the supreme importance (the absolute and essential theological and liturgical centrality) of priesthood and priests. This is not conducive to humility (and, therefore, to spiritual growth and holiness); in fact, it is quite the opposite: it is a form of ego pampering, and it encourages a hunger and an aggression for power and for control of others. In this circumstance (and in the absence of any spiritual bulwark against temptation), a mans worst moral traits are nurtured, not denied.
And if among these is sexual deviancy…


To this parent,
You have done the best thing. If your son has a vocation to priesthood you are fostering it by not allowing it to be destroyed at the diocesan seminary. Keep praying and God will give the opportunity for him.
Just one thing – stop giving money as well as asking questions. I can’t think why, when it is estimated to be the biggest land and property owner on the planet, but the fall in donations is finally reported to be having an effect on the coffers.


That may well be the case, MC. Such a culture would breed chronic clerical narcissism.
Take a look at the rogues gallery on to view the backgrounds of those imprisoned.
What’s of concern is those gone under the radar, as well as those still ‘in ministry ‘ but protected by the fraternity, for whatever reasons.


“High school boys gather with priests, seminarians and others… “ Now how creepy is that? Putting aside for one moment the whole abuse crisis – if that were possible – as a Catholic teacher let alone a parent, I should say that is a highly unsuitable environment for a 15 year old boy, given that he would be expected to continue in that stunted world for the rest of his life. Actually I have little time or enthusiasm for women priests, despite there being no good reason for not ordaining them, but it is a very rum business that priesthood is the only life not open to women. The son here needs time and space to develop his own identity with the support of the family. Though this is generally a sensible account, I detect a Catholic hothouse atmosphere. Most boys are into girls, which is good, but if a Catholic boy were gay ( also good ! ) but coming from an “orthodox” home, he might feel that entering a seminary would be a solution. And we all know what a bad idea that would be! The bishops have learned nothing.


Tis a strange one. Perhaps concerned parents should write to the seminaries or rock up to the front door and see for themselves. On t other hand why don’t interested people do courses on th outside and check out other denominations at a safe distance to gain experience. They won’t bite hi


I believe that the parents are right to be concerned. Their son should be encouraged to proceed with his studies to third level. Get his degree first, attain various work experiences which will give him important life’s lessons. He should also put his compassion into practice by joining outreach charity groups, join one of the many church food programmes, visitation of nightly shelters, keep in touch with vocation director, associate with as wide a spectrum of people as possible. He’s far too young to go into an institutional setting. Apart from this the whole system of preparing students for priesthood needs a radical transformation. I wish him well and I would be positive in encouraging him and his parents. I would listen to their concerns and endeavour to guide all of them caringly, wisely and pastorally. It would be an approach in stark contrast to the absolutist, know it all “Pat says” – a piece of superb cynicism and very self serving.


Elsie has a nice picture with Prince Charles beaming on the front page of ‘The Times’ today, glowing he is Pat. Over the last few days in Rome he has been over emphasising the fact he is not ill and is in great health. He also said people have been spreading nasty and hurtful gossip about him recently – I wonder who can he possibly mean? Suffice to say that Carmel did not make the trip with him this time. I wonder why?


Now that would be really surprising if Carmel had been made to miss out on another freebie. How do you know she didn’t go?


Vincent is sounding like a man who is beginning to get his confidence back, and some arrogance as well, as he distances himself from his ‘aestas horribilis’. He’s swanning around in Rome, basking in the reflected glory of Newman, at the centre of the adoring pilgrims (most of whom will be Oratorian swivel eyed loons of questionable dress sense and personal hygiene, all a sign, apparently of ‘holiness’). He will feel back in his element, no doubt staying in the VEC, his old alma mater and the place of his glory days as a golden haired, blue eyed boy with prospects.
As to Carmel, well I would not put it past Vincent to throw her to the wolves, if it were to suit his own ambition and prospects ? I would be worried if I were her. She could easily find herself sent back to be with the old infirm nuns at the mother house in Selly Park to live out here days, and to get her out of the picture. If it suits him. He is ruthlessly ambitious and interested in no one but himself. Never be fooled by the bonhomie and faux graciousness. He will always be looking over your shoulder for someone more interested and useful as he speaks to you. Carmel’s usefulness could come easily to an end. As has the usefulness of so many that Vincent has used and thrown aside over the decades.
I am bemused by all this Newman stuff. Outside of a very odd group that congregates around the Oratories, and some Oxbridge academics and intellectuals, there is zilch interest and enthusiasm for Newman in the Church in England. He’s just seems as some establishment, comfortable, intellectual 19th century old man who wrote convoluted and verbose letters and pamphlets, and the odd poem. I doubt if many people, outside the groups I have mentioned, have the slightest interest in him, and he certainly does not contribute to the real issues that face the Church today. But, I suppose it’s a good opportunity for the Oratorians to have a wankfest and enjoy themselves. Oratorians wanking ? Oh, dear, the image is quite off-putting ! Quite put me off my farfalle alla salsiccia which I’m having for my unch today.


Yes he did – in an act of nauseating and self-serving hypocrisy. One of his own seminarians – the bould “Gorgeous” – was at the epicentre of the scandals and Dermot Martin almost had to have “Gorgeous” surgically removed from him as a semen-arian for Dublin.

Martin, it would seem, saw nothing wrong with Byrne’s antics and would have ordained him in a heartbeat (still might when no one is looking).

Martin’s “strange goings on”? The strangest goings on of all are right under his own nose, in his own archdiocese. A weak and ineffectual, self-serving leader. The sooner he is gone the better.


What did Michael Byrne do that was so terrible? Even Brendan Marshall’s antics were with consenting adults.


@12:20pm – Byrne’s shall we say, rather fast and loose approach to the 6th Commandment, renders him unsuitable for priesthood.

Even if there was a married priesthood, or if priests were permitted to “marry” other men, his promiscuity and his use of others, render him unworthy and unfit to be a deacon or priest.

He’s a sleeveen and a charlatan. He should have been screened out earlier in his “formation”. That he wasn’t speaks volumes too about Dublin and Maynooth’s vocational discernment and formation programs. It is obvious that unworthy and unsuitable men are overseeing vocations and formation.


Maybe Maynooth is under the influence of teachings from The Ramtha School of Enlightenment.


The fact remains – no one person has stood behind any of the allegations against him. I think that says it all.
All the rumours about him stem from this blog by “anonymous characters”.
Believe whatever you like (1:15) but he is innocent until proven guilty.


Maynooth had a ‘guru’ in their midst in the mid-eighties early ninties. A high flyer, appointed a member of the International Commission by Pope John Paul II, advising The Holy See on theological matters, plus a serious contender for Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Ledwith is now a recognized ‘guru’ with ‘The Ramtha School of Enlightenment’ selling DVDs, including ‘The Great Questions in the Hamburger Universe’; deep deceptions video series, parts one & two.
You’d never know, there may well be other latent gurus, in a Catholic Seminary near you.


His parents may have to consider other occupations for their son such as cabin crew, hairdressing, or floristry for example. Massage therapy is another option.


Did former Cardinal Ted ordain Priests and Bishops as a reward for extra curricular activities?
Do some Bishops ordain some seminarians into the Priestly fraternity as a reward for extra curricular activities?


A priest friend of mine who spent a long time in Rome always says: “The way to get promoted in the RCC is to do sexual favours for your superiors”.



It is often how any hierarchy (gay or straight) works, because hierarchy is premised on power (specifically, power over others).

But where hierarchy is premised not only on power, but on patriarchy and on a theological understanding of priesthood that falls just a little short of self-deification, there is (O!) a happy hunting ground for every malevolent spirit in this world and the next.

I suppose this is why Jesus instructed his disciples that they were not to see themselves as masters, but as servants of one another. Of course this isn’t, really, how Roman Catholic priests see themselves (and certainly not how they behave), despite their sometimes using the language of servanthood.


I am wondering if the time has not come for some sort of state / secular official, even police, investigation in to seminaries ?
Much of the behaviour described is coercive, and is against young, vulnerable and impressionable seminarians, who might be over the age of 18, but are still being subjected to behaviour that in other scenarios could be considered to be highly questionable and even criminal.
There is evidently a dysfunctional and destructive character and atmosphere in many of our seminaries, places where abuse of power and privilege, by the people who have it against vulnerable young men, is rife and carried out with impunity.
Even some of the ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ style which has been reported in Wonersh seminary on this b blog could be considered to be actionable. It certainly is not the behaviour you would expect of professional leaders in any organisation. You just don’t manipulate, bully and treat people like that anymore and get away with it.
I really do think that it needs looking in to. I imagine the first iteration of this will be in the USA, where Attorneys General have already taken an interest in and investigated dioceses’ handing of safeguarding, and it would not be a big step for them to move their gaze to misdoings in seminaries. I can image the police in the US turning up at a seminary unannounced with search warrants, and removing documentation, and interviewing staff and seminarians about the goings on. It would only take one seminarian to make a serious allegation, not to the bishop, but to the police, for this to happen.
If I were a seminary rector, I would be worried, very worried, because the net is closing, and I would make sure that my seminary is run squeakily clean.
Forget the Church investigating its own seminaries. The time has come for external, objective and independent state / secular bodies to do the regulating and the investigating, on the basis that Church, as in most things, cannot be trusted to self-regulate with honesty and integrity.

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You make a very valid and interesting point at 1:33pm. Seminaries proclaim themselves as institutes of Higher Education, and many are affiliated to universities viz Maynooth and Wonersh which trumpets its links to St Mary’s University, Strawberry Hill. That being so there ought to be some kind of external inspectorate similar to OFSTED for schools. I doubt however this is the case. I think the only person responsible for Allen Hall is Elsie. Couve de Murville regarded Oscott as HIS seminary, so I suppose that has now fallen to Nursie. Does that mean Wonersh is essentially the Southwark seminary, or who are the trustees? Anyway yet again we see the effects of a shocking lack of accountability, just as was demonstrated recently with the Benedictine Schools, who were monitored only by the very communities committing abuse – that has had to change, so let’s ask the bishops some more awkward questions about their lack of oversight, accountability and simple pastoral responsibility for those like Lawrence and Paul who were failed by the system.

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These kind of people are the very kind of people that Jesus makes himself known to. Sinners. Jesus did not come to heal the healthy but the sick. The whole world is sick. Once a friend told me after leaving seminary life that he expected a bunch of good lads set to do good in the world, but experienced what he said made him sick. He concluded that seminarys and the priesthood is for people who do not fit in anywhere else in life. But surely these are the kind of people who always followed Jesus. Prostitutes, Tax Collectors, Lepers, people who never mind didn’t fit in, but were despised by others except Jesus. To Jesus every life is precious and worth his help, it may take a lifetime for someone to embrace Jesus, he is willing to wait and help that person along the way. So there is going to be a lot of Dis-ease amongst those who Jesus calls to himself. Every one of those people mentioned in other comments, every sick person in this world including me, will be offered the healing power of Christ.


L, it isn’t so much the presence of moral dis-ease among us that is the problem; that’s merely grist to God’s mill. The problem is our refusal to allow this to be ground to make what is new and wholesome.
Many seminarians and priests do not want to change their behaviour. So while moral weakness is understandable (though never condonable), marking time morally is intolerable.


I would add to the above that it is leadership you are talking about and the Lord will make different demands of the shepherds. It is inconceivable that he wants shepherds who are diseased themselves and most scandalise is the way some shepherds have covered up and allowed abuse. They are welcome in the church but not in leadership.


4.19: Magna, what marvellous analysis!! You are wrong about generalisations about all priests. The many that I know are endeavouring to continue, perhaps with greater zeal, what they were already striving to do: live priesthood as best as possible, albeit with great challenges and struggles. The men I work with – one retired (aged 85), the other in his early 70’s are with health issues are very afmirable mrn. They inspire me with their commitment, prayerfulness and desire to of service within the parish. This scene is replicated many times over. Yes, there are some who are very errant and who are not suitable, but the majority of us try our best. We are as appalled, dismayed and angered as you may be but we keep going and trynto respond wholeheartedly in our respective roles and responsibilities. Tough for you if you want to live in denial of this truth. Critics from the sidelines and behind laptops are usually destructive not constructive.



I did not generalise about priests in my post at 4.19; I said ‘many seminarians and priests do not want to change their behaviour’.

‘Many’ is not ‘all’, not even ‘most’.

If the majority of priests do their best and try to respond ‘wholeheartedly’ to the present, self-inflicted, gaping wound in the body clerical, then your sense of ‘wholeheartedness’ just about equals my sense of ‘mediocrity’. When, for example, did you priests publicly and openly, as a body, protest the abuses in the Church?

And no; I am not in denial of these truths about Roman Cathoilc priesthood: I have expressed them, many times, on this blog.

And last and least, if critics from the sidelines and from behind laptops are ‘usually destructive not constructive’, I presume you had the wit, before you posted it, to realise that the nature of your comment makes you one of them.

It is cheering to know that our seminaries are turning out men of such intellectual calibre.



The best were appointed to teach in seminary following Vatican 2.
The self- inflicted gaping wound in the body clerical could have been a lot worse!


Some excellent pertinent comment from you above Magna, and I would have said so/commented directly on them, except for the lack of a “reply” button! Does anyone know the reason why some comments lack a reply button. That “like” button seems never used. I’ve “tried” it but won’t use as I don’t want to send my email address off into the unknown ethersphere!



MMM, I suggest you indicate whose comment you are replying to by including in your post the time their comment was made. ( If that makes sense).


Thanks Anon@ 9:44. I always do indicate with the time as you suggest, or with the relevant blog-name, just as I am now doing to you. But because of “gaps” and other comments before there’s a “space” to comment, it would be preferable to have a reply directly following the relevant comment.


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