The silent problem within priestly formation…

Fr-Dan-Fitzpatrick

Do you remember Fr Dan Fitzpatrick? You know – the priest who 6 months ago publicly threatened to sue me when I pulled him up on calling the Holy Spirit “she”?

A few day ago I learned that he had quit the priesthood. It must have been a very difficult decision and I wish him all the best for the future.

I have to admit I am slightly relieved that a young priest who could be so wrong on church teaching has decided that the priesthood is not for him. The better outcome of course would have been that he would have embraced the true teachings of the Catholic faith and found the strength to continue in his vocation. But from what I understand regarding Fr Dan’s formation, that was never going to happen.

Fr Dan attended Ushaw seminary. But did not complete his formation years due to the colleges closure in 2011. Instead he was fast tracked into ordination – missing a year. He was ear marked by the powers that be, and was quite open with his seminary buddies that he was assured that he would only have to do a few years in parishes because he was wanted to head up the PR section at Eccleston Square.

My point here is that he had been chosen. He had been selected out of hundreds of other seminarians by the Bishops, or Westminster, or what ever you want to call it. As a priest friend of mine says “His face fitted.” They had obviously decided that he fit their model.

This worries me because the guy obviously had dodgy theology. Or perhaps they saw this as a bonus? Was Fr Dan chosen over the more orthodox seminarians because he fitted in better with what the powers that be wanted to achieve politically within the church? I believe so.

Ushaw_College_2

Ushaw College

But why did Fr Dan have such weird ideas about the Holy Spirit? Who the hell was responsible for his formation?

A good ex seminarian friend recently described his experience of those in charge of formation:

“I see merely faithless men who, instead of being guardians and protectors of the Faith handed down from the Apostles, see themselves as gatekeepers to the most exclusive men’s club in the world – one in which they have rather a bit too much invested.”

I have heard so many stories from priests and seminarians who all say how they are persecuted because of their orthodoxy. But none of them said it quite as clearly as Alan does over at his blog Torch of the Faith. He  was also at Ushaw, and writes:

“When I had been at Ushaw seminary for a few weeks, a student from several years higher up the house came to give me some well-meant advice. The conversation went something like this:-

”I’ve noticed that you go to Morning and Evening Prayer every single day.”

”Er… Yes. What about it?”

”I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

”Really! Why not?”

”Well, you see, the staff are going to notice that type of thing and they’ll say that you’re too rigid. That’ll come back on you later on. It has already happened to other lads before you came here. It would perhaps be best if you have a sleep-in some days and skip going to chapel once or twice.”

I was as dumbfounded then as I was when another well-intentioned man came to warn me not to have my orthodox books or devotional material on open show on the bookcase in my room. I was astounded. If you could get labelled as ”rigid” for just saying your daily prayers, or reading orthodox material, then what hope was there for your vocation, or even your faith, during 6 years in that atmosphere? You’ve got to remember, too, that I had worked in a high-street bank for 9 years before this. I’d had my own car, savings and everything. After about two days in the place, I phoned my Dad and said that it felt like I’d gone in a time-machine from 90’s England to Hitler’s Germany or something.

This sense was increased one evening after Holy Mass. Shocked that we were not to be allowed to kneel for the Consecration in the seminary, I began to do a profound bow towards the altar. A woman pulled me over in the cloister afterwards, did a slow impression of my gesture and then narrowed her eyes at me, as if to say: ”I’m on to you, young man!”

When my late friend Fr. Mike and a few of us used to pray novenas of reparation in St. Cuthbert’s chapel at night, we chuckled amongst ourselves about the irony that we would be lumped with a so-called ”formation issue” if we were to be discovered by the staff, but not if we were seen to be propping up the bar three nights a week. We felt like the underground Church.

As I was attending Divine Office primarily for God, and not for the staff or anyone else, I ignored the well-meant advice of that seminarian and kept heading down to Morning Prayer each day. Too rigid you see!

For some reason, I never got labelled with the ”Rigid” moniker by the staff. They did say that I needed to have a ”broader model of church” in one of my reports. Well, I could live with that; as limited creatures we can always have a deeper appreciation of the awesome mystery of the Church. After once teaching some primary school children about the Rosary, I was hit with a report which suggested that I had taken an ”Old-fashioned faith stance.” It seemed odd to me, because I was not taking a stance at all; just passing on the Faith to Catholic kids.

I was once called the ”Vatican Police” and a ”fascist b*****d,” by a Modernist student for having ventured to get some swear-words removed from the script of a college play, which was to be performed before local villagers and their teenaged daughters, but nobody ever called me rigid; at least not to my face!

Still, some of the lads did earn some quite negative labels on their end of term reports. We were told that students before our time had been pressured for being too ”pious” during Mass. A good man I knew got tagged as rigid. He was kept waiting until the very day of his ordination to the diaconate, after five long years of persecution, to be told that he was being held back and would not be getting ordained that evening with the rest of his peers. Further setbacks eventually hindered his priestly ordination by another 18 months.

I had a good friend, a mature and highly educated young man, who got labelled as being ”scrupulous,” for checking the palms of his hands for crumbs from the large, crumbly and powdered triangles of bread which were used for the Holy Eucharist; no receiving on the tongue in that regime.

Another good friend was labelled ”homophobic” for quoting from the teaching about homosexuality in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, during a class discussion.

Another friend made it to the diaconate and had all the ordination cards and invites printed ready for his priestly ordination day. He was pulled up for wearing clerical attire; and then only for Sunday Mass and when taking Holy Communion to the sick. His ordination was suspended for six months and he had to lose out in relation to the printing costs.

Rigid. Narrow model of church. Old-fashioned faith stance. Homophobic. Scrupulous.

None of these are helpful labels to get stamped on your report in an environment largely controlled by dissenting Modernists.

In his seminal book Goodbye Good Men – How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church, Michael S. Rose explores the phenomenon of the persecution and weeding out of orthodox seminarians, in favour of dissenters and active homosexuals, which prevailed for several decades in the American situation.

goodbye_good_men_15.jpg

One year after getting married in 2002, Angeline bought me a copy of this book. I sat down and read it in just 24-hours; it was one of the most cathartic experiences I had ever had. When I had come home emotionally, psychologically and spiritually battered from Ushaw, in the late 90’s, people in the parish told my parents that I should not speak of the bad things that I had experienced. In that dark time, my poor parents and my friend, Fr. Mike Williams, helped me to keep on going before I met Angeline. When I eventually got Michael Rose’s book from her, I realized that I could speak about this stuff; and that I was not going crazy for wanting to do so. There were others – many, many others – who had suffered similarly from the bullying, heresy, immorality, psychological warfare and sacrilege that constituted so much of the so-called seminary formation in those grim days.

In Goodbye Good Men, Michael Rose exposes the fact that seminarians who began to stand up against the evils around them soon found themselves being labelled as ‘rigid,’ ‘pre-conciliar,’ or ‘anticommunity’. Quoting from the famous Fr. John Trigilio, author of Catholicism for Dummies and co-host of EWTN’s Web of Faith, Rose compares the kind of constant surveillance and persecution, which faithful Catholics received in Modernistic seminaries, to the type of psychological warfare employed by the KGB in Soviet Russia. In light of that, Fr. Trigilio explained: ”The one book that helped me persevere through my 12 years of seminary, was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Funnily enough, together with Michael Rose’s book, this is one of the titles which has most helped me in the years of trying to recover after the spiritual-gulag of Ushaw. 

During my time at Ushaw, and in the decade or so afterwards, I began to meet and speak with former seminarians from America, Germany, Holland and Ireland who had all come through similar experiences. Some had made it to priesthood, others were still trying. One thing that kept coming up in conversations with these men, was the fact that orthodox seminarians found themselves being labelled and persecuted as ”rigid”. Between us, we began to piece together the fact that there must have been a concerted effort from somewhere for this very word to keep cropping up and to have been used so effectively, in such disparate cultural situations, to destroy orthodox vocations.

And destruction is the right word. Fr. Trigilio explained to Michael Rose: ”I actually saw vocations tortured and killed by those who were supposedly there to promote and foster vocations.” He adds that he witnessed, ”a real persecution and systematic extermination of orthodoxy and manly piety so as to artificially create a climate for married and women clergy.”

From my own experience, I have to say that there are plenty of unbalanced characters who have been ushered through toward ordination, even though – or likely because – they were irreverent and effeminate dissenters from the Magisterium. At the same time, plenty of good men were put through the wringer, or even prevented from getting into the seminary system to begin with, just because they were faithful and orthodox Catholics. I’ve said here before, that I’ve seen lads turned away at selection for believing that the Church is hierarchical, for supporting Humanae Vitae, or for being forthrightly pro-life. 

And what of the men who have suffered emotionally, psychologically and spiritually after their experiences at the hands of Modernists in the seminaries? 

What of the men who were made to consume dozens of consecrated Hosts? Or who had to endure a large piece of unconsecrated bread being mopped around a patten, with particles of the Blessed Sacrament on, and then thrust aggressively into their face, with the words ”Get Eating”? What of those who had to endure an odd character listening outside of their door night after night in the dark? How did they suffer when the men who did these things were ordained and went on to run several parishes? What of those put through the grinder every fortnight in so-called spiritual direction sessions, which had more in common with interrogations? What of those who could not sleep for weeks and became ground down after partying ”gin queens” kept them up with their rowdy parties until 2.30 am each morning? Or of those who had their private mail interfered with and illegally defaced with mocking slogans?

At the weekend, Fr. Ray Blake wrote a thoughtful article, entitled A Place for the Damaged, in response to Pope Francis’ latest comments about ”rigid” seminarians. Judging from the responses he received, Pope Francis has touched a raw nerve with many good people by his latest comments; and Fr. Ray has provided something of a pastoral space for a lot of wounded souls.

Having suffered so much in the spiritual-gulag that was Ushaw college in the 1990’s, and having witnessed the ”rigid” label being abused to destroy and hinder good and orthodox vocations from England, America, Germany, Holland and Ireland; I must say that Pope Francis’ comments to seminary formators at the weekend have put me back a long, long way.

I imagine that now they will be used by Modernists in seminaries everywhere to do just that – in the sense of putting them back in their formation – to plenty more orthodox young men who are presently in the system.

I always like to try and end articles on a happy note. So here goes: I once asked my late friend Fr. Mike Williams how it was that he, being so orthodox, managed to survive six years at Ushaw and reach ordination. He immediately replied: ”It was Our Lady. Sheer Our Lady!”

Horrifying isn’t it? When a good solid young man gets branded as an extremist, a fundamentalist for simply living and upholding the faith. And it seems this same problem also reared its ugly head in Maynooth seminary in Ireland. 10 diocesan seminarians who were due to return to Maynooth in the autumn after completing their pastoral year, six were recommended to take time out to reconsider their vocation because they were considered ‘too conservative’.

Perhaps now we can begin to throw open the curtains and shed more light on what goes on within the seminaries. And perhaps when we do, and the rot gets extracted, we might find we suddenly have a rise in vocations that last a lifetime.

 

42 thoughts on “The silent problem within priestly formation…

  1. Thanks for this, Clare. I can see that I don’t have the same understanding of ‘rigid’ as may be the case with others – and I can appreciate how upsetting that word can be, in certain circumstances.

  2. It’s not just Modernist seminaries who pull this sort of nonsense. A few Traditional orders do too. At our Latin Mass church, I know an altar server who applied to the FSSP seminary (he’s in his late 20s, for reference) here in the US as he wanted to become a Tridentine priest. Despite his orthodox Catholicism, the seminary denied his admission because he admitted to liking rock music in the admissions interview.

    Say what you will about how horrible some Modernist seminaries are (and believe me, I too have encountered priests who clearly never should have made it through seminary), but Traditionalist seminaries can fall folly to the same discriminatory error too.

  3. Oddly enough, your link to the Irish Catholic shows a very hopeful development. I remember a time when no Irish Bishop would question the judgement of Maynooth’s formation staff. Now they will; perhaps not as often as they should but still, a positive development.

  4. We have a local trainee Deacon in North Lincolnshire (training at Oscott) who is now saying that Mary would have been a prostitute if she had not have given birth to Jesus, all Canon Law is ‘grey area’, and who gives the impression that Eucharistic miracles are ‘theologically’ not real. That’s all we really need to know about our seminaries

  5. Thank you Clare and it was only yesterday looking through your previous posts I read about the now ex-Father Fitzpatrick and was shocked by the attitude he showed to you and the Diocese allowing such actions to take place in its name.
    For other reasons a few years back my family and I stopped attending our parish church wanting the othordoxy of trus Catholisism not the protestant version that most of our dioceses offer today. As such my contribution to priest training fund has now changed to the Oratarians and the FSSP, our weekly offering te same. If the diocese model has moved away from the Church then we must move away from them and take our support and faith to authentic structures of the Church.
    Support FSSP, ICKSP and others who are true to the Faith. What I have read above is shocking and the Bishops have a lot of explaining to do regarding what they are using our money for.

    In Domino,

    Patrick.

  6. “I have heard so many stories from priests and seminarians who all say how they are persecuted because of their orthodoxy.” It is the same in convents and religious communities of men and women. Though our community claimed orthodoxy, when it came to Latin and the Latin Mass, I faced much criticism and persecution from both community members and the diocese.

  7. But even the pope is saying God is mother and father…..
    We have a problem in our modernist relativistic church and it goes all the way up.

  8. Your implication that Fr Dan did not complete his priestly formation is not correct. He was at Oscott from 2011-2013. I know. I was in the same class as him. I am not in a position to comment on Ushaw, but I can certainly vouch for the “orthodoxy” of the teaching and formation staff at Oscott, both then and now.

    • Thanks for your comment Fr Richard. I have heard good reports regarding Oscott.
      Concerning Fr Dan’s formation, I have been informed from several seperate sources that he skipped a year and was fast tracked for ordination. This coincided with the closure of Ushaw in 2011.
      Regardless, he fit the model the Bishops were looking for, and calling the Holy Spirit “she” is either a result of ignorance on his part, or more likely a deliberate stepping away from Catholic doctrine.
      I wish Fr Dan the best for the future.

  9. What would you think of a theologian who wrote “In both Hebrew and Greek, ‘wisdom’ is a feminine noun, and this is no empty grammatical phenomenon in antiquity’s vivid awareness of language. ‘Sophia,’ a feminine noun, stands on that side of reality which is represented by the woman, by what is purely and simply feminine.” The same theologian noted that “Spirit,” is also feminine in Hebrew, and concluded: “Because of the teaching about the Spirit, one can as it were practically have a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine, in a mysterious, veiled manner, within God himself.”

    • What did he get wrong? There is nothing wrong with pointing out that the Holy Spirit has feminine characteristics. But to twist that and presume that it is then ok to refer to the Holy Spirit as female is not what Benedict was saying.
      What you have clearly illustrated here is how through ignorance or political agenda, it is possible to completely alter the meaning of what someone has said.
      Fr James Martin is not ignorant. Fr Dan however admitted he misunderstood the word Ruach in his letter of apology to me.

      • I agree that calling the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity “she” is wrong, but you can see how someone following the line of thought set out by Pope Benedict might, in error, draw that conclusion. The point is that theological speculation in thus area is not confined to the fringes, and that the difference between heresy and orthodoxy is sometimes a fine one.

      • I agree. And as I pointed out at the time, Fr Dan was reiterating the words of Fr James Martin – an older and much more experienced priest with a very liberal agenda. Fr James Martin was well aware of what he was saying and that it was in complete error. He proved this when he promptly removed his tweet following my blog post.
        The danger of twisting doctrine is, of course, offering false hope to people struggling to accept their crosses. This is just so unkind and irresponsible. A Christian cannot sidestep their cross, but only accept it with the support and guidance of Fathers who lead them in truth, mercy, justice, and above all love.

      • “…you can see how someone following the line of thought set out by Pope Benedict might, in error, draw that conclusion.” From a Pope – I mean Francis here – one expects more, however.

  10. While this may be the case in isolated incidents, during my time here at the seminary, I have found that there is an activity by the faculty to prevent this very mentality. This is purely anecdotal evidence. Furthermore, the priest mentioned, Fr. Dan, would not have left the priesthood if he was being “groomed” for being put higher up.

    • Are you suggesting that Our Lord’s doctrines are not the truth?

      We have been provided with the truth and defending it is nothing more than what we are expected to do.

      God doesn’t lie to us. He doesn’t mislead us. If someone thinks the “truth” is something different to that which has been revealed to us, it isn’t God who is inspiring them.

      • From Matt 13 to Matt 18 Jesus taught the principles of the Kingdom of God and the Lord wants to establish his character and his nature within us, it’s no longer what I do, it’s who I am. You cannot establish character by works. How did unlearned, uneducated men turn the world upside down? Apart from Paul not one of them had any theological qualifications. You will never understand the word of God unless you have the Holy Spirit teach you. In 1 Cor 2 10-15 we are told that the natural man cannot understand the word of God. That’s why Jesus could not use any of the Scribes and Pharisees in his own day. They had all the understanding in their heads but they had no heart knowledge. Why didn’t they recognise the Messiah? All the Scriptures pointed to him. It doesn’t matter what theological college you have been to. It doesn’t matter how many degrees or letters you have acquired after your name, because your head knowledge, your intellect and your education will never give you the revelation that you need to discern what is written, for only the Holy Spirit can reveal Christ to you and only the Holy Spirit can enlighten this word to you, otherwise it is just a book of words. Whenever you try to interpret without the Spirit it may say something totally different to what it means.

        Why do you think they were called ‘Believers’ in Jerusalem and then called ‘Christians’ in Antioch? Because the basic teachings (Heb 6:1-2) do not demand me to be obedient to the word of God. All I have to do is agree and make acceptance of the truth, this is mental agreement.
        The doctrines of righteousness mean that I have to be obedient to the word of God and this transforms and cleanses my soul. When I receive the word it’s not just a word that I agree with, then I have to obey it. (Jas 1:21-25) & (Matt 7:24-27) that is why we have churches full of believers but very few Christians.
        In the Song of Songs chapter 6:6 it says ‘Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing. Each has its twin, not one of them is alone’………. If you know anything about farming or sheep; if a sheep has one long tooth it will not be able to masticate its food and it will starve to death. If we are not able to rightly divide the word of truth we will die spiritually. We need to know how to break open the word of God so that we can digest it otherwise we will starve to death. Because we have been fed a watered down gospel is it any wonder many have left. Let’s face it, would anybody want to go to a pub that had no beer?

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  12. This is why you need the ex-Anglicans whether Ordinariate or not. when I was at St Stephens House, Oxford, you were hauled before the Principal if you missed morning prayer.

  13. This was an interesting read, Clare, and striking especially for me as a recent convert. I was attending a conservative Lutheran seminary when my studies planted the seed of Catholicism in me, and ended up forcing me to quit, along with a few other factors. My experience at the Lutheran seminary, ironically was the antithesis of what you write about for Catholics. The liturgy was pious and reverent. Attendance was expected. Theology was taught to the highest standard, and always with an eye to the practice of the historic church, especially against the modernist tendencies of today. I very much enjoyed and benefited from my time there. Now a Catholic, I sometimes regret giving up that kind of ministry, but tales like this make me wonder. Why squander the beautiful treasures you have here?

      • No, I should be clear, I’m not going through Catholic seminary. I’m a married man :-). I am going through formation to become a secular Carmelite though. Unfortunately, although I think I’d love the Latin mass, the nearest parish offering it is over an hour drive away, and I’m rather busy between two kids and helping teach RCIA at my own parish.

  14. Some of the experiences as narrated above accord with my own observations in seminary at the Beda College in Rome 2008-2009. I was very disillusioned by the homosexualist undercurrents which were all-too-obvious in the college bar. When I mentioned to the Vocations Director for Southwark – in private! – that I found the behaviour of the “pantomime queens” in the college bar uncomfortable, he admonished me with the words, “Don’t speak about your fellow seminarians like that.”

    We never spoke about the matter again and I was soon labelled as having “formation issues.” I am glad, in the end they terminated my formation: I wouldn’t have fitted the current model.

  15. Pray for the conversion of Fr. Fitzpatrick, he is a priest forever. He should never have been recommended to continue from Valladolid where he began his training and where I first met him. He was a modernist liberal back then and it was obvious that he would do great harm to the Church. Let us pray and offer sacrifices for him that the Holy Spirit will convict him of his need for conversion. He is a priest forever now let us pray that he realises what they means. Thank God that he has left active ministry because in his present state he is doing more harm than good.

    • No only the church but the natural world is certainly going through tremendous upheaval. All these situations were foretold by Jesus Himself. We can blame the increase of lawlessness in our societies (which is true but not the problem). The major problem is the church is asleep to their responsibility to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world.
      In the area of intercession Abraham is a good example as he interceded for the city of Sodom. God would have spared the city if enough just men had been found
      Instead of repenting, more and more people are succumbing to fear and anxiety instead of standing on the promises of God in faith. In (2 Thess 2:7) the mystery of iniquity is already at work, which is lawlessness against God’s constituted authority. Not lawlessness against Government restrictions, but against the moral and ethical laws set out in the word of God. After Abram defeated the 5 kings who had taken Lot captive, the king of Sodom said to him, ‘give me the people and take the possessions for yourself’. Abram said that he wouldn’t even take a thread or a sandal strap of what belonged to him. Satan is only interested in the souls of men because they are eternal and when Yahweh told Satan that he would eat dust all the days of his life, dust is what we are made of and Satan feeds on the flesh of man. The great battle today is for the souls of men

  16. Ignatius: thank you for your kind comment. I write under my own name, not a pseudonym. If you have no idea of what happened since the events you refer to, let me assure you I returned to the Catholic faith shortly after that awful time. I now rarely comment on religious matters. Your ad hominem comment reminds me why I hardly bother to do so. Peace to you.

    • Praise be Jesus Christ, I will pray for you at Holy Mass today. I meant no evil by my words. Obvious it would have been hypocritical for a heretic to be bashing poor fr. Fitzpatrick and I’m sure you could see that. I should have been more charitable nonetheless.

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