Ever since I was a child, I wanted to become a priest. My mother, a devout Catholic, was the one who taught me about the faith, the sacraments, and the Church. She brought me to daily Mass since I was an infant, and my earliest memories are of being held in her arms as she knelt on the communion rail to worthily receive the Eucharist. The image of the priest at prayer, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, hearing confessions, visiting the sick, preaching from the pulpit, proclaiming the Gospel – I admired the priesthood and prayed to God that He would call me to serve Him as a priest.
My family was close with various priests in our home city. All of them knew I had a desire within me to become a priest. Given my solid Catholic upbringing, my participation in our parish life, and my zeal to bring others closer to God, it was a natural conclusion – after high school, I would enter seminary.
I entered when I was 17. At the time, there were only a few programs nationwide that had minor seminaries. I went to a pretty conservative one, one known for its “orthodoxy” and rigor. We were allowed to leave the seminary property only once a week – on Saturdays. Around the seminary walls was a spiked fence, which seemed odd, considering that the seminary was located in one of the most affluent ZIP codes in the country. A mix of the tough conservatism, the fortress mentality, and the distance from my home resulted in my feeling homesick and miserable. It was obvious to everyone. I did not make friends easily, and I often kept to myself.
One night, I was visited by a seminarian who was one year ahead of me. He asked to come into my room – he too seemed downcast. I let him in, had him sit in my comfortable chair, and we talked. He asked me how my adjustment to seminary life was going, and I frankly told him I was not enjoying it at all. He told me that “it takes time” and told me he was struggling as well.
Then the conversation began to turn creepy.
“Do you ever masturbate?”
My eyes flew open. “…what?”
He told me he struggled with masturbation. I understood the nature and struggle of the sin, but it seemed a bit too…forward. Still, I listened to him speak about his struggles. Then he asked me once again, “Do you do it?” I told him I did not. (It was true – I did not have an issue with chastity at the seminary, mostly because I felt too sad and trapped to even feel any affective emotions – ordered or disordered.) He apparently did not understand me, because then he asked me how I did it, what techniques I used to do it, and if I watched pornography. I felt beyond uncomfortable, and asked him to leave my room. He pretended he didn’t hear me, and he slouched in my chair, most likely trying to show off his erect penis. “Get out!” I yelled. He quickly got up, apologized, and left. This seminarian was later reported by three other seminarians for the same thing, except with others, his advances became clearer. Together, we told the dean of men, and he was expelled.
On President’s Day weekend, we had a rare weekend off. I had the opportunity to go home, but I decided to take up another opportunity: I was invited, by a seminarian close to ordination, to go to his house with other seminarians for a party. I remember getting ready, excited to experience my first college “party,” which, ironically, happened to be at a seminarian’s house.
Upon arrival, I was greeted with a disturbing command: “Drink this.” It is disturbing to hear the words of Our Lord, words spoken that we may have life, used to get a person intoxicated – a rejection of life. He pushed a drink into my hands. It was in a small shot glass, it was green, and it did not seem inviting. “That’s your starter,” he said. I refused. I did not want to drink. He kept pressuring me to drink, saying I was being rude to him, who graciously allowed me to stay at his house for the weekend, and suggested that if I don’t drink, I would have to leave. Pressured by him, I drank. Immediately, I felt a burning sensation down my throat.
“Whoa!” he yelled. “Sip, don’t gulp!” It was too late. My throat burning, I asked for water. The next thing I remember was me stumbling through the house. I came across one seminarian – one of the more “conservative” ones in our seminary – vomiting, head in the toilet. As I continued to stumble down the hallway, looking for somewhere to rest, I encountered two seminarians fondling each other. I went outside for fresh air to call my mother.
While I was on the phone with her, a seminarian came from behind me and groped me. I yelled at him and told him to get away from me. My mother told me, “I’ll just talk to you later,” thinking I was roughhousing with the guys, and hung up. I never felt so alone and abandoned.
The party went on, but at some point in the early hours of the morning, I fell asleep in a chair. Hours later, as dawn broke, I woke up in the living room and saw more seminarians cuddling with each other. I ended up rushing out of the house, calling a cab, and spent the rest of the weekend in my room back at the seminary, alone.
A few weeks later, I went to see my formation adviser – the priest in charge of presenting me as a worthy candidate in front of the faculty. When I told him about the party, he told me I needed to be more charitable and understanding with my brother seminarians. He noted that the faculty saw that I was a “loner” and that I should build “fraternity” with my fellow seminarians. I began to cry. The priest then asked if he could “pray over me,” and I told him no. By this time, I knew that I was completely done with this seminary, and I planned on telling the vocations director that I was leaving. The priest ended up “praying over me” anyhow and suggested that my “resistance” to his prayer was from the “Evil One.”
Thankfully, I left that seminary after my first year, and I continued my studies at a Catholic college while living at a rectory, a sort of “pastoral year.” I studied philosophy and had a great time with the regular lay students, my pastor supervisor, and the various parishioners I interacted with on a daily basis.
In 2012, a number of seminarians were kicked out of our diocese when it was revealed that they were frequenting gay bars, had pornography on their computers and in their room, and had sexual relations with each other within seminary walls. These events corresponded with additional scandal at the same seminary. While I was spared this, I realized I needed time away for myself. I left formation and dated, played lacrosse, made friends, all while continuing my philosophy studies. These were the best years of my life.
Still, I felt a deep desire to serve God as a priest, and so, following graduation, I re-applied to the diocese to enter major seminary and was accepted.
I spent two years in yet another “conservative” major seminary before leaving. During my time in this seminary, I saw more misconduct and abuse. Some priests on the faculty would get drunk with a select group of seminarians and invite them into their rooms late at night. One night, a priest on the formation faculty got so drunk during a seminary party that he fell out of his chair. While during the day, this particular priest was a hardliner regarding the Church’s teachings, his nighttime behavior revealed that such “orthodoxy” was a mask hiding his perversions. When I brought this up to other seminarians, I was criticized for being “uncharitable” and “gossiping.”
Though the seminary was no longer a purple palace where homosexual activity was front and center, sexual deviancy and improper conduct remained – only this time, it was behind the scenes. One of the seminarians ahead of me laughed and told me that the year before I entered, my room belonged to a guy who was kicked out for committing sodomy with a member of a religious order who took classes at the seminary. They were discovered after their moaning was heard by a seminarian across the hall, who notified a faculty member. Both seminarians were promptly expelled. Sometimes, I would come downstairs to the common room late at night and find seminarians cuddling with each other – drunk, of course. Alcohol abuse was prevalent, and no one took action against it.
I kept to myself during those two years, but rumors of seminarians hooking up with each other and faculty members grooming homosexual seminarians with lavish gifts abounded. I became more and more isolated. I stopped attending daily Mass and the recitation of the Divine Office, preferring to stay in my room and try to sleep my way through the day. Thankfully, the rector of the seminary took note of my depressed state, met with me, and arranged for me to see a therapist – which he kindly paid for. After speaking with the therapist, as well as my spiritual director, I knew what I had to do. In spring of 2016, I left.
It wasn’t until a month ago that I told my mother about what happened to me in the seminary. After reading about “Uncle Ted” McCarrick and hearing about the atrocities he committed, I was disgusted – though not surprised.
While seminaries may be better today than in decades past, decadence is still there. In his provocative book, Goodbye! Good Men, Michael S. Rose notes that, following the Second Vatican Council, seminaries became liberal forts for deep-seatedly homosexual men. His claim is that the homosexual cabal would screen and kick out any “orthodox” men. While this may be true in some instances, Rose misses a crucial point: sexual abuse, especially in seminaries, is not solely committed by “liberals” who publicly dissent from Catholic teaching. As a former priest points out, even the Diocese of Lincoln – the bastion of conservatism and “orthodoxy” following Vatican II – was susceptible to abuse and subsequent denial.
If the stories from “Uncle Ted’s” victims tell us anything, it is that there is a deep rot within our Church that spans generations. If you are a Catholic man considering priesthood, my advice is this: have a very honest, open, and clear discussion with your vocations director. Ask him about the culture of the seminaries used by your diocese. Maintain communication with him and others about your experiences. If you see something, say something. Do not fear the repercussions. The silence in the face of clerical abuse has done nothing to eradicate it – it simply perpetuates it.
Lastly, we cannot forget the importance of prayer and fasting, especially in the face of such evil. We need to pray for those entrusted with forming the future priests of the Church. Pray for the hierarchy to be courageous in their handling of sexual abuse by clergy and misconduct. And most of all, pray for the victims of abuse. Their pain is real, and they need support.