I missed this article in the Washington Post when it appeared last week, but it deserves a mention now. William Wan talks with seminarians graduating from Mount Saint Mary’s this year about studying for the priesthood under the shadow of the sex-abuse scandal:
“In the last six years alone, I’ve been fingerprinted four times,” said Mick Kelly, a 32-year-old former philosophy student who will be ordained next month in the Arlington Diocese. “That’s more than some criminals out there get.”
After he entered the seminary, one of Kelly’s friends asked him: “How can you join an institution as corrupt as the Catholic Church?”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
When he began wearing a clerical black robe and white collar four years ago, he noticed the stares he’d get from people. Some would look away.
“You try not to be defensive, to explain as best you can,” he said. “It hurts. The world sees these abuse cases and judges the church as a whole, all its priests and all its work by the action of these few people. But it’s not the priesthood I grew up with. The one I know and love.”
For some seminarians, the abuse crisis only made them want to be priests more.
“It invoked that almost boyhood drive to be a hero,” said Matt Rolling, 27, a soft-spoken student from Nebraska. “You want to help the church restore its name. You want to be an example of what the priesthood really represents.”
The seminarians Wan interviews sound grounded and realistic, but also enthusiastic about tackling the challenges ahead — in short, just the kind of men the Church so desperately needs now. That preparation must be thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to their rector, Monsignor Steven Rohlfs. Rohlfs had the thankless task of investigating priests accused of sexual abuse in Illinois for seven years, an experience that has had a profound impact on the way he guides prospective priests today:
Since Rohlfs arrived at Mount St. Mary’s five years ago, he has made extensive teaching on celibacy a priority. Seminarians spend an entire year examining its history, theological roots and practical challenges. And they pore over reports on the abuse scandals, looking for clues. . . .
[H]e has urged seminarians to pray at least one hour every day. If they don’t, he demands to know what they could possibly be doing that’s more important than talking to God?
But not even prayer can substitute for love. That’s what stuck out most to Rohlfs in the wreckage of the fallen priests’ lives. “We can teach them everything we know, but, in the end, duty cannot do it,” he said. “It must be love — loving God more than you love sin.”
His parting advice to his seminarians rings true for everyone: “Fall in love with the Lord, and it will change everything. Fall out of love with Him, and it will change everything.”