Seminarians Require Our Protection, Too

A scene from The Shawshank Redemption popped into my head yesterday. The Shawshank Redemption is a movie based on Stephen King’s novel about a falsely convicted man in a New England prison. The scene that came to me was when Andy Dufresne, played by Timothy Robbins, was discussing new evidence of his innocence with the prison warden, Warden Norton, played by Bob Gunton. Norton listens to Dufresne’s compelling evidence, then dismisses it as mere fiction or nothing more than a distraction. Dufresne asks, “How can you be so obtuse … is it deliberate”? Norton loses his cool and has Dufresne thrown into solitary confinement for a month while he arranges the murder of the key witness in Dufresne’s newly discovered innocence.

Use whatever words you desire: obtuse, daft, deliberate indifference… The fact is, there are numerous bishops who cannot respond appropriately to the horrific destruction occurring within the Church today.

If you had the opportunity to watch Cardinal Cupich’s interview on Chicago’s NBC affiliate, WMAQ, Channel 5, you watched the perfect rendition of Warden Norton, only with a pectoral cross conveniently tucked under his blazer. The reporter asks Cardinal Cupich how he responds to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó’s assertion that disgraced Archbishop Theodore McCarrick orchestrated Cupich’s appointment as Archbishop of Chicago and eventual elevation to the College of Cardinals.

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Cardinal Cupich’s response is staggering due to his seeming disregard for the victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, his undeniable failure to prioritize the needs of society, and his transparent effort to deflect attention from his own relationship to McCarrick by any means possible, even if it means labeling Pope Francis as a Latino, so he can then claim that critics of Francis should be dismissed as racists.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark issued a short statement that rivals the carnival of Cupich’s interview. In Tobin’s statement, he claims that Viganó’s letter “cannot be understood as contributing to the healing of survivors of sexual abuse.” He goes on to claim that the letter contains “factual errors, innuendo and fearful ideology.” Immediately after this, he explains how it will help the Archdiocese of Newark “strengthen our conviction to move ahead resolutely in protecting the young and vulnerable.”

How can a dishonest letter which cannot be understood to contribute to the healing of victims help to protect the young and vulnerable? It is either a letter to be taken seriously and investigated or it is what Cardinal Cupich calls “a rabbit hole.” As for the factual errors, where are they? If Cardinal Tobin has evidence to show the letter to have errors, he should be presenting that evidence now. To the contrary, Viganó has provided evidence that his letter is not inaccurate, and others have verified that he is telling the truth. These supporting witnesses include a letter from two auxiliary bishops correcting their letter which had mischaracterized a discussion with Viganó, Monsignor Jean-François Lantheaume, and none other than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Rounding out the triumvirate of disdain is Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. In McElroy’s strangely worded response, he claims that Viganó hates Pope Francis and that Viganó “consistently subordinates the pursuit of comprehensive truth to partisanship, division and distortion.” You have to wonder who writes Bishop McElroy’s press releases. Again, these claims are made without any evidence, and in the face of ample evidence to the contrary. A number of bishops have confirmed that Viganó has always been a very respectable and faithful servant of the Church and the people of God. And though there is no evidence that Viganó hates Pope Francis, should we limit our focus to emotional responses and ignore the evidence of corruption?

Most people agree that the allegations warrant thorough investigation. The only people who disagree are people who fear what the investigation will show.

Among all this chaos, we should not overlook one theme which tends to run under the radar in the rhetoric from those who wish to discredit Viganó. McElroy, Tobin, and others frequently remind us that they are committed to protecting “minors and vulnerable adults” or “the young and vulnerable.” Who isn’t?

What concerns many of us is not a lack of commitment in the protection of children and the vulnerable, it is the total inability to admit that we have a lot of priests and seminarians who apparently think it is perfectly acceptable to lead sexually active lifestyles and that most of these lifestyles are homosexual. All the evidence suggests (including the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report) that the Church’s effort to protect minors and vulnerable people (the Dallas Charter) has been very effective. In other words, it is not difficult to be committed to protecting people when the safety measures in place are protecting them better than any other measures in institutions which deal with large numbers of children.

However, there are no similar measures to protect seminarians from predatory cardinals, bishops, professors, priests, or fellow seminarians. In other words, our cardinals need to stop pointing fingers at the wrong problem. One could say that seminarians are vulnerable adults, but by most accounts, there have been few steps to protect seminarians up to this point, so either the cardinals are talking about other vulnerable adults or they have a strange way of protecting them.

In fact, if Viganó’s letter is accurate, and it appears it is on at least this point, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI took steps to protect seminarians from Archbishop McCarrick, but the American hierarchy failed to follow through. For a time, McCarrick had to change his routine, but according to a CNA article, he was still able to find a young roommate: “McCarrick is reported to have had, for a time, an IVE brother in formation living in his residence, which was on the parish property but separate from the house of formation.” Vigano tells us that after Pope Francis removed the restrictions on McCarrick and made him a close advisor. This does not sound like any sort of protection of seminarians.

How can we protect seminarians? Since seminarians are men, the best way to protect them is to keep homosexual predators out of seminaries and out of positions of authority over those seminaries and the seminarians.

While Cupich, Tobin, McElroy, and even Cardinal Wuerl, all suggest that Viganó is trying to divert attention away from the real problem (whatever they think that is), it is evident that they are actually intentionally or obtusely diverting attention from the problem which is actually killing the Church today, and that is the destruction of seminaries and seminarians.

We must remain diligent with regard to the protection of youth, but we still need to become diligent with regard to the protection of seminarians and young priests.

Evidence of the failure of certain cardinals, archbishops, bishops, rectors, and heads of some religious orders is shown in the outrageous behavior of people like Fr. James Martin, S.J., Fr. Alexander Santora, Fr. Bryan Massingale, Deacon Ray Dever, Fr. Gil Martinez, Sister Jeannine Gramick, and groups like Out at St. Paul, New Ways Ministry, and others who still find adequate support in some dioceses and orders within the Church.

A religious order is not a business. However, Fr. James Martin, S.J., certainly acts like he is in business as a marketing and promotion consultant for himself and for the LGBT community. Therefore, it should be a simple matter for his provincial to reign him in. He should be informed that there are to be no more books, talks, appearances, or events which mislead people into thinking that nonmarital sex is no longer a sin. If he objects, the Anglicans would love to have him.

How can Cardinal Dolan allow Out at St. Paul to continue to operate its LGBT group out of a Catholic parish in his archdiocese? It is obvious that Out at St. Paul is not in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. They openly and aggressively advocate for acceptance and celebration of numerous forms of immoral behavior. If there is one member of that parish who has turned away from the LGBT lifestyle and become a devoted disciple of Christ who strives for virtue each day, I’d love to meet him or her. In the absence of such evidence, Cardinal Dolan should shut this experiment down and replace it with a fully funded and staffed Courage apostolate.

Unfortunately, prominent LGBT affirming groups exist in nearly every large Archdiocese with the apparent blessing of the prelate. This means that Cardinal Dolan is not the only prelate who is failing the faithful. Recent stories about active homosexual groups within certain seminaries implicate Cardinal Dolan and Cardinal Tobin. However, Cardinal O’Malley, Cardinal Wuerl, and Cardinal Cupich, also have parishes and recognized groups in their archdioceses which are known to affirm, not evangelize LGBT persons. If these activities are taking place unchecked right under the noses of these powerful prelates, how can we have confidence that their seminaries are doing all they can to foster virtue and avoid sins of the flesh?

If our prelates are truly devoted to a Church which preaches and lives the Gospel, we will soon see the last of these groups, parishes, and advocates, as they will all be abolished or assigned to quiet and nondescript locations where they can study the Gospel, receive mercy and forgiveness, and spend their free time in quiet prayer. The longer Fr. James Martin, S.J., Out at St. Paul, and other dissident individuals and groups are allowed to hijack the Catholic faith to pursue their personal sexual interests and curiosities, the more clearly we will be able to identify which prelates must be removed.

Until then, I’m really only interested in hearing one of two things from any bishop because until we resolve the problem of sexual immorality within the priesthood (including the hierarchy), the Church is locked in a holding pattern: We cannot effectively evangelize our children or those outside the Church. We cannot effectively serve those in need. We cannot effectively make disciples within the Church. We need to try, but we are trying with one hand tied behind our back. Here are the two questions which must be answered every day by each bishop:

  1. What are you doing to solve the problem of homosexuality and other immoral behavior in the priesthood?
  2. When are you going to resign?

If we see evidence to the first question, we do not need to ask the second question.

In the incredibly fulfilling conclusion of The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne finds his freedom. He also finds vindication in exposing the corruption of Warden Norton and a thuggish prison guard. While most Catholics do not want vindication, we do want justice, healing and renewal. However, this is not possible with an obtuse hierarchy. There are simply too many men who think their power makes them Teflon. They can lash out with personal attacks against their accusers as have Cardinal Tobin and Bishop McElroy; they can try to deflect the attention from their weaknesses like Cardinals Tobin and Cupich have, or they can make broad and sweeping threats as has Cardinal Sergio Obeso Rivera of Xalapa, Mexico, but it is the desire of the faithful that they simply go away and never return.

If the Church is to be renewed, we need to remove the cancer.

(Photo credit: Seminarians of the North American College; Alexey Gotovskiy / CNA)


  • Bob Sullivan

    Mr. Sullivan is a practicing attorney and a columnist for The Southern Nebraska Register. His writing has also appeared in Catholic Answers Magazine, Catholic Exchange, and the Catholic Gentleman. He and his family live in Wahoo, Nebraska. Read more at

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