Ignoring whispers about that seminary

bigPinkRosaryThe other day, the Baltimore Sun ran a perfectly ordinary news profile of Father Robert F. Leavitt, who is leaving his post as president and rector of St. Mary’s University and Seminary after nearly three decades of leadership on that campus.

The double-decker headline was standard fare: “Mentor to priests steps down — As head of St. Mary’s since 1980, the rector has guided the Catholic seminary through tremendous change.”

The story deals with some hard subjects, as any news story about the Roman Catholic priesthood must do in this era. For example, we read about a crucial challenge for the seminary:

One goal — develop priests who embody the ideals despite the credibility lost during the sexual abuse scandals.

“I take a lot of pride in building priests of character,” Leavitt says. “I think that one of the things I would want to make part of my legacy is that character and strength and moral courage becomes a trademark of the priesthood again. It would take a lot of people to win that reputation back in the minds of the public at large.”

Enrollment at St. Mary’s peaked at 350 in the 1960s, but it fell to 150 when Leavitt became rector and has been cut in half since then. Not all of those clerics remained in the priesthood, Leavitt says.

These days, about 60 seminarians are enrolled in St. Mary’s priestly formation program, which usually takes about six years. In the 1990s, graduating classes got as small as six or seven, Leavitt says, but now recruitment is better, perhaps inspired by Pope John Paul II. This summer, 13 seminarians were ordained, and classes have numbered between 13 and 16 for the last six or seven years.

Elsewhere in the story, Father Leavitt addresses another major influence on the past few decades at the seminary, which would be the leadership of a pope whom most people viewed as a traditionalist on moral issues.

Most of Leavitt’s tenure as president-rector overlapped with that of Pope John Paul II. “I’ve tried to take the seminary in the direction that John Paul II took the church … connected it with people who are concerned about God and faith and the world.”

However, there is a problem — as you would expect, since I am writing this post.

Suffice it to say that if one goes to Google and searches for the words “seminary,” “Baltimore” and “Pink Palace” (go ahead, try it) you will quickly find out that this is, for many traditional Catholics, a very controversial seminary, a seminary at the heart of the hot, bitter and ongoing debates about whether there is a problem in the American priesthood linked to homosexuality. There are progressive Catholics who are worried about this “gay subculture“, as well as conservatives.

How in the world can a journalist dig into this news story and not learn this basic fact about this seminary? I mean, didn’t anyone from the Sun interview any conservative Catholics at all?

Actually, looking through the story, it does not appear that they did. Surprise.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    I’ve been thinking about this a bit. Typically when someone retires, controversies are minimized and a relatively positive spin put on stories. There’s usually a sense of forgive and forget about such endings. This is, of course, not the case in very controversial cases, but it’s typically the case. I wonder if that is what happened here. The story certainly reads that way. So I wonder if some would have considered it appropriate to bring up such issues in a retirement story.

  • fbc

    How about asking the reporter why she didn’t cover this?

  • Peter Leavitt

    The question is why was this fellow retired? Probably, as a result of a serious crackdown on the Lavender Mafia, starting with Pope John-Paul and continuing with Benedict. Not, of course, covered by this liberal puff-piece.

  • http://wwrtc.blogspot.com Art Deco

    I doubt the Holy See has the manpower (if it has the will) to clean up the hundreds seminaries and houses of formation that are in the English-speaking world alone. (Were these institutions to be sensibly consolidated, a small inspectorate might be up to the task). Suggest the Rector retired because he is 64 years of age. Cdl. Keeler indubitably had cause to unload him years ago, but did not.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    And you believe that a major scandal on the Catholic RIGHT would have been ignored in the same way, in the Baltimore Sun?

  • jim

    Isn’t Cardinal Keeler a “conservative Catholic”? She interviewed him. But largely, I agree with you Terry. And I think this sentence needs some `splaining.

    “Enrollment at St. Mary’s peaked at 350 in the 1960s but it fell to 150 when Leavitt became rector and has been cut in half since then.”

    That’s the story folks. If this guy ain’t drawing candidates for the priesthood he ain’t doing his job and the rest of the article is pretty worthless.

  • http://contrapauli.blogspot.com Pauli

    TMatt, your post is good because most Catholics and others have forgotten all about the priest scandal and need to be reminded. But I do suggest you change the image of the pink Rosary. Many Catholics, including myself, recite the Rosary and are not gay. Thank you for your consideration.

  • http://www.hymnographyunbound.blogspot.com Kathy

    I don’t have any particular knowledge of St. Mary’s. But in general I would suggest that there the term “conservative Catholic” can mean a lot of different things depending upon where a person stands. I have heard some people I would think of as quite liberal (who question Church teaching or experiment liturgically) call themselves mainstream.

    Maybe most people call themselves mainstream.

    So I can imagine that someone outside the Church and to the left might think of such a liberal as “conservative.” So in a way, maybe some conservatives were actually interviewed.

    I mean, you don’t think they should interview any wacko tight-wound reactionaries like me, do you?

  • http://None Rev. Francis X. McGerity

    I would like to know my comments below were removed. I would like an answer to this e-mail. Thank you
    Rev. Francis X. McGerity

    The bottom line is this: The Bishop-Priest Sex Abuse Scandal is not a Crisis of Sex but a Crisis of Faith.

    “The greatest need in the Roman Catholic Church today is the CONVERSION OF THE CLERGY:Bishop and Priests, to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our personal lives and in our sacramental and pastoral ministries.”

    Rev. Francis X. McGerity, M.Ed.,M.Th.
    Roman Catholic Priest
    Clinical Pastoral Psychologist

  • http://wwrtc.blogspot.com Art Deco

    That’s the story folks. If this guy ain’t drawing candidates for the priesthood he ain’t doing his job and the rest of the article is pretty worthless.

    The fall in enrollment reflects some combination of the following: the fall in the ratio of seminarians to institutions, and a loss of confidence in this particular seminary on the part of diocesan officials who recruit candidates for the priesthood, refer them to seminary, and monitor their formation. Please note, the task of recruitment falls to diocesan vocation promoters, not seminary rectors.

    Cdl. Keeler has not at this date acquired a reputation in the Catholic press for being notably ‘conservative’ (i.e. vociferously orthodox).