Michael Voris is a controversial blogger who runs St. Michael’s Media and produces his popular video series The Vortex from his studios in Ferndale, Michigan.
This week, Voris leveled a scurrilous charge against Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary. In a blog and video released July 21, Voris implied that a number of the seminary’s students are homosexual, and that the faculty and administration are “gay-friendly” and fail to protect Catholic teaching.
In his 8½ minute video, Voris said:
A faculty member priest in Sacred Heart Seminary here in Detroit recently made an announcement to the entire seminary student collective — about 60 young men — that they need to be sure and wear their bathrobes coming out of the bathroom showers instead of just towels because a number of their brother seminarians are gay, and the guys in towels are occasions of sin for the gay guys.
If you have successfully picked your jaw up off the floor and are ready to ask if you heard that right — you did. Another faculty member told a class that the seminary accepts men with homosexual pasts.
Voris didn’t stop there—he attempted, too, to impair the seminary’s ability to raise needed funds. Holding a program from a recent fundraising dinner to benefit the seminary, he suggested that Catholics might withdraw their support. “A few weeks ago,” he said,
“…the seminary had a big fancy gala dinner which raised almost $900,000 for the seminary fund. This is the brochure. Church Militant even bought the center page advertisement as a means to express some support. I took quite a number of classes there a few years ago and was taught by some very good professors….
I wonder how many of the Catholics who bought ad space in here or one of the $250-a-plate dinners would now want their money back?”
THE THING IS, THAT’S NOT EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.
I obtained a copy of a redacted statement which was sent to seminary faculty, responding to Voris’ charges. According to the Sacred Heart Seminary administration,
Sacred Heart adheres absolutely to the Church’s teaching regarding those who experience SSA. Unfortunately, Voris did not check the story with the formator whose alleged comments he quoted. The formator did not use the term “gay,” but rather “same-sex attracted.” He asked men to wear bathrobes to the shower for the sake of decorum and charity. As an example of potential uncharity he said, “What if unknowingly one of your brothers suffered from SSA? Your lack of modesty would be uncharitable considering your neighbor’s needs.” The men understood this completely.
Who could be so naive as to think that among a group of sixty men, even devout men who are hoping to serve the Church as priests, none has faced the temptation toward homosexuality? There may be a seminarian who hasn’t even realized that he is homosexual, or who is hiding it.
However, the Seminary’s statement continues with a straightforward denial:
“…the claim that there is a significant or even nominal presence of homosexuality at Sacred Heart Major Seminary is patently false.”
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Voris is a frequent critic of the Catholic Church he professes to love. A common theme of his apostolate is that homosexuals have infiltrated the Church, even at the highest levels. His other concerns have ranged from opposition to those within the Church who believe that Catholics must confront global warming, to what he called a failure on the part of the Knights of Columbus leadership to discipline members who support abortion or same-sex marriage, among other issues.
Even the name of Voris’ organization hints at his negative attitude toward the Catholic Church in America: Originally called “Real Catholic TV,” the name was changed to “Church Militant” after the Archdiocese of Detroit required that he stop using the word “Catholic” in the corporate title. The Archdiocese explained that Canon 216 of the Code of Canon Law stipulates,
“No undertaking is to claim the name ‘Catholic’ without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.”
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I believe that Michael Voris sincerely believes he is helping to strengthen the Catholic faithful; but rather than approaching an issue with prayerful encouragement and gentle admonishment, Voris takes a sledgehammer to his perceived opponent. There is a potential for great damage when he confronts brothers in the Church like the proverbial bull in a china shop. There is no question that he is a man of faith; my prayer is that he might also be a man of discernment.
According to reports, Voris’ Catholic faith was inflamed after the 2003 death of his brother and the subsequent death of his mother the following year. The Detroit Free Press quoted Voris:
“Her dying really kind of started to wake me up,” Voris recalled. “You have to face mortality. And then the questions came pouring in: What is the meaning of life? Who are we as human beings? Is there life after death? Those are fundamental questions everyone has to look for.”
Voris’ renewed zeal for the Catholic Faith found expression in 2006, when he invested most of his retirement savings and his inheritance to establish St. Michael’s Media in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, Michigan. His primary goal at the time was to clear up common misperceptions regarding Catholicism which were promulgated by the popular anti-Catholic novel The DaVinci Code.
Deeply committed to his perceived mission,Voris has never married, vowing celibacy and consecrating himself to the Virgin Mary. With no family responsibilities, Voris labors tirelessly as, in his words, an “aggressive global advocate for conservative Catholics…on a burning mission to save Catholicism and America” by trying to warn the public about what he sees as a decline of morality in society.
But in constantly criticizing the Church and haranguing its leaders, Voris fails to achieve the desired result–instead fostering division and dissatisfaction among his adherents, and frightening away potential converts who might experience his rancor and believe that his negativity is representative of Catholics in general.
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The U.S. Bishops have not shirked their responsibility to protect the safety of children and adults by ensuring that our priests are committed to celibacy. In June 2007, Emilie Lemmons wrote an article entitled “Seminary Screening Early Step For Healthy Priesthood,” which can be found on the USCCB website. In the article, Lemmons explains the great care which has been taken since the sexual abuse scandal unfolded in 2002. The newest version of the Program of Priestly Formation, released by the U.S. bishops in 2006, governs seminary formation in the United States and incorporates stricter norms for screening applicants and more detail on formation in human sexuality. “Officials are quick to point out, however,” Lemmons wrote,
“…that such changes represent refinements to ongoing improvements, rather than dramatic policy shifts. In fact, the church has been working to strengthen seminary screening and formation for more than a decade.”
She explained the more stringent screening to identify potential problems among applicants for seminaries:
Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist who heads the St. Luke Institute, a residential treatment center in Silver Spring, Md., for priests and religious with psychological problems, has seen a “modest increase in the amount of help” seminaries have requested since the early 2000s. The facility consults with seminaries on psychological formation issues and treats people for a variety of problems, including sexual abuse.”The notion that the church has done nothing until 2002 to deal with this problem is nonsense,” he said. “The fact is that the church has been working over the past 20 years improving its screening and formation.”
A trend noticed at the seminary level is that potential priesthood candidates are examined more thoroughly by diocesan vocations offices before they apply to the seminary.”The dioceses that send us candidates are doing a much better job of screening before they come to see us,” said Sulpician Father Gerald Brown, who became rector of St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., in 2004. It’s an extra level of scrutiny that wasn’t there a few years ago, he said. “In the past, a diocese might say, ‘We’re not sure about this guy, but let’s send him, and the seminary can screen him out.’ Now, they don’t send him if they’re not sure about it.”
…Initial research now suggests that homosexuality, while not a cause, can be associated with higher incidents of abuse, he said — although “most homosexuals do not molest minors.”In fact, the new edition of the Program of Priestly Formation requires seminaries to adhere to the Vatican’s November 2005 statement that practicing homosexuals or men with what it called “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” may not be admitted.
The November 2005 statement to which Lemmons refers was issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education under the direction of Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski,Prefect. The statement carries the descriptive (albeit unwieldy) title, “Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.”
In the Instruction, the Congregation differentiates between “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies, which are objectively disordered and which render a candidate unsuitable for ordination, and “transitory” tendencies, which may be present in adolescence but may not continue into adulthood. According to the Vatican statement:
“…Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter.
“In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.
“Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
“Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem – for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”
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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is diligent in following these guidelines. Any suggestion that there exists at the seminary a culture that accepts or encourages the same sex lifestyle (or any other sexual lifestyle apart from chastity) is, very simply, false and does a disservice to the Archdiocese of Detroit, to Archbishop Allen Vigneron, to Sacred Heart Seminary, to the fine and faithful instructors and leaders at the seminary, and to the men themselves who are seeking to selflessly serve the Lord.
Image: By Andrew Jameson at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons