Ten years ago the Catholic seminaries were in decline. Stories chronicled in books like Michael Rose’s Goodbye Good Men told of a rampant homosexual sub culture, widespread heresy, immorality and cynicism. Then in 2002 the Vatican initiated a visitation of American seminaries. Rectors were replaced, professors retired, new guidelines were put in place.
Now the seminaries are surging. When Archbishop O’Malley went to Boston he was advised to close the seminary. Last year they were turning guys away. In North Carolina there are plans to build a new seminary for the SouthEast. Other seminaries are bouncing back with renewed vigor and discipline to train young men to serve Christ’s church.
What makes the difference? It’s pretty simple really, and it turns on two different factors? First of all, the faithful want their faith to be demanding. They want the bar set high. They don’t expect the path to heaven to be a long slow decline. They expect it to be like climbing a mountain. When religion is lukewarm and lax it it dispiriting and despondent. It’s like being a member of a sports team where the coach doesn’t make anyone train because they never think they are going to win a game. Who wants to belong to a team like that? Only bad people.
Secondly, the faithful want their religion to be religion. They don’t want their priests and sisters to be social workers. They want them to be holy people–pilgrims on the road to heaven. They want their religious leaders to lead them in religion–not politics or doing good or changing the world or being nice people.
The seminaries are turning around. Let’s hope the visitation and renewal of the women’s religious orders–ten years from now will be showing the same positive and joyful fruit.