The Time the Pope Got Mad at Me

Eamonn Clark, STL

I don’t usually post here about my personal life. But today I am making an exception – and it will probably be enough for a long time.

I want to be able to share all the details of this story, but it will have to wait a while. Probably not for some years. It is enough that I am even writing about this publicly at all.

This past summer, I and a few others, in a specific house of formation which had only begun to be established somewhere in Europe, attracted the attention of the Holy Father. Negative attention. You might remember the headline – about “rigid seminarians,” and men who had been dismissed from formation. It was brought up in the context of the Pope’s speech to the annual meeting of the Italian bishops’ conference.

It was a speech about my house. Certainly not only about my house, but it was especially aimed at it. He had only been informed of our house a few days prior, and the two unique factors of the place were that all of the men leaned heavily towards more traditional modes of clerical life and certainly preferred the TLM, and all of us had been asked to leave another formation program before. Cardinal Stella, then-outgoing prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, had been personally reviewing candidates for this house.

It didn’t work out.

After the speech, there was a meeting, and a confrontation, between figures I won’t name. The gist was that to stay in the house, the men all needed to forget the “trad” stuff and be “normal” seminarians… “No,” was the answer from the house. The reply was the ecclesiastical version of, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

A benign take would be that this was a frantic reaction to the rumblings about “Traditionis Custodes” being released soon, and everyone was caught off guard and started to protect themselves at the cost of a few fledgling vocations. A more cynical take would be that all this had been orchestrated as some kind of stunt. Maybe it was somewhere in between.

I recently heard a quip that the post-Conciliar Church is the only place where men in their 70’s and 80’s are telling men in their 20’s and 30’s to “get with the times.” It’s all very strange, awkward, and unseemly. And it needlessly repels priestly vocations.

I returned to study and to work in Rome. Most of the other men are still in formation, and I may yet rejoin them. If you are interested in supporting them/us, please let me know through the “Contact” tab. I am happy to explain more of the details of our situation in private, and explain to you how you could help. In many situations, seminary education needs to be paid for by the seminarian himself… This is such a situation, and there is even more to it. Please consider reaching out.

Anyway, this was my second time exiting a formation program. There have been some news stories of late – some of which I have been rather close to – of men with very unhappy exits.

My second exit, this past summer, was more strange than difficult. Thankfully, I was able to move back into Rome without too much trouble. But my first exit, from a normal diocese in the USA, was very hard.

I think the most significant lessons I took from the earlier, more difficult experience were the following… and this is advice which I offer to men who might be quite salty after a bad exit…

First, in human conflict, the truth is normally in the middle. The chances are, if you are getting the boot, you probably messed up, and so did they. (Sometimes it’s one-sided, but usually not.) The reality is that, in this case, your mistakes matter more than theirs. Do not be scandalized by the partial Judas-nature of some chancery official or parish supervisor or seminary professor you think screwed you over, as he is not the Lord, and you are imperfect too. Saul was literally hunting David, and yet David was ashamed even to cut Saul’s cloak, as Saul held the office of king of Israel. So don’t needlessly badmouth your former superiors just because they “persecuted” you a bit. Embrace the cross and become a better Christian for it.

Second, the most important identity you have is as an individual disciple of Christ who has the chance to enjoy Beatitude if you bear your crosses well. Doing this or that in life is secondary, including priesthood or religious life. Really, the only great achievement that exists is to get to Heaven, which is something that we can only do with help from God.

Third, you don’t know everything. Even when you really do know better than those responsible for forming you, whether it’s liturgy, canon law, sacramental theology, or whatever, you can probably still learn something from them if you were to just shut up a bit. The child Jesus actually knew everything and He stayed pretty much silent for 30 years… The least a seminarian can do is stay quiet for 6. What’s more, over time, that “boomer” priest you secretly mock with your sem buddies might actually be willing to admit to you under his breath that his formation wasn’t the best and then even would maybe consider listening to you about following the rubrics or what the Church really teaches about x, y, or z, but only if you show him that you’re not a know-it-all jerkwad and that in fact you just really love Jesus and want to be the best help you can be to “Father Boomer” and the parish he serves.

So that was the rubbing alcohol. Here’s the balm.

Leaving, especially being shown the door, can hurt a lot. And there is really not much which the Church offers such men. This is why, over the past few years, I have been compiling some advice for men entering and leaving formation. I think I first had this idea after reading an article at HPR on the dearth of pastoral assistance for women leaving religious life. You will now find a tab on this website which is the fruit of the labor of many hands. It is still under development, but I think it is ready to share with the world. It will be updated from time to time. If you have something to add – only if you have personally experienced an entry or an exit, especially within the last 20 or so years – let me know.

In addition to this resource page, I would also like to announce that I am establishing an informal temp agency for men who leave seminary. I already have a few employers interested, but I need more, especially for next year. (We will run a small “beta-test” this spring.) If you are a Catholic employer in the USA, especially on the East coast, and you are interested in taking an interview with a man leaving seminary maybe this spring or definitely next spring, please tell me through the “Contact” tab, and we can talk about it. Likewise, if you are a seminarian who is leaving this spring, or have left within the past few years or so and are struggling, contact me. I will listen to your story, and I will try my best to put you in touch with someone who might be interested in employing you for more than junk wages and will care about your experience and your soul. (It’s not a promise of employment, it’s just a promise to try.) This program is for men who left on their own or were asked to leave (for non-crazy reasons, i.e. abuse, theft, fraud, violence, etc.), whether they want to go back into formation, don’t want to go back into formation, or aren’t sure yet and just need to survive in the meantime. These will NOT be parish or diocesan jobs, nor Catholic school jobs… This is “normal work.” There are other Catholic jobs websites which advertise such positions, but I can tell you that it is often unhealthy for a man to go into such an environment after leaving seminary. It is sometimes better to “go be normal” for a while.

More big news coming soon… but that’s enough for now. Please prayerfully consider supporting some vocations financially – just send me a note.

2 thoughts on “The Time the Pope Got Mad at Me

  1. Scared me at bit at the opening sentences but soon I understood that it was neither” major or minor Pudenda.” It will all work out as God intends; do not be up-tight about it all. As Mother Seton loved to say,” May His holy and adorable Wiil be done!” Keep me up to date. “Be stouthearted and wait for the Lord!” Papa Roach ________________________________

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