Thursday, August 07, 2008

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)


Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was one of my heroes in minor and major seminary (1976-1988). His epic Gulag Archipelago mirrored the conditions in many seminaries across the country at that time. The eerie parallel was obvious to anyone who had ears to hear or eyes to see. The Soviet Union had an elaborate system to identify, discredit, disgrace and isolate political dissenters. Anyone who dared defy the Communist Party was considered a traitor regardless of their patriotism toward Mother Russia. Communism was the only valid means of showing one's love for country and disloyalty to the party was seen as a threat to national security.

Likewise, anyone who did not embrace theological dissent (ala Charlie Curran, Richard McBrien, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, et al), who did not engage in illicit liturgical innovation or who did not publicly disdain Cardinal Ratzinger was considered a 'problem'

Solzhenitsyn described how psychiatrists were on the Communist party payroll so they could crank out predetermined evaluations. Anyone not 100% loyal to the party could easily be diagnosed as having psychopathic anomalies which required isolation and extensive psychotherapy. Political dissenters and religious leaders who dared expose the nakedness of the state would be labeled as mentally incompetent. Ironically, anyone who dared defend the Magisterium and/or the Roman Pontiff were similarly diagnosed as 'rigid', the infamous code word liberals use to disavow their 'right-wing, conservative traditionalist' colleagues and classmates.

He told how the enemy used informants to spy on the prisoners in the Gulag. Words were twisted and taken out of context so that an ironclad case could be brought against the troublemakers. We, too, experienced certain seminarians who were faculty favorites and who listened at closed doors and literally spied on their contemporaries just to make reports to their dark lords and masters in formation. Since most bishops would not see it as negative that a seminarian had healthy Marian devotion, the double-speak technique was used so that a poor unsuspecting candidate for Holy Orders would have a notation in his evaluation saying: POSSESSES POSSIBLE SIGNS OF OEDIPUS COMPLEX. If you were known to oppose women's ordination, your file listed you as a potential MISOGYNIST. If you were loyal and obedient to the Pope, you had a distorted perspective of authority which expresses itself in domineering PATRIARCHIALISM.

We were not exiled to Siberia but orthodox papist seminarians were socially exiled and distrusted. Faculty, peer and psychological evaluations were the weapons used to frighten, intimidate and coerce 'dissidents' to stop quoting Denziger's Enchiridion Symbolorum or Aquinas' Summa Theologica. These were the pre-Catechism days, so only the SPIRIT OF VATICAN II could be invoked, never the actual LETTER as found in the authentic documents of the Council. Theologians and liturgists who pooh-poohed anything prior to 1965 claimed an equal dual Magisterium to the Pope and Bishops, namely, themselves. Situation ethics, probabilisim, consequentialism, etc., were party lines you never dare question just as in the former USSR it was forbidden to question the superiority of communism over capitalism. Christology from BELOW was national policy. Espousing dangerous ideas like the Divine Personhood of Christ or the inerrancy of Scripture or papal infallibility could get your chances of being ordained as slim as Solzhenitsyn's chances of being named Secretary General of the Soviet Union.

Reading Gulag Archipelago opened my eyes to the tactics and strategies used by dissenters to either brainwash orthodox vocations or to prevent them from ever getting ordained. The truth was that some of us were considered 'too Catholic' but our files shown to the bishop and diocese said things like: rigid, argumentative, uncooperative, narrow-minded, arch-conservative, etc. Just as Colonel Hogan and his heroes found a sympathetic Sergeant Shultz to help them, we, too, found some good guys on the faculty we could trust despite their colleagues attempts to be like Major Hochstetter of the SS.

The aftermath of the clergy sex scandal, however, bodes poorly for seminarians. In the old days, if you were expelled for being 'too rigid' (meaning, you were orthodox and probably a bit traditional), you could theoretically find a sympathetic bishop and diocese to ordain you and where you would serve Holy Mother Church for your entire priesthood. Now, in the alleged premise of weeding out potential pedophiles, any seminarian who gets kicked out of seminary and/or diocese has an almost impossible chance of finding refuge. The real perverts know how to play hide and go seek, but the innocent vocation seeking to remain orthodox in a mediocre to liberal seminary might get thrown out with the rest of the trash. Collateral damage does not have to occur. Some brave bishops and seminary rectors can and have been saving potential solid candidates for the diaconate and priesthood regardless of their past track record in notoriously heterodox places. Some seminaries, like Mount Saint Mary's in Emmitsburg, MD, and others, have surpassed themselves in previous and current high caliber education, formation and faculty.

My seminary career spanned the twilight of Pope Paul VI and the vim and vigor years of Pope John Paul II. My priesthood has experienced the heavy cross of his final years and now my time as pastor has entered the era of Pope Benedict XVI. We have an excellent bishop and a terrific vocation director in our diocese of Harrisburg, PA. If this combination PLUS the access to orthodox and spiritual powerhouses that every seminary should be, there would be NO vocation crisis whatsoever and the people in the parish would be in good hands once these pious men got ordained.


Anonymous said...

One always thought of him as being perpetually middle-aged friend--his passing came as a tearful announcement, didn't it? He has earned his rest, and his peace. RIP, amen.


Dan L. said...

I saw your post, and I knew him well....

THEN, I saw you post more, yet later....and you added so much more!

That man was an absolute star. He was AMAZING, and I do not say that because I read your post....I already knew. He was KILLER! This guy is a lesson in truth, life, and perserverence.

You know how to to pick-em, Father T.

--Dan L.

miss book said...

Dear Padre Giovanni, your suffering, and that of other orthodox seminarians, must have been intense. One can only ask God to forgive the wickedness of those who seek to pervert His will.
One hears of sad happenings on this side of the pond too....
I will pray more,specifically for the sacred priesthood, and those young men who are called to it.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou, Father Trigilio, for this powerful article. It is chilling but true. Just a few days ago there was a powerful piece by Cardinal Stafford about the year is on the California Catholic website. That article and this one that you wrote should be read back to back and can there be any doubt that we have been living in the times warned about by Our Lady at Fatima and Lasalette.

Diane S.

Anonymous said...

I am often astounded at the extent of the persecution that existed in the seminaries...first I've read "Good Bye Good Men" which blew my mind, and I've read or heard stories like yours from other priests.

I am in the Rochester Diocese to the north, and we live the nightmare result of the winnowing you endured. We have little to no vocations, and those we have are progressive clones who are really dissidents. Any orthodox priests are either running scared, figuratively emasculated (they aren't usually pastors), or just keeping their heads down. The orthodox laity we are stuck in a liturgical wasteland.

We are fortunate in our parish. We have two fairly orthodox priests (one from Nigeria, the other just came back to us after retiring from the Navy), and a Pastoral Administrator who as a Deacon is fairly orthodox considering where we are.

I'm out in the outer marches of the Rochester Diocese in Corning where things aren't perfect but we're far enough out from Rochester to have less craziness.

May God bless and keep you safe!

Yours in Christ,

--CPT Tom

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