The National Catholic Review
Richard J. Hauser

View From the Altar is a must-read for all who are interested in understanding the causes of the scandal of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. Howard Bleichner, a Sulpician priest who has served for 40 years in seminary formation, 20 of them as rector of two major seminaries, deserves to be heard. His conclusion: the scandals coming to light in the 1970’s and 1980’s were a consequence of the inadequate seminary formation during the years 1967 to 1980.

Part One presents Bleichner’s thesis. Seminary formation from Trent to 1967 was stable and unchanging, much like the church itself. “The seminary deliberately cultivated the quality of an igloo, a place frozen in time. If the church was a timeless, unchanging institution in a changing world, its best and most vivid exemplar was the seminary and its devotion to a rule of life that remained unchanged from one generation to the next. The outside world had little impact on and no point of entry to this self-enclosed world.”

This system remained intact and was successful in providing structure for priests until the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and then it collapsed: “The Tridentine seminary’s only response to the tremors of the Council was to totter briefly on its foundation and collapse. And the collapse was total.”

Emerging in its wake was a very different system. The primary operative assumptions of seminaries and seminarians were not the traditional Catholic doctrinal and moral certainties of the Tridentine seminary but the insights of self-actualization psychology found in authors like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. This approach, though offering valuable guidelines for human growth, has latent within it two fateful side effects. Bleichner notes that these side effects are the key to understanding the mentality of seminarians and hence the subsequent sexual experimentation by priests emerging in the 1970’s and 1980’s, including same-sex scandals with minors. “First, when the self-actualization model is used, it often empties sinful actions of their objective content. Self-actualizers are set on an expanding continuum of personal growth, and ‘sins’ are regarded as setbacks on the road to ever greater progress. Second, by definition, self-actualization places a low estimate on the value of rules. Rule-bound behavior is other-directed, external compliance to an outside agent. By contrast, the fully actualized person acts from internal motivation. Such persons are a rule unto themselves.”

To illustrate his thesis Bleichner traces by decades the results of a New York Times survey of reported sexual abuse by priests from 1950 to 2002. The numbers highlight the problem: the reported cases grew from 256 in the 1960’s to 537 in the 1970’s and 510 in the 1980’s and then decreased significantly in the 1990’s to 210. Bleichner sees a direct connection between the graduates of the self-actualization seminaries (1967 to 1980) and subsequent clerical sexual scandals.

The remainder of the book spells out how in the 1980’s the seminary system renewed itself, responding to the Second Vatican Council and to the rapidly changing American culture. Since the external supports of the pre-Vatican II Catholic subculture no longer existed, the seminaries focused explicitly on providing an interior spiritual formation, an “interior compass,” for the seminarian, who now needed a more internalized vision of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. “The compass should help him discern where real and ideal meet. It should tell him when he is on track. It should also let him know when he fails and how badly he fails.”

Parts Two and Three describe this interior compass. Part Two focuses on the personal spiritual life of the seminarian and includes chapters on personal and liturgical prayer as well as on the evangelical counsels; Part Three surveys the renewed theology of church and holy orders and includes chapters on the priest as minister of word, as minister of sacraments and as shepherd.

And there is good news. The system is working—witness the dwindling number of sexual clerical abuse cases in the 1990’s. Bleichner’s comment about his final year as a seminary rector is heartening: “The students at Theological College in my final year, 2002, were by far the best and healthiest group of seminarians I had encountered in a long career.”

One personal note. As one of those “self-actualization seminarians,” who even did a dissertation on Abraham Maslow, I am grateful to Bleichner for this book. I had never understood fully the transitions that my fellow seminarians and I suffered through in the 60’s. I find his thesis insightful in explaining our attitudes and behavior.

I am also grateful to the author for handling this sensitive topic with both raw honesty and brotherly compassion. “I wrote this book because I care deeply about the Roman Catholic priesthood. Like other Catholics, I was horrified at and scandalized by the steady stream of stories of the sexual abuse of children and young people by priests that began rolling out in January, 2002. I was revolted by attempts to hide these incidents, ignore victims and evade responsibility. For me as a priest, horror mixed with shame because I could not separate myself from the perpetrators of such unspeakable deeds. I was joined to them in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.”

View From the Altar reminds us that spirituality must be at the core of seminary formation. The church can ignore this message only at great peril to its existence.

 

Richard J. Hauser, S.J., is director of the graduate program in Christian spirituality and rector of the Jesuit community at Creighton University, Omaha, Neb.

Comments

Tony Griffit | 6/10/2014 - 9:26am

The lack of constructions in the years following 1967 to 1990s were the real cause of the fact that these cases came into light. Given the way people are being miss leaded or better to say being misguided it have created a big chaos among the mass and hence a great amount of unsatisfactory.
Casino Equipment Rentals Boston

Michel Parera | 5/23/2014 - 8:55am

The case of such insanity have been a common issue in last few years, whatever may be the factor to make it so pathetic that even those who boost to be the men of god is doing such acts and we needs to be careful from them. The social evil society have grown from nowhere to a large community we need to drive them out of the society.
http://www.casinoeventservices.com/

SuperRealCasinoGuide | 1/16/2009 - 11:29pm
Real Casino Guide Here real casino guide real casino guide real casino uide real casino giude real casinoi giude real casino guide reazl casion gide real acsino guide real casino giud eral casino uide real casino guide real casino guijde real casino ugide real casino guide real casino giude real casino guide real asdinok guide real casino guide real acsino guide http://new.realcasinoguide4u.com/save/guaranteesafety/real-casino-guide.htm http://love.realcasinoguide4u.com/health/discoversafety/real-casino-guide.htm http://love.realcasinoguide4u.com/class/bareresults/real-casino-guide.htm http://safety.realcasinoguide4u.com/nude/saveeasy/real-casino-guide.htm http://money.realcasinoguide4u.com/results/exposedporn/real-casino-guide.htm http://easy.realcasinoguide4u.com/class/discoverporn/real-casino-guide.htm http://cunt.realcasinoguide4u.com/glossy/nudebare/real-casino-guide.htm http://expensive.realcasinoguide4u.com/health/nudesafety/real-casino-guide.htm http://love.realcasinoguide4u.com/glossy/expensiveexposed/real-casino-guide.htm http://bare.realcasinoguide4u.com/guarantee/youexpensive/real-casino-guide.htm http://realcasinoguide4u.comhttp://realcasinoguide4u.com
RealCasinoGuide | 1/7/2009 - 9:22pm
Real Casino Guide Here real casino guide real casion guide real casino guide real csaino giude rdal casino ugjde rela caisno guijde real casono guide rael casino guked real casino guide rewal casino guide real asikno guider real caasino guids real casino gujdd real casnio guhidw reaql casino guide real casdino guikde real casion guide real cssino guide rearl casino guide http://proven.realcasinoguide4u.com/porn/provendiscover/real-casino-guide.htm http://class.realcasinoguide4u.com/results/youyou/real-casino-guide.htm http://you.realcasinoguide4u.com/exposed/easylove/real-casino-guide.htm http://easy.realcasinoguide4u.com/you/safetyresults/real-casino-guide.htm http://money.realcasinoguide4u.com/sex/newsafety/real-casino-guide.htm http://results.realcasinoguide4u.com/cunt/easyclass/real-casino-guide.htm http://health.realcasinoguide4u.com/class/cheapexpensive/real-casino-guide.htm http://guarantee.realcasinoguide4u.com/save/savesave/real-casino-guide.htm http://porn.realcasinoguide4u.com/sex/nudeguarantee/real-casino-guide.htm http://new.realcasinoguide4u.com/save/glossyproven/real-casino-guide.htm http://realcasinoguide4u.comhttp://realcasinoguide4u.com
Maurice A. O'Sullivan | 11/25/2004 - 7:55pm
According to your reviewer, the thrust of Howard Bleichner's book "View From the Altar" is that "the scandals coming to light in the 1970’s and 1980’s were a consequence of the inadequate seminary formation during the years 1967 to 1980".

Could I point out that some of the most notorious abusers were men who had left their seminaries long before the advent of Vatican II. Certainly this was true of my country. Was it any different in the U.S? My reading of your press would suggest not. I have checked with a friend in one western archdiocese, and he tells me that "of the eleven priests who were put on administrative/pastoral leave by the archbishop in recent years, only three were ordained after 1965."

If this is true also of other dioceses, then surely there is a case for properly determining the reasons why -- rathan than plumping for that old chestnut about the deleterious effects of Vatican II?

Patrick Daly | 12/11/2004 - 8:45pm
As other letter writers have indicated, priests ordained before 1962 were prominent among the abusers. James Porter, John Geoghan and Paul Shanley, for instance. More importantly, most bishops who mishandled clergy abuse were trained and ordained before Vatican II, including Bernard Law. Where is he now?
Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Mitchell | 11/27/2004 - 5:50pm
Both Fr. Hauser and Fr. Bleichner, before him, err in relying on the New York Times survey. The crucial data to be relied upon lies in Table 3.3.2 on page 41 of the John Jay report. 70% of priest/deacon perpetrators were ordained before 1969. There may have been a great deal wrong with the self-actualizing seminarians of the '70's and '80's, but it is clear that far more "rule bound" seminarians did not achieve "an interior compass" that would prevent sexual misconduct with minors.
Kenneth Smits, O.F.M.Cap. | 2/16/2007 - 10:03am
I respond to Howard Bleichner’s book View From the Altar and the review by Richard Hauser, S.J. (11/29). I was a major seminary professor from 1971 to 1983. It took years to work out the consequences of the Second Vatican Council in a solid way, and some institutional instability was inevitable. But if one looks closely at the numbers and ages of priests involved in sexual abuse of minors, a large percentage of them were ordained before 1970. If one is to indict the seminary system, both the old and the new must be at fault.

But this fails to take into account two other factors: the opening out of the actual practice of priestly ministry after Vatican II toward greater freedom and the inroads of the changing culture in which ministry was exercised. Finally, I am used to hearing that everything bad a priest does in his whole career is the fault of the few years of seminary formation, an obvious fallacy. Such an argument is not made about comparable professionals like lawyers and doctors. They don’t have a mold, and maybe we never did either. Only someone who has spent most of his life in a seminary could develop such a myopic view of seminary formation.

By the way, was there a growing gay culture in my time? Of course, in the sense that some gay men were being more open about their sexual orientation. Was there a heterosexual culture? By all means, but it was threatened by not being the only culture, much as goes on in society today. It pays to keep in close touch with reality.

Maurice A. O'Sullivan | 11/25/2004 - 7:55pm
According to your reviewer, the thrust of Howard Bleichner's book "View From the Altar" is that "the scandals coming to light in the 1970’s and 1980’s were a consequence of the inadequate seminary formation during the years 1967 to 1980".

Could I point out that some of the most notorious abusers were men who had left their seminaries long before the advent of Vatican II. Certainly this was true of my country. Was it any different in the U.S? My reading of your press would suggest not. I have checked with a friend in one western archdiocese, and he tells me that "of the eleven priests who were put on administrative/pastoral leave by the archbishop in recent years, only three were ordained after 1965."

If this is true also of other dioceses, then surely there is a case for properly determining the reasons why -- rathan than plumping for that old chestnut about the deleterious effects of Vatican II?

Patrick Daly | 12/11/2004 - 8:45pm
As other letter writers have indicated, priests ordained before 1962 were prominent among the abusers. James Porter, John Geoghan and Paul Shanley, for instance. More importantly, most bishops who mishandled clergy abuse were trained and ordained before Vatican II, including Bernard Law. Where is he now?
Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Mitchell | 11/27/2004 - 5:50pm
Both Fr. Hauser and Fr. Bleichner, before him, err in relying on the New York Times survey. The crucial data to be relied upon lies in Table 3.3.2 on page 41 of the John Jay report. 70% of priest/deacon perpetrators were ordained before 1969. There may have been a great deal wrong with the self-actualizing seminarians of the '70's and '80's, but it is clear that far more "rule bound" seminarians did not achieve "an interior compass" that would prevent sexual misconduct with minors.