The Wheat and the Tares

A Reflection upon Contemporary Priestly Formation

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the tares (13:24–30). Some tares had been sown by an enemy and grew up alongside the wheat. The wise owner of the field instructed his servants to let both grow together until the harvest “so as not to uproot the wheat.” The harvesters would then separate the wheat from the tares, the former going to the barn and the latter to the fire. In this article, I would like to offer some thoughts upon some tares that have come up alongside the wheat within the program of priestly formation for the United States.

Concerning priestly formation, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stated that there are “many significant elements of context particular to the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”1

I’d like to focus upon four of the twelve “elements” listed by the Conference:

  1. “Weaknesses of ethical standards and a moral relativism” the environment of which “has affected the Church herself;”
  2. Catholics who are inactive or semi-active, or just badly catechized;
  3. Diverse and dysfunctional families;
  4. Differences over Church doctrine.2

There is some confluence or congruence between these elements. Let us examine how they are both understood and practiced within the context of priestly formation within the United States, beginning with diverse and dysfunctional families.

Diverse and Dysfunctional Families

The Church has devoted much time and energy to the subject of the family. There St. John Paul II’s Human Love in the Divine Plan (a Theology of the Body), Familiaris Consortio, Marriage Encounters, Pre-Cana programs, etc. The impetus for such things is precisely because our contemporary period has seen a massive degradation of the family and family life. Post-modern thinking has questioned everything from basic biology and physiology all the way to cultural mores on sex and human sexuality. In short, there are many errors in contemporary western culture and the Church has been compelled to address them, including how they affect priestly formation.3

With respect to dysfunctional families, the concern of the bishops is the de-formation, or even malformation, of young men in the “four pillars” of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. Traditionally, it is within the context of the family that children learn at least their initial understanding of what it means to be human and to develop into holy and mature people.4 This context is itself based upon the stability provided by the parents having willingly entered into the Sacrament of Marriage and fulfilling all of the duties and responsibilities therein.

The present cultural malaise that is experienced by many families has thrown this structure into disarray. Much can be said about precisely what this malaise is and how it has affected the family, but it might be best described as a disordering or a disorientation. People have become untethered from eternal principles and sound reason in favor of a selfish understanding of human freedom and liberty whereby one declares, “My will, not thine, be done.” Combined with this is the error of materialism, which maintains that there is only this material world and not a spiritual one.

Our present situation lends itself well to impart many errors, among which is a disruption in and confusion about human sexuality. Disordered relationships have also led to a lack of authentic fathers and father-figures in many places. Not a few young boys have been led into numerous errors of relationship with respect to what it means to be a man, proper interactions with women and children, etc. They have not developed a healthy masculine identity. We hear about this a lot in popular U.S. culture today in terms of “toxic masculinity” (properly understood).

In days gone by, young men seeking admission to seminary had already received basic formation through tightly-run family life and their formal education. Such is no longer a given in our society. Because of the overwhelming prevalence and impact of the errors (and others) underlying these cultural phenomena, the bishops have been compelled to treat them within seminary formation programs. Part of how the bishops have come to terms is to reconsider standards for the reception and retention of applicants for priestly formation.

Reconsidering the Standards

There has always been some sense over the centuries that candidates’ readiness and aptitude were graduated between individuals, to a greater or lesser degree. A spectrum formed by which the pastors of the Church could gauge men as to where they stand in relation to the pillars of formation. No applicant to priestly formation is considered “perfectly formed” when he signs his application to seminary, otherwise he would be ordained on the spot, though I am sure there are some very rare and unique historical instances to the contrary.

Certainly though, there has been some re-thinking in recent decades as to what is and is not considered “acceptable” with respect to the standards for the reception and retention of applicants.5 I’d like to frame this re-thinking in terms of it being a product of tension between our present cultural malaise with the Church’s mission and the need for ministers to proclaim the Gospel and impart the Sacraments. This tension forms at least part of the driving force for the bishops to re-think standards and to modify the program of priestly formation.

A good way to explain this tension is in terms of a prevailing thought that is commonly shared by many pastors of the Church. This thought maintains that if the bishops waited to ordain men until they were at levels of formational standards that were culturally provided for in previous decades through well-regulated family life, then the present priest-shortages would be even worse than they are now.6

In order to meet the needs brought on by the present cultural malaise, many bishops have adopted the propaedeutic or introductory year, also known as a “spirituality” year. At this stage, various applicants learn the right ordering of relationships and social life necessary for seminary living, priestly formation as well as priestly ministry.7 This year usually comes after an applicant has been accepted by a bishop as a seminarian. What happens before acceptance? What standards are used to judge someone suitable for priestly formation?

In previous times, standards were quite stringent. In the monastic tradition, the works of St. John Cassian recount the strict — if not harsh — methods a person underwent in order to enter a monastery, such as enduring what we consider today as verbal abuse.8 Such things seem incredibly remote from what we consider today as acceptable. Knowing that people today are, generally speaking, influenced by many errors, the U.S. Bishops employ the principle of gradualism. According to this principle, applicants are assessed according to where they stand in relation to the pillars of formation.

The principle applies to two particular stages, namely, 1) before admission to seminary, and 2) during seminary. At the “before” stage, there have to be “minimal qualities” that the U.S. Bishops call “thresholds or foundations” where an applicant must meet basic requirements before seminary.9 If he doesn’t possess them, he cannot be admitted to seminary.10 At the “during” stage, the seminarian is expected to meet increasing expectations on his journey to ordination.

The task of assessing where individual people fall on this spectrum belongs to the local Ordinary, his chosen assistants (such as a vocations director) and the seminary admissions process itself.11 There are rather precise norms as to the duties and responsibilities of those who are involved in this process. The responsibilities are very serious and are designed to safeguard important matters such as the health of the seminary life and community as well as the good of individual people and institutions.12

Differences over Church Doctrine

I would now like to turn to another element on the USSCB’s list: differences over Church doctrine. This item should come as no surprise. Generally speaking, Church doctrine has always undergone some contention over the centuries during its development. Presently, I’d like to focus not upon the development of doctrine but the rejection of established doctrine.

This rejection is intimately bound up within the earlier-mentioned false sense of liberty — life untethered or unencumbered by a God who imposes limits.13 We have largely become a materialistic society by attempting to build a civilization that is devoid of God and eternal principles, leading to the cult and worship of man. Within this “civilization,” there is no thought or regard for the (healthy) fear of God, but only for the opinions of men and what they can do with power, control, or, in some cases, brute force.

I would posit that what underlaid such rejection was a lack of faith. Necessarily accompanying a lack of faith is a concomitant rejection of the rule of faith, the standard by which one lives out the Faith in his or her everyday life and interactions. Many people lost the authentic “Catholic sense” about things — the attitude of sentire cum ecclesia (thinking with the mind of the Church), having replaced it with the rather secular ethos of liberalism. All sorts of errors flew around the ecclesiastical hemisphere faster than the truth could get its boots on.

Given this state of affairs, one is led to question the impact that the lack of faith has had within the context of priestly formation even to our day. Some have maintained that the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI helped to restore the rule of faith and authentic Catholic sense back to formation programs. This is true, but the effect of their activities was not immediate. How deeply rooted were their actions by those in charge of formation programs?

A building destroyed is not rebuilt immediately. One must rebuild it brick by brick. The same is true with respect to restoring the Church. Various structures that have been in place for countless years were corrupted, if not destroyed, by the implanting and execution of errors. They were allowed to spread and influence people within the Church, which has created a notable problem with respect to things like interpretations, perceptions, etc. Much care and tact are necessary to undo these evils, but the present situation is messy. Cleaning it up is likewise going to be messy.

The picture painted above depicts a very serious situation in which we find ourselves as Catholics as well as citizens of our country. No one can escape the errors of our day and no one is immune from them. They have impacted not just priestly formation in the United States, but even the very people tasked with this responsibility. This claim is stark, but to clean up our present situation, it is necessary to talk openly — always adhering to the law of charity — about the tares that have grown up alongside the wheat.

I would like to offer some thoughts that elaborate upon the picture thus far painted. These thoughts will largely concern how the picture applies in practical ways, using real-life examples that are either public or known to me personally. I will begin by discussing the discipline of clerical celibacy with the authentic formation of spiritual fathers.

Celibacy and the Authentic Formation of Spiritual Fathers

Celibacy, as a good in itself, requires great care in its development within a man. It is even more so to be treated carefully with respect to its development within the specific context of priestly formation. Part of the necessary care is for seminary formators to ensure that it grows and develops within a man alongside other components of the human person, things like manliness, character, integrity, etc. Aligned tightly with these components is fatherhood. A man studying for the priesthood is slated to renounce marriage and family. God intends, however, all men to exercise fatherhood. For a celibate Catholic priest, it is exercised as spiritual fatherhood.

The seminary is assigned the task of developing a healthy masculine identity, taking great pains to train a man to exercise his masculinity in the direction of spiritual fatherhood. Clerical sexual abuse has created some very serious questions with respect to priestly formation programs. Take, for example, the scandalous behavior of Travis Clark of Louisiana. How did he manage to get through seminary and become a priest, only to desecrate his parish’s altar with two women?14

It is easy to blame the culture of death for Clark’s character defects. Blaming the culture, however, is insufficient, as one of his seminary professors admitted there were issues but that Clark seemed often “to be flying under the radar.”15 Yet, how can someone like Clark “fly under the radar” and get ordained? There are different ways of addressing this kind of question, and many are generally based upon the individual circumstances of the seminarian or priest.16 Often overlooked, however, is a good look at the system itself or way of thinking in formation programs.

The U.S. Bishops largely spoke of the prevailing errors of our contemporary period in terms of how they might affect individual people before and during priestly formation. What about how the errors have impacted institutions? We must note here that there is a congruence between how errors affect individual people with the institutions themselves. After all, it is people who establish, run, and maintain programs and institutions. People adopt and propagate error; institutions can serve as a mechanism by which the errors are inculcated and propagated.

Our priestly formation programs have been impacted by the errors of our period. Among the problematic issues are systemic corruption as well as questionable ideologies and interpretations that comprise at least some of the present-day trends forming the vision for contemporary priestly ministry. There are “structures of sin” within the Church that contribute to the malformation of seminarians.17 I would like to point out a little discussed relationship between celibacy and control.

It is a well-known practice within seminary formation programs of the Latin Church to prefer applications from young men. The general belief is that younger guys are more malleable to formation. In terms of human growth and development, this principle is fairly solid. Older men are not necessarily excluded from seminary formation.18 The Church refers to them as “adult vocations.”19

A portion of the young men, with their highly prized malleability, who enter seminary today lack practical and real-world experiences. They are highly impressionable and do not have much that they can depend upon with respect to job experience, practical training, etc. Often compounding this matter have been the present difficulties with marriage and family that we discussed earlier. It is further compounded by educational expectations within the United States, such as emphasizing going to college right after high school and a de-emphasis upon trade schools.

Having a job, receiving training and practical skills do much to contribute to a young man’s growth and development into manhood. If he is called to the Sacrament of Matrimony, then being responsible for others often accelerates this maturation. He cannot be a “bachelor,” accountable only for himself. His family looks to him to provide for various needs (in conjunction with his wife) in support of the family.20

The particular path leading to this maturity through the Sacrament of Marriage is not given to those who are called to clerical celibacy. They are called to possess the same sense of self-worth, responsibility, manhood, and fatherhood, because all these qualities are necessary in the priesthood. For such a man, the path will look a little different and it is the task of seminary formation to ensure that it is unobstructed. Opportunities must be afforded to him to develop his character along these lines.

Seminarians entrust themselves to the Church, believing in two things: 1) that dioceses and seminary formators know what they are doing (and why), and 2) ecclesiastical authorities will keep seminarians’ best interests at heart. Primary among these best interests is not only the formation of a man’s character, but also his general well-being. An example of the latter is that seminarians generally have no income. They must depend upon their respective dioceses and families for assistance, even basic needs, or find benefactors. In select cases, requests for benefaction have to go through the diocese for public relations purposes. After all, what diocese wants to look “poor” and unable to support its seminarians?

Dependency extends to seminarians accepting that they have few to no rights, and little privacy. Seminarians are expected to disclose everything about themselves to their formators, and justly so in some areas.21 Seminarians are completely at the mercy of their superiors, and the Holy See has pointed out that “mutual trust” between the formators and the seminarian is a “necessary element.”22

The formation program is intended to be a well-oiled machine, part of which is seeking to strike a healthy balance between autonomy and obedience within the seminarian. With a well-oiled machine, dependence upon the system is not evil, much less intrinsically so. The general idea behind it is to free the seminarian from various cares so that he can focus upon becoming a priest. It is a noble idea, but given the present state of affairs within the Church today and the prevalent errors within society, we must ask if the idea is being faithfully executed.

Customarily, the Church places great emphasis upon seminary formators. To them, bishops and other local Ordinaries entrust much of the care of their seminarians. While it is ultimately the decision of the bishop or Ordinary to ordain someone to Holy Orders, such largely occurs with the formators’ say-so. Part of their responsibilities is that they have near-total power and control over seminarians. This power and control are intended to be carried lightly, exercised justly and with wisdom. The Roman satirical writer Juvenal, however, famously asked, Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes (But who will guard the guardians themselves)?23

Some present-day formators, though they have undergone their own priestly formation, remain impacted by the difficulties of our time and are insufficient to the task entrusted to them. One prominent difficulty is corporatism, which, loosely defined, is a way of seeing the Church more like a business. Bishops become CEOs of corporations and the priests their employees. Within this perspective, clerics lose sight of the care of souls and spiritual fatherhood. If such a priest is a formator in a seminary, he might be more interested in advancing himself, just as an employee in the secular world works to protect and advance his career. In fact, there is an informal expression among clerics to describe this phenomenon: “scaling the Roman ladder.” Whatever doesn’t look good to the cleric’s “boss” (i.e., the bishop, rector, or some other authority) is deeply feared by corporatists. This human respect places their own good above that of the seminarian, destroying the “mutual trust” that is supposed to be present. Under corporatism, formators face the temptation of always having to protect their image. Making mistakes that are obvious and apparent (even to seminarians) projects incompetence.

This situation is even worse with today’s seminarians, who often are smarter and, especially in the case of adult vocations, have more life experience than their formators. Curiously, these men sometimes become even larger targets for maltreatment by their formators. What happens then when officials who are either corrupt, lack faith (and suffer the loss of the Catholic sense), or just influenced by erroneous ideas wield the power and control customarily afforded to them over seminarians? What is to be done when seminarians are confronted by things such as greed, mismanagement, psychological gamesmanship, careerism and corporatism, among a number of other chronic issues? As corruption might pertain to seminary formators personally, when they wield power and control over seminarians, life becomes quite difficult.

Under corrupt formators (or other officials), seminarians are in serious danger of being malformed in different ways. One such way is with respect to depending upon “the system.”24 Without a healthy balance in an authentic human formation, seminarians come to depend upon the system so much that there is a very real danger of their having lost or compromised their ability to be providers and independent thinkers. If and when they are ordained (God willing) and serving God’s people in parishes as priests, their underdeveloped character will quickly manifest.

For example, with respect to independent thinking, a priest might respectfully disagree with a decision taken by his superiors. He may even be able to articulate why it is a mistake and spell out what negative things will result from this decision. If he is trapped with respect to depending upon the system, is he going to be willing to “rock the boat”? Allow me to provide a true story that colors in the lines I have drawn.

A young priest was told by his bishop to commit some liturgical abuse. Now, the authentic system or status quo requires a priest to do what his bishop lawfully tells him to do. Ordering someone to commit a liturgical abuse is not lawful and, therefore, the priest was not obliged to do it. He told his bishop as much. Yes, he actually decided to rock the boat. The bishop did not take too kindly to this situation. He exiled the young priest to a remote deanery of the diocese, placing him under the care of a pastor who had received instructions to “break” this young priest of his alleged “rigidity” and “inflexibility.”

Unfortunately, the above story is not the case with every priest (or seminarian). Some will acquiesce to unlawful requests and for different reasons. Fear or ignorance are the most common, but others do it because they seek higher office. Their “career” will be jeopardized if they offend their bishop. Such acquiescence does not suddenly begin when a man is ordained, but while he is in the seminary. There, men are often told that if they don’t “go along” with what they are told (i.e., “obey”) depending upon the issue, they’ll be labeled as rigid, inflexible, unwilling to be formed — or worse.

I conversed with a seminarian (now ordained) right after a homosexual scandal occurred with an official of his seminary. The seminarian remarked, “I just have to trust the formators because I cannot conceive the alternative.” These same formators had set or maintained the conditions that allowed for the scandal. Prior to the scandal being exposed, anyone who complained to the formators about the official were thought of as having issues themselves. Word went around more informed seminarians to keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves, all the while being subjected to inappropriate behavior by the official.

Seminarians are taught to fear being labeled with words such as rigid and inflexible because, if they want to get ordained, they “have to demonstrate their willingness to be formed.” There is a relationship here which equates “formed” with “controlled” in some circles today, the idea being that a seminarian who keeps his own mind and counsel becomes a danger to corrupt seminary officials, and, perhaps even to diocesan superiors. This danger is precisely a point that formation programs fail to understand properly, and I suspect that it is due, at least in part, to the disordered relationships that we spoke of earlier.

An authentic man is a good man, not a tame one, as C.S. Lewis famously expressed this concept in his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in speaking about Aslan.25 This means that there is some adventure within a man and that is why older and wiser men need to be around him. It is part of a man’s character to be “wild” as it is meant to assist him in his God-given duties and responsibilities. His mentors train him to orient himself toward the good, which, in this case, is using his strength for the protection of others. We see the opposite in our culture today with the fatherless running around aimlessly, trying to prove themselves in all the wrong ways.

These facts of human nature are no less true for celibate clerics. They are called by God to be spiritual fathers to God’s people. Part of that fatherhood is to defend the Church, the Bride of Christ, from harm. A father does not need to know what to do or when to act when his child is in danger. He just does it. Seminary formation is supposed to train men properly in this regard, and yet this aspect of an aspiring cleric’s formation is woefully neglected in many places. It is replaced by training him to be a company “yes” man to his bishop, who is feared, not loved, because of what he can do with the power and control he exercises over his priests.

In a proper Catholic ethos, there is supposed to be unity and harmony between a bishop and his priests as they work for the salvation of souls and the spreading of the Kingdom of God on earth. Sin and erroneous ideas, however, can often negatively impact that relationship. In cases such as the one mentioned earlier, where there is some kind of disagreement between a bishop and his priest, how does one reconcile the difference? There are not many priestly formation programs today that would think of, much less dare to, offer constructive instructions on this point.

More often than not, seminarians (and priests) “learn” to be obsequious to their bishops, to obey and submit without question.26 In some quarters, the ritual during ordination, wherein the priest puts his hands in the bishop’s and promises respect and obedience, might even be cited as a pretext for this obedience. Seemingly forgotten is the fact that this feudal gesture is a two-way street. The priest promises respect and obedience, but the bishop — like a feudal lord — also takes on the responsibility to act in accordance with the laws of the Church and the rule of Faith. In so doing, the bishop protects and safeguards the well-being of his priests.

Archbishop Charles Chaput recently stated, “The virtue of Christian obedience is rooted in speaking the truth — with love, but frankly and firmly — and true religion has nothing to do with a posture of servility.”27 Such wisdom and common sense ought to dictate in the matters presently being discussed, but sadly, they do not. Why? The answer is, in part, because of the dependency upon the system that is engendered within clerics today. It goes back to their days in seminary where the attitude is inculcated within them.28 There, words such as “docile” and “humility” are employed, designed to appeal to one’s piety, but utterly devoid of their theological meaning, context, and their proper Catholic sense. It is more about manipulation than anything of actual substance.

Take, for example, a seminarian who has noticed some problem in his seminary or diocese. It is not a demonstration of hubris, per se, for him to share the matter politely with his superiors, especially if it is directly affecting his formation. Giving him pious platitudes in response such as to “abide in docility” and to be “humble” about these problems is the wrong response. It is confusing to the seminarian, as it often leads him to believe that he did something wrong, which, in itself, is akin to being gaslighted. Some seminarians might even start over-thinking it by continuous (and unnecessary) introspection in the hope that doing so will uncover why it was “wrong.” It is even worse if his formators start asking questions about his relationship with his father in an attempt to see if the seminarian has issues with trust or authority figures.

It is true, especially given our present situation, that some seminarians might have trust or authority issues. Such is, however, not always the case. Wisdom is necessary in individual cases. There are times when the problem truly is not with the seminarian, but rather the superiors or formators. In response to a seminarian who makes known some problem, especially one in which one or more superiors or formators are revealed to be compromised, pious platitudes only serve to cover the nakedness of formators/superiors’ own faults, failures or shortcomings.

In the above scenario, there is a very real danger of formators taking such observations personally. I don’t think it a bad analogy to compare it with the visceral reaction one has when caught naked. The seminarian, being in the disadvantaged position as one under authority, must be “taught” his place. After all, “how dare he, an underling, tell us what is going on. Who does he think he is? He must learn some humility!” This “humility” may be meted out in different ways, but it is always done with a mind for breaking a seminarian of his God-given common sense. A former Vatican official once described to me this type of behavior from clerics as “mean girls,” in reference to the feminine intrigues in the 2004 movie of that name.

In other cases, a formator might not take any such observation personally as much as he takes it as an existential threat to his person or career. A priest-friend relayed to me a story of what happened to a seminarian he knew who had witnessed something in his seminary and spoken up about it to his formators. In an act that would have made even Ivan Pavlov blush, the seminarian was diagnosed by his bishop and rector (who were not licensed medical professionals) with OCD and sent to counseling. There, he “self-reported” his OCD to the counselor who accepted it as a given. He was also told by the counselor that revealing what he saw was “disobedience.”

Thinking outside the box is an undesirable trait and puts the seminarian at risk for being broken. Demonstrating this trait means, to officials with a corporate mentality, that the seminarian will not be a “team player.” He is likely to be dangerous as he will challenge his superiors. To a corporate mentality, thinking outside the box is especially heinous because the seminarian is demonstrating that he is not a company “yes” man. This corporatism might do well in a business, but it has no real place among clerics. They are bound to the Gospel and the law of charity — to say nothing of honoring the dignity of the human person.

It is easier for the pastors of the Church to do their will and bidding with company men. Is, however, their will and bidding always oriented toward the higher good? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” says St. Paul (Romans 3:23). Not all decisions are going to be good and not all prelates of the Church are living saints. At present, the question is: what happens to a seminarian who runs afoul of such corporatism?

The seminarian is faced with the choice of compromising his character and integrity or leaving. Sadly, many seminarians choose compromise. They believe that God is calling them to the priesthood and do not want to “jeopardize their vocation.”29 They are told to keep their heads down and mouths shut “until the alb and stole hang loose,” indicating that they’ll see better days out in the parishes. This is a mistake because the compromising that began in seminary will often continue in the parishes. As one seminary official once remarked to me, “Priests must compromise in the parishes.” He also said, “If the formation staff heard a seminarian say he would not compromise on [liturgical] essentials, he’d be out the door tonight.”

How does compromising in the parishes look? I know a priest who tried to introduce incense at Mass. A woman in the parish complained privately, but he initially put his foot down. Shortly thereafter, she and some of her friends were sitting in the front pews at Mass, where they all suddenly started mock coughing in unison when the incense was used. Not wanting to deal with the problem, the priest backed down. Given the circumstances, this matter was not about being “pastoral.” It was about handling people who were deliberately disruptive during liturgical services. Not correcting these women only served to confirm them in error and further embolden them.

Sometimes problems come from fellow clerics. Another priest I know couldn’t use his favorite chalice for Mass. The altar servers were so poorly trained that he was afraid they’d damage his chalice. “So, why don’t you train them better,” I asked. “I’m not the pastor,” he replied. “OK, so why doesn’t he do something?” Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen, I was told. In this story, it is a question of the chain of command. A younger priest taking some initiative and recommending that the altar servers be better trained? That’s interpreted as a social faux pas, a judgment against the pastor, as he is ultimately the one responsible for the altar servers’ poor training. Going against this tide will likely lead to accusations that the younger priest has “poor social skills.”

Problems and issues must be addressed. It requires manly courage and fortitude, and, of course, pastoral tact. When this tact becomes an excuse for inaction or not wanting to deal with a problem, it is not pastoral leadership, but rather a subtle form of de-masculinization.30 This vice is behind much of the continuous compromising that we see today, and is why we have many of the problems within the clergy and a lack of authentic spiritual fathers.

The danger faced by seminarians, then, is that without proper formation in masculine characteristics, they face the very real possibility of becoming too dependent upon “the system.” They become weak, flaccid, effeminate — or sometimes are so before they enter formation — unable to provide proper spiritual food to their future congregations. They are too afraid of what will happen to them if they do something perceived as “wrong.” This is especially grievous in our day in the light of the lack of faith that we see present within the Church, and all the corruption that has attended to it.

Raniero Cardinal Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Pontifical Household, told the U.S. bishops in January, 2019 that they had “lost sight of the eternal.”31 Losing sight of the eternal has trickled down to the seminaries, producing many ill-equipped men to be spiritual fathers. Some have gone on to become bishops who are less than worthy of their office, and appoint the wrong people for priestly formation. On goes the cycle. Many of the people of God are waking up to this situation and demanding that something be done. The pastors of the Church must initiate some serious reforms of the seminary system, and that only after they regain sight of the eternal.

Regaining sight of the eternal is an important first step as it restores a proper focus and outlook upon our present state of affairs. Without the eternal, we fall into the error of seeing this present world as the only world (materialism, by definition), and become atheists in either a practical or literal sense. Losing sight of the eternal often leads to following the trends of the world and a particular age of it, tailoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ accordingly. What is “difficult” for the world to accept in a given age means that what is hard in the Gospel will not be preached. Archbishop Fulton Sheen warned against this tendency during an episode of Life is Worth Living:

If you marry the mood or the spirit of an age, you will be a widow in the next one. These fashions simply do not last. And it is not to be said that if one does not follow each of these fashions that one is behind the times. No, one is behind the scenes, sees the theories that were popular years ago will be forgotten in 10 or 15 years but we’ve got to have some principles that do not change to live by. . . . Therefore, to think well, one has to have principles that are independent of space and time by which one can live.32

If we are motivated by what is comfortable for us in the here and now, without reference to eternity, then we set ourselves up for many evils. It is an unfortunate and very controversial fact, but it bears noting, that many of our pastors have fallen into this trap, formed, as they have been, in the zeitgeist of the 1960s and ’70s that desired to focus upon man and his dignity. Regretfully neglected, though, was the fact that Pope St. Paul VI spoke of a Christian humanism in response to the secular humanism that was then prevailing (and which arguably continues to our day) and to which the Church was responding.33 That message was drowned out; the truth was eclipsed.

As a result of this and other notable problems, we have an entire generation of clergy that were malformed. Many of them are the present gatekeepers to the new generation of clerics, and there is a disjunct between these generations. Many of the older clergy are suspicious of the younger generation because it tends to be more traditional and orthodox. Conversely, the younger generation tends to be suspicious of older clerics because of their heterodoxy and heteropraxy.

Ironically, this distrust is based upon a traditional, although presently twisted, pattern that is common across most cultures and ages: handing on the traditions of our forefathers.

Many of the older clergy deeply desire to pass on to the younger generation what they themselves have received. This desire is perfectly natural, and, while it is so, what is not envisioned by the older generation is whether or not everything they received is in accordance with the truth. The younger generation, being removed from the era of the ’60s and ’70s and its revolutionary spirit, is able to see that era’s excesses more clearly and are quite cautious about it.

What happened through revolution in the older generation cannot be repeated by the younger generation who sees that revolution as a betrayal of Christ and eternal principles. Oddly enough, the same human desire of passing on the tradition is in place among the older generation of clerics, and the Church’s structures of priestly formation presume it. Depending upon the particular circumstances, seminarians might misread the situation and create worse problems for themselves. I’d like to offer the following true example of what I am talking about.

A seminarian was taught to arrange hosts in an elaborate design in the ciborium before Mass. It looks nice and the time it takes to arrange it is seen by the seminarian as a devotional, pious act of reverence for Jesus Christ. Later, as a priest, he is in a parish as a parochial vicar and is horrified to see that the lay sacristan just dumps the hosts into the ciborium, shakes it a little and puts it out on the credence table. The young priest tries to “correct” this “abuse” but does so in an offensive manner and the lay sacristan reports it to the pastor. The pastor reprimands the young priest, who then holds in his heart that he is being “persecuted” by a “liberal” priest.

The young priest is misreading the situation. It is often the case in parish life that things have to get done. Many parish pastors learn efficiency and expediency while working with the general public. Taking time out to arrange the hosts in a ciborium, while a wonderful gesture that can be expressive of one’s personal piety and devotion, is generally not the norm in the average parish. If a priest wants to make various changes, he has to begin by acknowledging the situation for what it is and work with the people that he has.

The problem in our present story is that the young priest was simply “wet behind the ears” and lacked pastoral tact with the lay sacristan. If such a young “crusader” is discovered while in seminary formation, he might be given opportunity to reform, i.e., the seminarian will be led by the older establishment formators to see the “error of his ways.” On the other hand, the seminarian could interpret this opportunity as persecution and end up being dismissed from the seminary, leading him to find comfort and consolation in fellow “crusaders” who confirm his “martyr” status. He might even be lionized in media outlets.

In the end, the point here is that not everything in the older generation is bad. Certainly, the younger generation’s suspicions, while enjoying some justification, create its own problem. Still, if the younger generation distrusts the older, both carrying mutually counterproductive polarization, problems arise within priestly formation that will still lead to badly formed priests. Either way, the seminarian ends up badly formed and dysfunction continues.

Toward the Solution

I regret to say that there is no easy, simple or immediate solution to present ills that plague the Church in her priestly formation. Error and distortions take time to uproot, but it is also true that some immediate actions on the part of the bishops would go a long way towards reform. Yet, even good bishops can only work with what they have, which presently is a broken culture and a far from perfect system of clerical formation that has produced many poorly formed priests. But God can draw straight with crooked lines, and I’d like to pose the following thoughts.

  1. Any bishop who sees the situation for what it is would be wise to start making some tough, perhaps even controversial, decisions that require thinking outside the box. For example, let’s say that there is a provincial seminary promoting less-than-orthodox teaching or practices, but as a matter of policy all bishops of the province send their men to that same seminary. What if one of the bishops knew of the problems and opted to send his men elsewhere? This action might cause some concern among other bishops in the province, who could perceive this action as suborning disunity. Yet the higher good here is not unity in policy, but the care of souls. According to Pope Pius XII, supernatural sanctification has priority in priestly formation.34 All else is secondary. Priests who are properly formed to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” are in a better place to guide and instruct the people of God along the path to holiness.
  2. An often-cited pastoral tactic these days is to “reach people where they are at.” Each seminarian is in a different place in their person, background, and dispositions. Like the disciples of the Desert Fathers under their abbas, individual seminarians have their strengths and weaknesses. Bishops would do well to personally gauge those strengths and weaknesses. This includes determining whether their men are receiving the best formation at a particular institution.
  3. Bishops need to invest personal time and effort with their seminarians by developing fatherly — not just friendly — relationships with them. Any bishop who remains remote and distant essentially says to the seminarian, “I am too busy for you.” This kind of signal does not encourage priestly vocations and could even cause a young man to abandon it. Establishing a fatherly relationship from the very beginning of formation goes a long way with respect to the “mutual trust” spoken of earlier in this essay.35
  4. Bishops and seminary formators also need to be open, honest and forthright with seminarians, careful to avoid falling victim to their own assessment biases — versus candidates who have identifiable traits and behaviors making them genuinely unsuitable. There is a temptation today to couch concepts and terms in ways that are not always clear to a seminarian. This is a form of “insider” communication in which the seminarian is directed toward a certain thinking or action, but doesn’t actually realize what he is really being told.
  5. We noted earlier that the U.S. Bishops recognized various elements of attitudes or behavior present within our contemporary culture. Formators look for these things in seminarians. If these are of concern in the seminarian, formators should be very open and upfront about it from day one of his formation. In the first individual formation advising meeting, as well as ongoing discussion, he should be told what anticipated “areas of growth” are, why they are at issue and how the seminarian can progress. Such honesty holds formators accountable. There are no hidden expectations. The seminarian knows where he stands and what is expected of him. This honesty may seem like common sense, but is not always the case with priestly formation.
  6. Given the general level of education and availability of information today, I believe it is better for formators to operate under the rubric that “honesty is the best policy.” If a mistake is made, correct it and move on. It shows humility, which is more respected by seminarians, especially as it provides leadership in virtue and accountability. Attempts at making the seminarian to be at fault (when he really isn’t), and “teaching” him some humility, only serve to degrade the mutual trust between formators and seminarians.
  7. The attitudes of corporatism and clericalism create a danger of a self-referential system in the Church and her institutions. Inculcating this creates seminaries so removed from everyday life that they eventually lose touch with the people they claim to serve. True, there are initiatives like the much-vaunted pastoral year, summer assignments, and the like. I don’t see these as sufficient. In order to break present attitudes of corporatism and careerism, bishops must discuss allowing seminarians to live in parishes while undergoing their formal studies. Doing so keeps seminarians grounded in the so-called “real” world and not the artificial world of numerous present-day seminaries.
  8. Some years ago, I attended a talk given by a U.S. bishop who discussed, rather openly, the lamentable situation of the Church and her clergy today. He did not just talk about the problems, though. “The only thing that is going to get us through this [time],” he said, “is to strive after holiness.” In reflecting upon these words, I have come to appreciate the simplicity and profundity of his solution. Striving after holiness means striving to live virtuously and in deep communion with God and the communion of saints. This is so simple and yet so profound. Simple, because in a few words are wrapped much of the Christian life. It is profound, however, because when one starts to practice it in all situations of life, one begins to see how much there is a need for ongoing conversion, or, as the monastic tradition puts it rather adroitly: conversatio morum (conversion of one’s way of life). It takes faith to have all of these things in perspective and it is the only real check against the excesses of priestly clericalism and corporatism.

Of course, everything discussed here is predicated upon the mind and will of the individual bishop. If he doesn’t see the larger picture of the broken culture and how it has an impact on priestly formation, it will be “business as usual” in his diocese. This state of affairs cannot continue. It is on this note that I’d like to turn to a matter that I believe will go a very long way to helping us with present-day difficulties: the pastors of the Church should address some notable liturgical issues.

A Major Solution: Some Liturgical Reflections

Some people intuitively sense that something is wrong in the Church, even if they can’t precisely articulate what they are sensing. Such persons are in a next to impossible situation with very limited choices. There are those who walk away completely. Others may go to Protestant communities. Still others turn to communities where they can believe a more authentic expression of the Faith exists. In this last instance, many present-day debates over the Extraordinary Form as a viable alternative have much to do with priestly formation.

A younger diocesan priest once told me about when he had started to celebrate the Extraordinary Form. “It just made so much more sense,” he said to me with much passion and relief. “It really brought out to me what it means to be a priest.” A Roman liturgy that is more representative of the collective wisdom of Western Catholic life and thought is attractive to people seeking refuge in an age that has rebelled against God and His Law.

The Extraordinary Form exemplifies the Catholic understanding of a right ordering of people and relationships, as understood by the Church. It contains characteristics that speak to the heart and soul of men in particular. “Men love things like seeing patterns,” as a friend put it to me. “In a sense, they get to ‘geek-out’ on this with the Extraordinary Form.” The unicity and precision inherent in this liturgical form are emblematic of the Church’s mind regarding the ars celebrandi. They help the priest and people to go deeper into the Sacred Mysteries being celebrated.

As they grow together in the Sacrament of Marriage, the man and woman continually learn more of each other and that “language” develops and is refined over time. Similarly, in the liturgical sense, the same can be said for the priest with the Mass. In marital life, consummation of marital intimacy has its obvious place, but the overall reality of intimacy between the man and woman has great significance. Analogously, regrettably, a popular error in the Church today over-emphasizes the Words of Institution in the Eucharistic action, sidelining the vital importance of other facets of the liturgical act overall.

The rituals established by the Church form a liturgical “love language.” They tell the priest what the Church expects in order to best communicate Christ and the mystery of His love to His people. The rituals must therefore speak to the psyche of both men and women. If they do not, that love language runs the risk of becoming lost, an estrangement of the people develops, and deeper communion with Christ is obscured.

The period of experimentation after Vatican II entailed a forgetfulness of the “love language” that had developed between the Church and her priests.36 This is especially evident in the proliferation of textual and ritual options in the post-Conciliar liturgy, as opposed to the more or less fixed nature of these in past ages. It is as if a married couple of several decades had eschewed everything that they worked hard to develop over those many years to express their love in order to start right back from day one of their marriage and experiment with novel things.

An older married couple simply cannot forget all that went before them in their relationship. It is all factored in as they face new challenges together in life and how they might deepen their love. It is so with the Church. I think Pope Benedict XVI had this in mind when he promulgated Summorum Pontificum in 2007. He saw many problems that had arisen and hoped that a wider distribution of the Extraordinary Form would help recover a sense of what went before us, stabilize the present liturgical situation and better prepare people to accept what the Council Fathers actually wanted for the liturgical reforms.

In his cover letter to the Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis indicated that there are issues with respect to both the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form.37 This acknowledgement was encouraging, and, based upon the Holy Father’s observation, I respectfully recommend that the Church address two very important matters:

  1. The liturgical abuses within the Ordinary Form;
  2. Weighing, assessing, and possibly modifying various changes made to the Roman Missal and which were promulgated in the Missal of Pope St. Paul VI.

These two matters bear upon the present problems within priestly formation. The draw of the Old Rite is often traced to liturgical abuses in the Ordinary Form and, among these, a lack of piety or reverence.38 The negative aspects of the contemporary liturgy include incidents such as the one that we saw earlier, in which priests are encouraged to break liturgical law and then disciplined for refusing. Such a witness does nothing for seminarians’ morale. It makes them ask, “What am I getting myself into?” Likewise, stories about the bad things that happen to priests who try to remain faithful to the dignity of the liturgy create a lot of doubt in the hearts of seminarians.

Now that many seminarians and younger priests have become exposed to the Extraordinary Form, they have seen its expression of the Faith and some question the development of the Pauline Missal. Chief among these, “Was Pope Paul VI’s Missal an authentic representation of the mind of the Council Fathers of Vatican II?” There are honest questions on this score, and many seminarians and priests have concluded that there is a need for an honest discussion. In select cases, their vocations might even depend upon it because they cannot, in conscience, do something that they’ve concluded is injurious to their Christian life.


The tares have grown up alongside the wheat. We have many ineffectual clerics today. To understand why, we must be aware of the unhealthy trends in culture and society forming the current vision of priestly formation and ministry. Our seminarians need to develop their God-given masculine characters, but these will be stunted in the face of corrupt pastoral ideologies that promote de-masculization.

I have been privileged to associate with men, seminarians, clerics or vowed religious, who are true believers. I can personally vouch that there are many good men in our formation programs today. What concerns me is that without the instilling of proper Catholic discipline that emanates from both the Faith and the rule of faith, our men might undergo subtle forms of manipulation and other such problems, causing them to become corrupted without even knowing about it.

We need a renewal of faith at the heart of priestly formation. Without it, any attempt at reform will be in vain. It will end up inculcating the wrong ideas in our seminarians, who, in turn, bring these out into the parishes, and on the cycle goes. Will the pastors of the Church stand up and initiate true reform? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure: they need to regain their sights upon the eternal.

  1. Cf. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Program of Priestly Formation Fifth Edition (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006), paragraph 12. Hereafter PPF followed by paragraph number.
  2. PPF 12.
  3. These errors have led to a very distorted image of what marriage and family are, and even extend to what it means to be a human being. In this last area, we touch upon the subject of the formation, or training, of a human being. Here, there are many anthropological considerations such as culture, social expectations of the family and society, etc. There are also the components of the human person: intellect, will, the passions, etc. The formation of a child takes place primarily within the context of family life and then within other immediate contexts (e.g., neighborhood, school). It cannot, therefore, be a surprise to say that marriage and family are the foundation, the bedrock, of the formation of the next generation of humanity.
  4. Cf. Casti Connubii 11–18; Gravissimum Educationis 3.
  5. One stark example pertains to men with same-sex attraction. In 1961, Pope St. John XXIII instructed that such men should not be ordained, but his instruction spoke about the advancement “to religious vows and ordination.” It did not speak about the lead-up to them (i.e., formation programs). The Holy See still instructs, as of 2005, that men with same-sex attraction cannot be ordained. It did, however, clarify whether it was permissible to accept such men to initial stages of formation. The Holy See forbade those with “deep-seated tendencies” to seminary formation, but permitted entrance for men with “transitory” tendencies. They must overcome the attraction three years before ordination. Thus, while there is no actual change in the Church’s stance on ordaining men with same-sex attraction, the Church has taken it upon herself to claim indirectly that her priestly formation can be used to help men with this attraction. It puts the Church at some risk as there are many dangers that come with this response to the matter. Pope Francis has also made statements about the matter between an interview for the book The Strength of a Vocation and the document The Gift of the Priestly Vocation (paragraph 199).
  6. This thought’s high degree of subjectivity must be noted. Here, the pastors of the Church are duty-bound to think with the mind of the Church (sentire cum ecclesia). If they do not, and for whatever reason, then there is going to be trouble — especially with a breakdown of faith and morals, to say nothing of ecclesiastical discipline.
  7. Cf. Mary Farrow, “Spirituality Year: How a break in academics helps prepare men for priesthood.” Catholic News Agency (November 8, 2020). The propaedeutic year is not necessarily a particular judgment upon an individual applicant. An Ordinary might have made a prudential judgment requiring the year for all his seminarians.
  8. Boniface Ramsey, O.P. (trans.), John Cassian: The Institutes (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2000), 79ff.
  9. Cf. PPF 35–36.
  10. PPF 36, 43.
  11. Cf. PPF 34, 39.
  12. Cf. PPF 42.
  13. For some powerful reflections upon these problems, see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Difficulties confronting the faith in Europe today.” Vatican Website (May 2, 1989).
  14. Ben Feuerherd, “Priest arrested for having threesome with corset-wearing dominatrices on church altar.” New York Post (October 8, 2020).
  15. J.D. Flynn, “After ‘demonic’ desecration, Louisiana church reconsecrated as details about priest emerge.” Catholic News Agency (October 12, 2020).
  16. Take, for example, the case of Robert McWilliams from the Diocese of Cleveland. He appears to have kept his proclivities hidden from his seminary formators. See Judy Roberts, “The Formation of a New Priest Who Abused Minors: How Did He Slip Past Seminary Screening Policies?” National Catholic Register (October 6, 2021). Sadly, McWilliams died by apparent suicide while incarcerated.
  17. CCC 1869.
  18. S. Congregatio pro Institutione Catholicae, Vocationes adultorum as found in Erminio Lora (edit.), Enchiridion Vaticanum, vol. 5 (Edizioni Dehoniane Bologna, 1979), 1372ff.
  19. The Church’s concern with adult vocations is that they are less malleable. Insofar as it goes, this concern has some merit. Adult vocations would typically come to a seminary with a life experience behind them. On average, they have held down a job (and received a commensurate training), kept a roof over their head, food on a table, perhaps even had to provide for extended relations. Adult vocations are likely to approach seminary formation having already received what I will here call “life training.” Will this training conflict with seminary training? It might, but not by necessity. Ideally, their “life training” should complement seminary life, as truth cannot contradict truth. Their human formation (presuming that it is appropriate) should not conflict with a healthy program of priestly formation. If some conflict does arise, then that must be examined thoroughly, with dignity and due diligence afforded to all parties.
  20. This level of maturation presumes a basic level of formation, which, as we have seen, is lacking in contemporary U.S. culture. Nevertheless, it remains a distinct possibility for those who honestly strive to live the Faith and the grace afforded to us in the Sacraments.
  21. Cf. Congregation for the Clergy, The Gift of the Priestly Vocation (2016), paragraph 46.
  22. Gift of the Priestly Vocation, 47.
  23. Hiram Corson, The Satires of Decimus Junius Juvenalis (Philadelphia: Charles Desilver, Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1868), 94.
  24. The system becomes an object to be preserved, the status quo. Seminarians must understand that the system will preserve itself and know quite well how to play the long game. Before it, seminarians are nothing more than a useless cog and easily discarded if it is decided that they will not “work” with the system.
  25. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (London: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2000), 169.
  26. This type of response might work with matters involving no real substance, but what about more substantial matters like liturgical law?
  27. Archbishop Charles Chaput, “A Little Wisdom from Bernard.” First Things (October 21, 2021).
  28. Some seminarians already have a disposition within their characters to be desirous for power. They learn very quickly the power structure, how to wield it, as well as how to obtain it themselves. For them, being obsequious is a means to prove that they can be a “team player” as they continue along the path, as it is called, of “scaling the Roman ladder.”
  29. For younger seminarians with little to no frames of reference about life, compromising is easier. It is not as easy with adult vocations.
  30. Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II:II, q. 138, a. 1. For some considerations on “being pastoral,” see Fr. Charles Fox, “What does it mean to be ‘pastoral?’Catholic World Report (May 3, 2021).
  31. Homily of Archbishop Samuel Aquila during the closing Mass of the SEEK Conference. January, 2019.
  32. “How to Think” (1955): <>.
  33. Cf. Address of Pope Paul VI During the Last General Meeting of the Second Vatican Council (December 7, 1965).
  34. Pope Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiæ: AAS 48 (1956), 360.
  35. A former seminarian once painted a picture for me about applying to be a seminarian for his diocese. His bishop was rather laissez-faire, entrusting the process to other people. After everything else had been handled, the time came for the formal decision to accept or reject the man as a seminarian. That, of course, must be done by the bishop, who, in this case, basically rubber-stamped the decision already made by his vocations staff. Contrast this bishop with two others known to me. A (younger) bishop plays football with his seminarians. Another (older) bishop gave his seminarians his personal cell phone number, telling them that they were to call him for anything.
  36. It’s clear from context that the Council Fathers did not intend for this to be the case.
  37. Pope Francis, “Motu Proprio «Traditionis Custodes» sull’uso della Liturgia Romana Anteriore alla Riforma del 1970.” Vatican Website (July 16, 2021).
  38. A present example is the recent Christmas Eve Mass at St. Sabina’s parish in Chicago with Fr. Michael L. Pfleger. For more information, see Shannon Mullen, “Uproar over Chicago Mass: Did this Christmas Eve liturgy go too far?Catholic News Agency (December 30, 2021). See the video here.
Kevin Symonds About Kevin Symonds

Kevin Symonds lives in North Dakota. He received his B.A. and M.A. in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He writes on various Catholic topics, especially the Church's private revelation. He has appeared on various television and Internet programs. You can visit him at his website:


  1. Excellent article Kevin! One question, Do you have any thoughts and ideas of how this relates to hiring within the Churches? Say for instance, parish life director, religious education teachers etc.. From a lay persons perspective I have to wonder how so many uninformed Catholics end up getting these positions and continue as an extension of the priest’s poor formation.

  2. Avatar John Lamont says:

    One fundamental problem (I speak as someone who has experience in teaching seminarians) is a faulty understanding of discipline in seminary formation. Real discipline does not consist in inculcating blind obedience; it comes from being required to do difficult tasks to an exacting standard. However, it is blind obedience that is taught and required in most seminary formation at the present, and the capacity to perform at a high level is considered optional or even undesirable. Two features of seminary formation are especially important here; the abandonment of the traditional Latin liturgy, and the abandonment of the Latin language. The demands of the traditional Latin liturgy have been addressed by the author of this valuable article. Command of the Latin language is another essential component of the high standards that should be required of priests. The idea that Jewish rabbis need not have a good grasp of Hebrew would never even be considered by Jews; it would be considered too laughable and absurd to mention. Among religious Jews, every adult Jewish man is required to understand enough Hebrew to participate in Jewish prayer. That is what a bar mitzvah is for; it is just a demonstration of the ability to read Hebrew. But the idea that Roman Catholic priests – the men specifically charged with religious teaching – should be able to operate in Latin, the religious language of the Latin rite, is now not even considered. If suggested, it would probably be rejected with as much disdain as the suggestion that rabbis should not need Hebrew would be rejected by Jews. The fact that this requirement was in fact imposed on priests in the past, some of whom are still in ministry, would not persuade anyone to the contrary. Nor would the basic consideration that a human community requires a common language in order to exist as a single community, so that the loss of the ability – formerly universal among Roman Catholic priests – to understand and even to speak Latin means the disintegration of the Catholic Church as a single community, influence Catholic formators. Of course most of these formators would never have been ordained themselves, if the high standards of real discipline had been applied to them. This mediocrity and consequent incompetence and corruption is at the root of many of the problems identified in this article.