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In praise of today’s seminarians

A great deal has in fact been accomplished in the last 15 years, and it’s important that the people of the Church know it.

Father James Rafferty, director of mission and communication with the Institute for Priestly Formation, discusses the temptation of Jesus in the desert during a class for seminarians June 11, 2019, at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. (CNS photo/Mike May, Catholic Voice)

If you’re feeling a bit down about the future of Catholicism in the United States, ask yourself these questions: Why haven’t American seminaries emptied over the past 16 months, as Crisis 2.0 continues to roil the U.S. Church and an aggressive media regularly puts Catholicism in the worst possible public light? Why haven’t the McCarrick affair, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the Bransfield affair, and other revelations of episcopal misgovernance (and worse) caused a mass exodus of young men from priestly formation? Can you name another profession, regularly subjected to media ridicule and popular caricature, to which young men are applying in greater numbers than 20 years ago?

I’ve been in and around seminaries and seminarians for 54 years now. I knew seminaries and seminarians during the Really Bad Patch of the post-conciliar years. And I have watched with admiration as seminary formators — not unlike the relatively junior officers who reformed the U.S. military after the debacle of Vietnam — have taken a set of severe problems in hand and put a venerable institution, essential to the Catholic future, on a much more solid foundation. Is there more to be done, in refining recruitment of students for the priesthood and reforming American seminaries? Undoubtedly (and a few suggestions will follow below).

But a great deal has in fact been accomplished in the last 15 years, and it’s important that the people of the Church know it.

Last month, I had the pleasure of working with two seminarians in the 28th annual meeting of the seminar on Catholic social doctrine I am privileged to lead in Cracow. Like other future priests who have been part of the program over the past quarter-century, these men were impressive: intellectually alert and engaged; deeply pious without being cloyingly sentimental; able to interact with (and offer a real witness to) fellow-students in a multinational context of Catholic men and women; much more mature than I remember seminarians being four decades ago. If there has been a winnowing of candidates for the priesthood since Crisis 1.0 in 2002, and if that sifting has continued in the wake of Crisis 2.0, then what has remained, and what is coming through the pipeline, is very good news indeed.

I am not so naïve or romantic as to believe that the seminarians with whom I’ve worked in recent years are men immune to personal challenges: not least from a toxic culture that constantly tells them that their commitment to celibate love is at best a delusion and at worst pathological. What impresses me about the seminarians I interact with today is that they fully recognize those challenges and are facing them through an intensified life of prayer, fraternal solidarity, and a deeper commitment to the truths of Catholic faith.

Other Catholics may deny that Crisis 1.0 and Crisis 2.0 are, at bottom, crises of fidelity, exacerbated by doctrinal and moral dissent. These guys know that’s the case; they live what they know; and they want to spend their lives helping others live the beauty of love as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 and modeled by Christ in Ephesians 5:1-2.

So what needs further fixing in 21st-century seminaries? Theology must be taught so that an immersion in this intellectual discipline produces pastors capable of inviting others into friendship with the Lord Jesus — and knowing what that friendship means. Biblical studies must focus on biblical theology far more than textual dissection, so that future homilists know how to invite their congregants to “see” the world through a Scriptural lens. Lay professionals should be further incorporated into priestly formation and seminarian evaluation — especially orthodox, joyful Catholic women (including wives and mothers) who may be able to spot problems, and help young men address them, that more traditional formators may miss. Bishops must invest more personal time with their seminarians (as they should invest more time with their priests), inviting them into a fraternity of mutual support — and, if necessary, correction.

The seminarians I work with know that, in seeking the priesthood of the Catholic Church under 21st-century cultural and political circumstances, they’re taking a great risk, including the risk of martyrdom (which comes in many forms). Their happy embrace of, and their determination to prepare well for a life of risk is perhaps the most impressive thing about them. They deserve our thanks, our support, and our solidarity in prayer.

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About George Weigel 468 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. What I’d like to know is whether the gay mafia in the seminaries have been eradicated. Because unless that has been done, then it is same old, same old.

    How many seminaries are still run by these homosexual cabal? After all, the likes of Cupic and Tobin are in power. How do we know that it is not happening in the their turf? What would a seminarian be like under Cupich, Tobin, Gregory McElroy? Surely the rectors of this seminaries owe their positions to these bad men?

    • Thank you Mr. Santos for facing the reality that the author ignores.

      Mr. Wiegel generally reduces reality to tidy “optimistic” narratives, and seems averse to getting to the facts, which “are not so tidy.”

      Until there is transparency to expose and call to account and drive out this appalling McCarrick Establishment, I will not be drinking from Mr. Wiegel’s “lemonade.”

      Because I care about my children too much to buy into this appeal for “quietude.”

  2. Are you even Catholic? That is a horrible set of comments you made. You are badly, or deliberately, mistaken. I will pray for you.

    • I have been involved in priestly formation work for decades and concur completely with the analysis of Prof. Weigel. My own seminary experience was abysmal; thankfully, the situation has improved exponentially. My only concern is that there is a tendency toward anti-intellectualism among some of the younger priests and seminarians — which is very unhealthy. Further, I know of no seminary that is controlled by a “gay mafia” and to suggest that without offering proof is gravely sinful.
      Some of the above comments can provide a good explanation as to why we do not have more candidates for the Sacred Priesthood — snide, nasty, and calumnious. It is also why not a few parents discourage their sons from moving toward the priesthood — the anti-clericalism they don’t want their sons to endure from ungrateful, carping would-be parishioners.

      • Father Stravinskas, as an eminent priest, is it really fair to call the heartfelt comments in this thread snide, nasty, and calumnious — and even to say that to suggest there are seminaries run by a gay mafia without proof is gravely sinful (that is cause for eternal damnation)?
        It is very difficult to actually prove anything; but aren’t we as Catholics allowed to express our sense of things as we best understand them?
        After all, aren’t we still reeling from the hideous revelation that a top bishop in the United States, Theodore McCarrick, was a practicing homosexual and seducer of seminarians?
        Are we not allowed to wonder if other bishops knew of it, and did not speak out appropriately; and even if other bishops approved?
        After a betrayal less than 20 years ago by our bishops; and being told that the problem was definitively corrected; and now being gut-punched again by another betrayal — Crisis 2.0 — isn’t it understandable that we are seriously wounded and more than a little suspicious?
        Haven’t laypeople in America been told for decades to trust our bishops and priests while they were in many case committing the most abominable crimes against humanity, especially our young?
        Weren’t we told that laypeople couldn’t possibly appreciate all of the dynamics of administering a diocese? And, after all, what proof did we have that predator priests were being allowed to savage our parishes?
        Furthermore, if it is dissent from basic Catholic teachings that is the root cause of this continuing crisis, do we hear much from our bishops today to reassure us that they are the true proponents of authentic Catholicism (and not mindless espousers of the most trite political correctness of worldly secularism)?
        Perhaps I’m wrong in my understanding of the current situation of the Catholic Church in America and beyond. It’s difficult to weigh the good and the bad in proper proportion, even in our own times.
        It is good to hear from Mr. Weigel and commenters here that there is much good going on among us as Catholics in America; and yet I can’t help but wonder if their is much rot left to be uncovered, and much shame to be exposed; and even much mediocrity that causes many parishes to be sentenced to a sickening, malaise.
        So please, Father Stravinskas, do not reproach those of us who cry out in anger and pain and sadness and frustration about the state of the Catholic Church as we perceive it. We may not have proof, but it seems we are right to have real suspicions.
        Thus it seems good to speak our minds, and pour out our hearts, without being considered malicious and even damnable.
        I am quite open to my perceptions being corrected; I am truly sorry for any excesses in this comment; and I am prayerfully rooting for the Catholic Church to right her ways and display her glory — but please don’t discourage us as children of the Church from speaking out on the most heinous of abuses from our spiritual fathers, and even the deadening discouragement of crushing mediocrity.
        Sincerely trying to speak the truth with love, Father Peter, and praying you all of the best in body and soul, for this life and the next.

    • “Child, I’ve been a practicing Catholic for nearly twenty years”

      “Child,” you need a lot more practice, because you don’t seem to be doing a very good job.

      Convey my sympathies to your parish priest, and to any others who have the misfortune of having to deal with you.

    • Where do you live? I’ve been a practicing Catholic for 67 years, and I have been privileged to know a plethora of good holy priests. While it did seem for a while that we weren’t recruiting the “cream of the crop” (how could we with seminaries catering to homosexuals), the latest group of newly ordained priests are top notch! Thanks to the Holy Spirit, we really couldn’t ask for better! When I wrote my bishop about the McCarrick scandal he got back to me right away, assuring me that our diocese’s seminarians want everyone to know that they are dedicated to the disciplines of the Church! I pray that you come in contact with some of our holy priests very soon! God bless you!

  3. “Sure, some small percentage of these men will work hard and be dedicated pastors,…” And THOSE are the ones we pray that our Blessed Lord give the courage and fortitude to persevere under such a bombardment of discouraging comments and thoughts. There are pockets out there that Mr. Weigel is speaking of and people need to know they exist. While it can be overwhelming, (And boy it is overwhelming at times) I have seen it, the bravery, courage, and intelect these young men have. Mr. Weigel is right, it is small right now but orthodox, smart, courageous young men are entering GOOD Seminaries. It is there, and we must continue to pray for them and ask our Blessed Lord to continue to bring us good and faithful priests and convert the hearts of those who are just poorly formed or just lazy, that they will offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the reverence and respect it deserves. Read the Black, Do the Red. Good Thoughts, Good Prayers. God wins, ALWAYS.

  4. By “losers” do you mean they don’t play professional sports? run a multibillion dollar corporation? Write NYT Best Sellers? Those are not real men either. You sound pretty angry. Get counseling, but a Catholic Counselor I beg you. Psychiatry is a failed new order religion. BE careful.

    It is ironic that you are lumping all priests together because of a few bad examples. THis is akin to Racism!

    May God heal your wounds.

  5. I wish you could come to Arkansas and see the incredible young men the Diocese is producing, we have been truly Blessed in the last 15 years.

  6. Hoping that the book In Sinu Jesu would be a good read , good ongoing read , in front of the Blessed Sacrament , where in our Lord often reiterates His love for His priests , even the fallen ones , for us all too .
    Good to hear How Cardnl Vigano also likes this book and hopefully has given up on the desire to have to let the whole world to keep focus on the weaknesses of those who fell, instead , to do what the book so lovingly recommends , for the good of
    all .
    The healing for the wounds , even the generational wounds from contempt for The Church , flaring up when faced with the the same contempt from those whose company one might have left , to enter The Church ; now feeling betrayed that , that tinge of vainglory , from the desire to be seen as a courageous modern day martyr has not worked out exactly as expected , that The Lord had instead planned for one to drink from the cup of betrayals , a cup overflowing , also because of the churches that pretend to be faithful , unless it is about those money loosing areas of support for life and related realms .
    Interesting how many of the most vehement criticisms around are from this category of persons .
    Let us hope that it would be seen as mirror of own deep wounds , to be taken unto the Eucharistic Lord , whose friends are powerful , yet uneducated ( in a worldly sense ) saints such as St.Faustina , who was seen also as a loser by some in her life , even as an eccentric !
    Thank You Mother Church , for not giving up on any of Your children , instead seeing the gift and potential in the life of all, helping to bring forth saints such
    as St.Augustine .

  7. I totally disagree with your comments if I were to consider all the young priests that I have had the gift of assisting at Mass with here and abroad these past 2 years. Except for one, all of the newly-and-recently ordained priests I know were successful men in their professional careers before entering the seminary. One thing common among them: they exude a certain air of seriousness and a no-nonsense take on what is holy.

  8. The Archdiocese of St. John Vianney Seminary and the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity have been bringing my archdiocese holy and spirit filled priests and the Seminary has been full for years.
    I am so blessed to live in this area where I know that the majority of the parishes have holy men in charge and those who do not, well, we know not to go there.

  9. “Any criticism of a priest, even one made respectfully in private,”

    Yeah, I can imagine how “respectful” your criticisms are, judging by the spite and venom that you spew.

  10. Based on the time of night you were writing, I can understand the cause of your vitriol. The men who enter the seminary today are some of the most courageous and faithful Catholics I know. God Bless them for their work and dedication to preserve Holy Mother Church for the future.

  11. B Jackson, I am praying for you. For the sake of your soul, please get yourself an early night’s sleep (no post-midnight internet rage-ranting in the spirit of scornfulness which you’ve chosen to share with the devil), and turn to Christ in prayer. Let him love you into sharing his merciful heart for others. Ask him for his generosity of spirit, his humility, and his prudence with his tongue.

    Your words online this past midnight put you to shame. Please pray to God to grant you true repentance for your sins, and freedom from the chains that bind you to attraction to slander and other unbalanced, malicious speech (especially making yourself a cause of scandal through persistently publishing this speech online), and come home to God in the sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation. And after receiving reconciliation with God through the ministry of your local priest, please pray to God in thanks for the ministry of your local priest, that God sends you a priest to serve you sacramentally in spite of your sins.

    Yes, there are legitimate corrections to be offered at different times to different brothers and sisters. This includes our priests. And this includes you. But legitimate correction must be offered in a spirit of gentleness and love… and nothing you posted online, spitting on our priests who have devoted their lives to serving God, met that criteria. Please receive yourself the correction your brothers and sisters are offering you here in love. God is sending you correction for your own good.

    May God bless you, and all of us who are your brothers and sisters.

    In Christ,

  12. Bonshika Jackson you are very likely looking at a reflection of what is in your own heart. A terrible lack of charity is what comes through. Revisit Jesus’ words about hypocrisy and dwell on them – the plank in your own eye comes to mind. I am sorry for your disillusionment, but be consoled that Jesus has said he would clean up his Church and the evidence is coming through loud and clear. So be not unduly dismayed except about your own defects. May the Holy Spirit guide you in your reflections.

  13. About ‘carping’ parishioners – this calls to mind Jesus’ comment to Debra of Australia in the 90’s when he said, “carping criticism is equal to cursing … and scriptures show that curses come true.” (remember Jericho for example.) Carping criticism is an expression of egotism, even of making an idol of oneself. One can understand how God loves humility.

  14. As a newly ordained priest I can only speak of my experience at Borromeo Seminary (Diocese of Cleveland) and St. Vincent Seminary (St. Vincent Archabbey – Latrobe, Penn.). Both are solid institutions with orthodox moral theology and strongly faithful leadership that don’t tolerate sexual misbehavior and aberrant behavior in seminary. While both had some acknowledged periods of bizarre theology and behavior in the 1970s and 1980s, the situation is vastly improved today. As for the “losers” comment by one poster above, the great majority of men I studied with (ranging in age from 20 to 62) would not fit that definition at all, although a few of the younger ones did sometimes lack the emotional maturity that comes with age. What I observed was devoted and prayerful men, many of whom had stepped forward not due to an obvious call or vocation but because they believed that it was the right thing to do in a Church and world that are collapsing around us. Sadly, many of the men in our society with the obvious call or vocation are not answering the call due to parental pressures and the disdain for chastity in an unchaste world. Therefore, other men have to look into their hearts and accept the challenge of seminary and service to God’s Church and people.

  15. To keep our expectations of really knowing the priestly mentality at a minimum, all I would like to know is, what percentage of RC priests approve of or allow the girl altar servers to wear high heeled shoes while serving at the holy altar.

  16. I would like to concur with George and Fr. Stravinskas. I am by and large impressed by MANY of the men entering serminary, having worked with some of them myself. That said, #not_all Chris in Maryland is correct about continuing concern with the gay mafia who continue to exert influence in our seminaries and Ms. Jackson is correct that many candidates and priests are mediocre at best. Without good FATHERS, both in the home, our parishes, and our chancelleries candidates for the priesthood will continue to be a mixed bag. That said, I must fault George for making the hugely politically correct statement that “Lay professionals … especially orthodox, joyful Catholic women (including wives and mothers) who may be able to spot problems”. Its not that I disagree, in fact two of my favorite professors in seminary were Catholic women, BUT rather than bowing to the feminist narrative why not suggest that we need BOTH Catholic mothers and FATHERS. While Catholic women can spot problems and challenge candidates Proverbs reminds us: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Good priest fathers are important but so are married men who are willing to take up a secondary vocation to form holy men out of the often spiritually orphaned boys that our society produces.

  17. Bonshika Jackson:

    Given the general crisis of masculinity in urban areas it should not be shocking that this has affected candidates to the priesthood as well – Leon Podles would claim that this problem goes back even further than the “sexual revolution” but regardless, many of the dioceses (I am referring to both clergy and the lay faithful) have failed to raise their sons to be manly men. Instead they continue to capitulate to the spirit of the world, which includes feminism.

  18. Bonshika Jackson Sounds like you haven’t met any of them, while there is the odd immature one trying to start at the seminaries, they are being turned away if there is any doubt, and the vast majority of the are very mature for their age, How do I know ? my eldest son is newly ordained and he gave up his normal life to do this, all on his own, and we didn’t push him into it. he and his fellow seminarians are not socially awkward or any of the insulting labels you blanketed on them, they are just normal guys with a very special calling. and I can assure you my son for one didn’t have any trouble impressing the girls before he went there, he just said everything in the so called “normal life” seemed empty to him and he had a strong calling to become a priest. Becoming a priest isn’t something you just give your whole life up for, if it is not a genuine calling, and they are busier than you think too. In the post v2 days it was a lot more laid back, they let the ones you mention slip through, and that is why we have problems.

  19. Wow! When I read the comments, especially those of B. Jackson I wonder why any man would want to be a priest. My thoughts on men who desire to be a priest, is that God does not need the Best and the Brightest to make a faithful priest. God only needs those that are willing to answer his call and serve Him in all humility and faithfulness. No matter how well each priest serves God and the faithful of his parish, the Jacksons of the world are always around in many forms. We must pray that as Catholic we raise boys as solid God fearing men, pray that God blesses us with men willing to accept God call, and then pray for our priests as they serve God.

  20. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. May the Lord of the harvest invite many more zealous laborers to his vineyard.

  21. I despise this article totally as I was sexually abused like crazy when I was in formation at a Trappist Monastery in the American South as well as in a Third Order Franciscan Friary in the Mountains in Pennsylvania 20 Years ago.

    All the time the Formators in both Religious Houses would tell me such crap like The Blessed Mother and The Eucharistic Lord told them to perform on me.

    Rape and Gang Rape was the order of the day in those Religious Houses.

    I do not live in the United States anymore but I am still crying out for Justice.

    I was robbed of my Virginity and Dignity when I was in formation by the Gay Mafia that rules the roost in Liberal and Heretical Trappist Monasteries and Franciscan Friaries.

    • I grieve for what you endured. I hope that you find peace, and justice.

      You mentioned that what happened to you happened 20 years ago. The article says “But a great deal has in fact been accomplished in the last 15 years, and it’s important that the people of the Church know it.”

      • Leslie,

        Many Thanks For writing To Me.

        Yes, It is true that what I suffered happened 20 years ago. But and this is very important I am in touch with certain people in the United States who tell me that now the situation at those very Religious Houses where I was 20 years ago is much worse now as it was then.

        It is my contention that 75 % of Trappist Monks and Franciscan Friars are Gay and it is not odd to hear about them acting out their Unnatural Sexual Desires with anyone they come across.

        It is also my contention that The Abbots and Provincials are extremely Spineless and really 20 Years has not made a difference in the situation on the ground.

        A Few Months back, I thought of killing myself because it riles me what i went through but I know now that the Eucharistic Messiah has a bigger plan for me either as a Single Chaste Person or as a Married Person.

  22. The comments here are very interesting. Unfortunately, I actually have to side with B Jackson for most of my 40 years of practicing the faith. Until one lady popped her head into my theology class (I was a rookie teacher), my experience with the priesthood was not far off Ms. Jackson. My childhood parish housed multiple pederastic predators. The whole truth was never preached. That colleague suggested that I attend the only parish in the area that used Latin in the Mass. This was before the Motu Proprio …Finally after 25 years, I found the pearl of great price. My days at my childhood St. Mediocre Parish were numbered, and it had a reputation of being more traditional.

    Sadly, I have seen data that newly ordained priests are just as modernist as 20 years ago especially regarding contraception. I have talked to them, and it leaves me sad. I am encouraged that a few young priests want to learn the Latin Mass, but they are still outnumbered and often sent to the boon docks or to sensitivity training by the heterodox bishop. It has happened 5 times in the last 2 years in my and neighboring dioceses.

    I feel you Ms. Jackson and I believe many Catholic prognosticators believe we are past Crisis 2.0 and things will get better shortly. I do not share their positivism …. This is the Passion of the church, and it must happen. I suggest you find the nearest Latin Mass Parish and pray for the clergy who have lost their way. There are few options for someone who wants the Catholic Truth and an abuse free Mass. I am blessed to have found a home in the local Latin Mass community and a Catholic School where I am free to teach Christ Crucified. I agree that we should staunchly call out clergy who seek only power and comfort before Truth, holiness, and reverence, for Canon Law demands it, but it must commenced with prayer and a true desire for the salvation of souls.

  23. I’ve been reading about how “today’s seminarians” are far more orthodox for at least two decades (remember all the hype about “JPII priests”?), yet here we are, in a very sad state of affairs.

    Get back to me in a couple more decades to let me know what (if any) effect today’s orthodox seminarians have on the Church.

  24. Don’t tell that to the Grand Inquisitor, Weigel. Everything is just fine and what isn’t will just go away by selling more books.

  25. It is my understanding, which may be incorrect, that current candidates for admission to a diocesan seminary are often investigated on the assumption that they may turn out to be a quarter million dollar liability in a sex abuse settlement.

  26. B Jackson, you sure are making a lot of judgments for someone claiming the moral and intellectual high ground. As if YOU personally know and have the authority to judge every single priest and seminarian. Very sad if you remain stubbornly blind to your own hypocrisy.

  27. Might I suggest that instead of people making speculations ABOUT seminarians, you might instead actually learn about them by meeting them personally? And not just preaching at them your opinions, but meeting them as a person and establishing a relationship.
    The truth is that most seminarians are just normal guys answering God’s call. We enjoy a diverse number of things normal men enjoy- from sports, games, traveling, and cooking, to running races, writing, painting, and music.
    Many men are highly orthodox leaning, but it is foolish to make sweeping statements about “they are all THIS way or THAT way.”
    Meet some seminarians. Pray for them. Please and thank you.

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