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Monday, December 16, 2002 6:57 a.m.
Why Are They Out To Get Michael Rose?
DID HE STEP ON THOSE BLUE SUEDE SHOES?
by Jay McNally

This article appears in the December 2002 issue of New Oxford Review.

Michael S. Rose photoWhile Michael Rose's newest book has been hailed by many of America's most respected Catholic commentators as one of the most important books in decades, the reception by conservative Catholic publications has been mixed: Some, such as the NOR, The Wanderer, Inside the Vatican, and Homiletic & Pastoral Review have been positive; others have been harshly critical. Regular readers of the NOR are familiar with this ongoing story. This journal (Sept. 2002) commented on the negative reviews published in Our Sunday Visitor and the .

The criticism can be nasty, such as the Visitor's denunciatory headline, "Goodbye! Scurrilous Journalist?" The criticism can be personally motivated, as when Features Editor of the Register ventilated his ire with Rose (pictured at left) for scrutinizing a personal friend of the editor who, as Vocations Recruiter for the Diocese of Providence, advertised for priestly vocations on the soft-porn cable channel MTV. The editor was so livid that he admitted that he had not read the book, save for the two pages on his friend, and that he had no intention of ever reading it.

Also telling is the self-righteousness and even hypocritical nature of some of the criticism. The Register's Editor said in an Editor's Note that a basic weakness of Rose's book is his use of some anonymous sources: "It's bad journalism to base an investigative report on the testimony of an anonymous source...." Yet, the very that the Register offers as an example of "responsible" journalism on the very topic of seminary chicanery -- an article that appeared in the Register -- quotes many anonymous sources. This double standard is detailed in NOR's "The Register Steps Into the Ring" (Sept. 2002).

These criticisms of Rose appear to tell us more about the critics than they do about Rose. This hostility to Rose comes from publications -- the Visitor and the Register -- not known for tenacious investigative reporting on matters within the Church. Indeed, they tend to soft-pedal and even back-pedal on tough subjects, particularly when something might be embarrassing to the hierarchy, which would be just about everything Rose touches on Goodbye, Good Men.

A tangential incident illustrates this point: Two years ago I wrote an investigative piece for about the homosexual priests' Internet chat-room group, St. Sebastian's Angels, which had as its mentor South African Bishop Reginald Cawcutt. Previous to this report, only The Wanderer published accurate details and no other Catholic newspaper called Steve Brady, who uncovered the serious scandal, which involved priests and chancery officials from many different dioceses. Some of the 55 members who chatted on the site said they worked in vocations recruitment, including Bishop Cawcutt, and some admitted they were on the lookout to welcome active homosexuals into the seminary. Shortly after my article was published I happened to be at an event attended by a key figure at a major Catholic publication. When he was asked why his publication totally ignored the incredible scandal of St. Sebastian's Angels, he replied, "I would have been fired the next day" -- by his bishop.

Thus, it was not until this year that Bishop Cawcutt finally resigned and several unapologetic members of the group were forced quit their parish posts -- and only after the secular press published articles about the group. As far as the vast majority of the Catholic newspapers was concerned, the ongoing scandal of the priests involved in St. Sebastian's was a non-story. Could this be because many Catholic editors were wary of losing their jobs?

The Editor of the Register apparently let slip the working policy at many Catholic publications in his chastisement of Rose in his Editor's Note: "What's more, for Catholics, the impugning of people's reputations -- particularly those of priests and bishops -- constitutes grave matter" (italics added).

"[Rose] is not reckless, he is not extreme, he is an intelligent, balanced guy. It just looks to me as though Rose is being subjected to a standard of evidence not used for other books by other authors."
-- Philip Lawler, Editor of The Catholic World Report

Phil Lawler, who has more than a dozen years experience in the Catholic press, as Editor of The Boston Pilot, and most recently nearly a decade at The Catholic World Report, said he has followed the unfolding drama over Rose's book. "Some of the more intemperate critics seem to be talking about a guy I've never met," said Lawler, who has worked with Rose for several years and published many long articles by him, including based on the contents of his then-forthcoming Goodbye, Good Men. "He is not reckless, he is not extreme, he is an intelligent, balanced guy." Lawler continued: "It just looks to me as though Rose is being subjected to a standard of evidence not used for other books by other authors. People are being overly anxious to separate themselves from him. My guess is there is a lot of pressure. A lot of people [in the Catholic press] are saying they are upset with the book, are trying to convince bishops and others that they are 'mainstream' and not extremist. The point seems to be to make yourself look more moderate by making others look more extreme."

Fr. Robert J. JohansenThe most outrageous commentary on Rose and his book has come from a previously unknown writer, Fr. Rob Johansen, a 37-year-old priest ordained last year for the Diocese of Kalamazoo in western Michigan.

Fr. Johansen (pictured at left) seems to have set the tone other Catholic publications and Internet personalities that have attacked Rose. His review of the book in Culture Wars magazine was the first published review. (Fr. Johansen's book review is on the Culture Wars website, but Rose's rebuttal is not. Rose's response is at www.cruxnews.com.)

Fr. Johansen has managed to leverage his influence since he also operates an Internet based web log, or "blog" site, that is part of an informal network of web-based Catholic writers (including Amy Welborn and Mark Shea) who continually and admiringly quote one another. Fr. Johansen is also quite adept at using e-mail to quickly spread his venom about Rose to influential Catholics in the press and elsewhere.

Here is a brief litany of some of his more "colorful" comments (from various sources):

* "In short, Michael Rose is dishonest and cannot be trusted."

* "[Rose] cannot be trusted to tell the Truth.... so [Rose] resorts to innuendo: The tactic adopted by liars and rumor-mongers everywhere."

* "Michael Rose ... has again shown himself to be willing to stoop to unfair and unethical tactics by publishing his self-serving, inaccurate, and dishonest 'response' to my review."

* "Innuendo is par for the course with Michael Rose."

* "...Real people have been unjustly served by Rose's 'little' lies...."

* "Goodbye! Truth, Good Bye! Integrity"

In early June Fr. Johansen sent out e-mail messages to friends that were almost instantly circulating among Catholic media professionals boasting that EWTN's Raymond Arroyo had canceled an interview with Rose because of concerns about Rose's veracity, and that Rose was being sued by two priests. However, these factual claims are simply not true. Nevertheless, Fr. Johansen published this false information via e-mail, and he has, as of this writing, yet to be publicly criticized for this by any of the critics of Michael Rose.

While no priest has sued Rose, Fr. Johansen doubled the number of priests allegedly suing Rose to four in his off-air comments to a radio show producer (, WDEO/Detroit-Ann Arbor) that was then spread to others in the Catholic press. Again, not true.

Fr. Johansen's factual claims here are simply not true. Nevertheless, Fr. Johansen published this false information via e-mail, and he has, as of this writing, yet to be publicly criticized for this by any of the critics of Michael Rose.

What's Michael Rose to do when an authority figure such as a priest is spreading serious misinformation about him, and other Catholic journalists are spreading these falsehoods? Rose told me this: "Just about every time I tried to communicate with Fr. Johansen either by phone or by e-mail, he wound up twisting things I said and imputing the worst motives to me. I'd say things to him in good faith, and I'd see my comments in print, twisted into some incredible conspiracy to lie and cheat. He's called me a liar repeatedly and ascribed to me motives that were simply not true. I decided I had had enough and, in consultation with other well-known Catholic journalists, decided my only recourse was to claim my rights and discuss a formal retraction for the falsehoods he wrote about me." Rose's efforts to communicate with Fr. Johansen proved futile, so Rose took up a Catholic attorney's offer to challenge Fr. Johansen to the either back up his claims or .

The attorney asked for a retraction of the e-mail messages, and Fr. Johansen complied with a very limited "clarification" on his blog site admitting that he relied on second-hand information -- the type of "rumor-mongering" he accused Rose of engaging in (which Rose didn't). Fr. Johansen also admitted he had no personal knowledge of what he was writing about.

Curiously, a careful reading of the transcript of Fr. Johansen's commentary during an hour-long interview on [August 8, 2002] on Rose's book reveals that Fr. Johansen agrees with the overall premises of Rose's book, and even acknowledges that he himself ran into the very sort of seminary problems that Rose describes.

And here are a couple items from Fr. Johansen's review that are favorable to Rose: "I met with some of the same difficulties and obstacles faced by 'orthodox' seminary candidates that Rose describes in his book.... I know both from personal experience and that of many other priests and seminarians that many of Rose's allegations are true...."

Given that Fr. Johansen is able to say such agreeable things, one wonders just what is at the root of his campaign against Rose.

Fr. Johansen offers a good clue in his response to Rose's rebuttal to the Culture Wars review. He was fuming because Rose gave one-third of a page in his 264-page book to an ex-seminarian's account of psychological abuse at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Fr. Johansen's alma mater.

A huge portion of Fr. Johansen's review of Goodbye, Good Men deals not with the book itself, but with Rose's publication two years earlier of an interview with that ex-seminarian in St. Catherine Review. In that interview the ex-seminarian was highly critical of Sacred Heart Major Seminary (SHS). He criticized SHS for many things, much of which was denied by certain people at SHS in several forums, including letters to the editor of the NOR (Feb. 2001 and March 2001).

In his review of the book, Fr. Johansen claimed that including the ex-seminarian's words in that one-third of a page presented a major credibility problem for Rose. (Rose explained why it was not a problem in his rebuttal.)

But there's more: In Rose's pre-publication manuscript intended for comment, proofreading, and fact-checking -- not for book reviews -- he incorrectly wrote that the ex-seminarian, who had left SHS, was now at a monastery. Rose was apprised of this error -- by me -- and corrected it for the final book.

Unbeknownst to Rose, Fr. Johansen was given this manuscript -- clearly marked "private use only" -- by E. Michael Jones, Editor and Publisher of Culture Wars.

Jones wrote to Rose in a February 6 letter that "I have also sent the manuscript out for review, and should get detailed comments by early March, so that you can make use of the critique if you want to make any revisions."

Rose said: "At this point I still did not have my final draft finished for book reviews and I understood that Jones was having an as yet unnamed priest do the same kind of fact-checking and editorial comment that others were doing. I had no idea it was Fr. Johansen, and that he was going to write a review based on the manuscript."

Meanwhile, Fr. Johansen wrote his first draft of his book review based on that manuscript -- and the review was published online. He maintained in that draft that Rose's information about the ex-seminarian being at the monastery was a forthright, intentional lie on Rose's part, indicative of his overall dishonesty and unscrupulous effort to deceive.

Rose was allowed to read Fr. Johansen's first draft via e-mail before publication in Culture Wars by Jones, and Rose immediately informed Fr. Johansen that he was going to remove the erroneous information about the ex-seminarian. Rose intended to remove only the incorrect reference to his being enrolled at the monastery. Fr. Johansen, however, thought that all reference to the ex-seminarian was to be removed, and submitted his final review on that premise. But Rose left in two paragraphs (one-third of a page) on the ex-seminarian. Here are those two paragraphs:

"'Psychological abuse happens,' is the way [the ex-seminarian] described his years at Sacred Heart College Seminary in Detroit. 'Every orthodox seminarian that I knew while I was at the seminary was sent to a shrink or was going to be sent to a shrink, myself included.' he explained. They were sent to ongoing psychological counseling for what [the ex-seminarian] calls 'rigorism,' which he believes was merely a 'stoutheartedness in the faith.'

"'These seminarians had faith; they had humility,' he said. 'If a seminarian missed one of this counseling sessions, then the seminary would know about it immediately. There was nothing more strictly mandated than going to your counseling sessions. You were to comply, and if you didn't, you were out, no two ways about it.'"

While Rose maintains Fr. Johansen misunderstood that he (Rose) intended to remove only the factual error on the whereabouts of the ex-seminarian, Fr. Johansen maintains this was a monumental betrayal, a lie, proving that Rose "can't be trusted."

It is the inclusion of those two paragraphs from the ex-seminarian on the abuse of psychological counseling at SHS, Fr. Johansen's alma mater, that is largely responsible for Fr. Johansen's rampage.

Complaints about psychological counseling at Sacred Heart Seminary are long-standing and widespread throughout the conservative Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Now, complaints about psychological counseling at SHS are long-standing and widespread throughout the conservative Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Detroit. What is perceived as open hostility to conservatives at SHS and throughout the Archdiocese is talked about openly by seminarians, priests, and former seminarians. Many conservatives have simply given up on expecting any change at SHS, and many conservative priests do not recommend that conservative Catholics attend SHS. I know of many Detroit men who are studying for the priesthood outside the Archdiocese of Detroit precisely because of SHS's reputation.

The following are excerpts of three documents written by men highly knowledgeable about SHS, and a short piece about a fourth man I interviewed on the matter. These men are:

* Fr. Eduard Perrone, a priest of the Archdiocese, educated in the local seminaries, pastor of Assumption Grotto Church in Detroit, co-founder of Call to Holiness in Detroit, and a highly regarded leader of the orthodox faction of the Church in Detroit.

* Joseph J. Rangitsch, a seminarian for another diocese, dismissed this year from SHS, he believes, because he is conservative.

* Ken Lansing, a former SHS seminarian, now a seminarian at a monastery in Oklahoma.

* James Gault III, dismissed this year from SHS, he believes, because he is conservative.

"One wonders how many more good priests would have been ordained from the diocese had they not been screened-out by the professional mind-controllers."
--Fr. Eduard Perrone, Detroit

Here are excerpts of in his parish bulletin: "I know that there are many men preparing for Orders who are forced to undergo 'counseling' sessions by area psychologists.... [The] matter of concern is that these men should be subjected to [psychological counseling] for 'problems' such as their firm adherence to papal teaching on the impossibility of women priests, or their traditional stance regarding liturgical practices. The matter is yet exacerbated when one becomes aware that some of the counselors involved are not Catholics.... One wonders how many more good priests would have been ordained from the diocese had they not been screened-out by the professional mind-controllers...."

Below are excerpts from an e-mail message from Joseph J. Rangitsch, who was dismissed from SHS last spring:

"I went to Sacred Heart in August of 2000.... When I arrived there I was ignorant of the politics that take place within the seminary. I went through several interviews and quickly learned that there is a division among seminarians and faculty between liberal and orthodox thinkers. I was warned by students not to show too many conservative colors with certain members of the faculty, especially the Vice Rector, Fr. Patrick Halfpenny. But, in an interview with him at the beginning of the year, I was very clear about my more conservative line of thought in church matters.

"After about a month at Sacred Heart I was called to Fr. Halfpenny's office and told that I had to contact a psychologist (Dr. Joel Harms) to schedule weekly meetings. When I asked why I was being asked to seek counseling, I was never given a clear answer.... So, I went to counseling thinking it would be a short-term thing. It wasn't. I went for two full years never knowing exactly why I had been sent. I talked with Dr. Harms about my classes, my friends, my family, my prayer life, and that sort of thing, essentially I talked with him about the same things I talked about with my Spiritual Director, the only difference being my Spiritual Director gave advice, never fell asleep, and did not bill my Diocese $100 for each session. When I questioned the counseling again at the beginning of my fourth semester there, I was again told that I was being sent 'for my own good' with no further explanation. Then, I was contacted by Fr. Halfpenny and sent to counseling twice a week and I was told that I was 'difficult.' In my opinion, the counseling that about half the seminarians at Sacred Heart are forced to endure is held over their heads like some kind of terrorist tactic. Basically it is, go to the doctor or go home. About half the seminarians at Sacred Heart see either Dr. Joel Harms...or Dr. Kevin Keenan....

"Bishop Allen Vigneron, the Rector/President of Sacred Heart is, in my opinion, a good and holy priest. He is making some great changes at Sacred Heart (i.e., the hiring of Calvert Shenk as Music Director), but it seems that he hasn't got a lot of control over his faculty. He was also not approachable in regard to issues such as the counseling. I went to discuss the matter with him once, and he told me that as the Rector he had total and absolute trust in his subordinates....

"I know men [seminarians] who never pray, who have not been to confession for months, and in one case over a year, and I know men whose only strengths are academic and who have no apparent pastoral sense, but because they 'play the game' they are advanced through the program and will probably be ordained....

"I honestly feel that Sacred Heart is a bad place. I have friends there who get by keeping their mouths shut and 'playing the game.' I think that is sad. I've seen more than a few people leave formation because they are so disheartened by what has gone on....

"I honestly feel that Sacred Heart is a bad place. I have friends there who get by keeping their mouths shut and 'playing the game.' I think that is sad."

Ken Lansing, a former SHS seminarian (1997-1999), is now a seminarian at a monastery in Oklahoma. This excerpt is from a letter addressed to the SHS Rector, Bishop Allen Vigneron, in 1999:

"I happened to talk to a priest who had been at Saint John's Seminary when it was about at its worst. He described the modus operandi of modernist-minded formation. He said that during the first year they simply observe you to see 'whose side you're on,' and if you don't measure up to their liberal criteria, they 'suggest' you go to counseling, and if you don't, then your goose is cooked. If you go, hopefully the counseling will break you down psychologically in order that you may be more easily rebuilt in their image. If counseling doesn't achieve the desired effects, you will then be subject to their petty harassment techniques, which are also meant to break you down or make you frustrated and angry enough to leave on your own....

"The priest went into more detail than this, but everything he said came true to a 'T' [at Sacred Heart]: I was told that it could become a 'formation issue' if I didn't go to counseling. The original reason for sending me to counseling was because of 'identity issues,' a term whose exact meaning I was never told, but which it became apparent was a standard term used as a delaying tactic while they dreamed up something more specific and gathered enough 'evidence' or whatever to make plausible the notion that I needed counseling.

"My Provincial and Formation Director (same person) ordered me to go, so out of obedience I went for over two and a half years. I remember that you [Bishop Vigneron] had a fair bit of trouble looking me in the eye when you said that I had nothing to worry about with Fr. ____. Fr. ____ for his part tried to tell me that due to the profound insights that scientific advancements had shed [that] homosexual activity was no longer wrong, and neither was masturbation. I stopped going to him and went to Dr. Joel Harms, who even though a lukewarm Protestant and worshipper of feelings, at least didn't try to feed me heresy.

"I used to feel sorry for you, what with being caught in the midst of the various contending factions and personalities within the Archdiocese and the seminary, but this is starting to wear a little thin. After all, you are the President of the seminary, the Rector, and a Bishop -- what more do you want or need to be able to get things done? True, you are hiring some good new professors, but these are mere baby steps at reform until you purge the Formation Team and the Institute for Ministry. It doesn't matter how good the academic situation gets, if the Formation Team remains dominated by leftists, [then] only mediocre -- at best! -- priests will be produced by the seminary. I have always been edified by how orthodox and articulate your Rector's conferences have been, but how deeply you believe what you say in them is very much in doubt so long as this reform proceeds at a snail's pace, leaving untouched the lion's share of the problem.

"I have presented the complaints voiced in this letter to fellow seminarians and I know none who disagrees with what I have said here. In fact, they say it isn't worded strongly enough. Doesn't this tell you something, Excellency? How many more seminarians will have to be humiliated, harassed, needlessly sent to counseling, become embittered, and even finally have their vocation damaged or ruined completely before you rectify the situation? Unless the reform of Sacred Heart Major Seminary kicks into high gear soon, not only is your credibility in doubt, but the state of Sacred Heart Major Seminary and the Archdiocese of Detroit will remain in its current precarious state."

James Gault entered SHS for the Diocese of Kalamazoo two years ago and was dismissed last spring. A self-described conservative with a fondness for the Latin Mass, Gault said he ran afoul of the liberal factions at the seminary, and readily admits he is not "a go-along, get-along kind of guy."

"They try to put out carbon-copy, cookie-cutter priests. We have too many passive priests, go-along types," he explained. "We need courage today in our priests, but they tend try to squash any courage."

Gault said he did not oppose his weekly counseling session with Dr. Joel Harms. But Gault had a sense that Harms felt that "I would be prodded into compliance." Gault added, "I have no idea what he reported back to the seminary.... The counseling session were confidential."

Gault says he and his fellow seminarians saw a pattern in which those who too publicly expressed overtly conservative points of view were subjected a wide variety of tactics designed, he believed, make life miserable for them.

So, what is the mysterious Fr. Johansen saga all about? Is it as simple as, Don't step on my alma mater or I'll go after you? Maybe.

But the anti-Rose phenomenon goes beyond Fr. Johansen. So is it as Phil Lawler suggests: I can get in good with my bishop or the powers that be if I trash Michael Rose? Maybe, maybe not. Stay tuned, for this part of the detective story remains to be told.

Jay McNally was Editor of The Michigan Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit, from 1990 to 1995. He has spent 20 years as a working newspaperman, half of that in the Catholic press. He writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Other articles on Goodbye, Good Men: