John Bruce and Priestly Formation

There have been several new postings on the same old blog:

It seems obvious that Rome is going to have to buck up and heed the infallible magisterium of our little railway enthusiast grenouille de bénitier. This imagery of the frog in the holy water stoup is poignant and indicative of late nineteenth century French Catholicism on the eve of the Separation of Church and State in 1905. The church is already neglected, the holy water is stagnant and green, and the pair of globular eyes are visible above the algae. The French use the expression for laity, usually toxic old ladies, who interfere in the running of parish churches from a point of view of bigotry and ignorance.

Unlike him, I have been a Roman Catholic cleric after making a big effort to leave Anglicanism behind in the 1980’s. Originally, I aspired to go to the SSPX seminary at Ecône, but was advised against it. After spending a year in a kooky American community housed in the Nemomucene College in Rome, I went to Fribourg University and then to the neo-baroque seminary of the Institute of Christ the King in Italy. It was a lot less “military” than Ecône, but we had a serious community life with offices, refectory, study, manual work and all the usual aspects of a serious community. Some aspects were quite over the top, then it all went blue. Is that really the best way to train ordinands for the priesthood?

Perhaps our friend might object that this wasn’t the “mainstream”, like Maynooth in Ireland or some of those big diocesan priest factories in American dioceses with plenty of money and bling. We have Allen Hall in England and Ushaw has been closed down. The reality of all that is rather harrowing, and John Bruce might see those places as not being all that “serious” if he looked a little closer. Of course, there is the curriculum of studies, then there is the community life which provides an opportunity to scrrreeeen those men who are probably low-down scallywags. Result, the real psychopaths and narcissists get through the net and honest men are penalised. Terrific! Perhaps it’s a little better in Rome at the North American College. Comments would be welcome.

Bruce’s agenda is obviously to try to discredit the Ordinariate in the USA for supposedly taking short cuts with clerical training. It depends who you are dealing with. If the man already has a full curriculum of theological studies, a university degree, then things can be abridged. They were for me at Gricigliano for the most part. I followed some courses for “top-up” purposes, but what I got at university was so much better and more “professional”. How are you going to put an experienced parish priest through seminary with young students in their 20’s? Even stuffy England has the Beda in Rome for older ordinands and those who has been Anglican clergy.

The seminary was invented in Italy in the late sixteenth century, and in France in the seventeenth with Monsieur Olier and Saint Vincent de Paul. It was a recommendation from the Council of Trent. It can be a very good system, and it can be bad – very bad. No system is infallible enough to weed out the scoundrels and the perverse. There is no substitute for experience and common sense.

The pre-Tridentine way was something like in Eastern Orthodoxy in the Orthodox countries like Russia and Greece. They do their studies, preferably at university, and then they are apprenticed to an experienced parish priest appointed for the purpose by the diocesan Bishop. It is all made difficult by having married men in secular employment, so you have to have a good materialist bling-bling church, or find other ways. That is the challenge for human initiative. Perhaps they can “do their apprenticeship” in their own parish and have the Dean come and check that everything is going well. Each year, the ordinands would sit examinations or answer examiners orally, so it doesn’t really matter whether they went to university or got it all from reading the prescribed books.

It is hard for a Bishop to make sure he has priests of the right quality, at least men who are not going to do harm or discredit everything he is trying to do to build up the Church. At the same time, it’s not rocket science, just common sense, knowledge of humanity and perseverance. That will depend on the quality of the Bishop – and there are plenty of shoddy ones in the RC Church, just like any Church whether Anglican, reformed or Orthodox.

I didn’t enjoy seminary, but I went through with it and was ordained a deacon whilst on pastoral assignment in Marseille. I followed the rules, wore the cassock and biretta in the right way and did as I was told. I got on with the Rector (others didn’t and got sent to Santa Maria Novella – the euphemism for being expelled because it is the name of the railway station in Florence), because I obeyed and respected him. Obedience is important because we don’t always have a good judgement, and that is the rule of the game. We can think what we want, but we keep our mouths shut and take it stage by stage. Anyone can play the game – the good, the bad and the ugly…

As an experienced priest and a man of nearly 60, I look back at it all. Perhaps I should not have become a priest, but I did, and I have a Bishop who expects much from me. You don’t put your hand to the plough and look back! Such is often the state of those priests whom Bruce might despise but who are men of quality in their own way, seeking to fulfil God’s will, and being “given a break” by those responsible for clergy selection and training.

Having read the nonsense Bruce writes, we can safely tell him to piss off and change his diapers (we call them nappies in England). If the man had any courage or the manliness he expects in others, he has only to open his blog to comments. Then he will get the two dozen lashes he deserves.

* * *

It gets worse – “We Go Where We’re Sent.” . I could think of a few places to send him between rural France, Saudi Arabia or North Korea. Anyway, I had better stay civil…

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5 Responses to John Bruce and Priestly Formation

  1. Linus says:

    Hear, hear! Let him be cast off into the outer darkness of a suppressed bookmark and a blocked email. Somebody should create a Virgin Bruce v.s. *Chad* Wick meme. We look forward for more of your thoughts on romanticism and religion in general.

    • One has to be careful not to “overdose” on this sort of thing. I have translating orders on at the moment. I’m getting the Blue Flower ready for the roll-out – and I’m getting my boat ready for a week’s outing in Brittany later this month. I have plenty to do, and am aware of the insignificance of one Sir John Bruce when he is not in his daily occupations with church, model railways and his family – and his questionable reflections on his blog. Hint taken – time to move on…

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Eilert Ekwall’s The Place-Names of Lancashire (1922) notes (p. 59) the Old English personal name, ‘Ceadda’ and ‘wic’ (“dwelling” etc.) adding “The church of Rochdale was dedicated to St. Chad; the name of the saint may enter into Chadwick” and his entry in the 1947 Third Edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names (p. 89) is in keeping with this: “‘The wic of Ceadda’, perhaps St. Chad.”

      Alas, what led to any of those (unconsciously, ultimately?) ‘named for him’ to be taken as the basis for that “derogatory slang term” and subsequent “stereotypical” meme-elaborated character?

      • Linus says:

        Naturally, I do not endorse the depreciation of virginity or the bullying implied in the “meme”, which seems to be rather ubiquitous now as a popular means of categorising and criticising people, without the benefit of rational argument. I see it being used all over the Facebook. It is, perhaps, the modern equivalent of certain rhetorical devices, such as the argument ad hominem, or of posoining the well.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I do find it (inadequate adjective) fascinating – ‘meme culture’ – (and often enjoyable) but have not properly tried to think about it in relation to earlier ‘things’ – though lots of possibilities start suggesting themselves, now you’ve given a good nudge – for instance, the Renaissance revival of the Theophrastian ‘character’, all sorts of play with adages and quotations, the ‘flyting’ between Unferth and Beowulf (which Tolkien plays with in that between Grima and Gandalf), and, more basically, the whole development of ‘vocabularies of images’ – where, curiously, the Alexamenos graffito may be the earliest extant depiction of Crucifix with Corpus! (It is saddening, in this context, to think Frederi(c)k van der Meer’s wonderful book on ‘the originality of Early Christian art’ has never yet been translated into English in all the years since its publication in 1949 – though a German translation did appear in 1982.)

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