The following comes from a July 27 Homiletic and Pastoral Review Magazine article by Father James Mason:
This is an article that I wrote during my years of seminary formation, but I was advised to wait to have it published until after my priestly ordination.
Sioux Falls is a rural farming diocese that is having great success in vocations with both numbers and quality. In the past, a consistent complaint or difficulty our new seminarians have had in adjusting to seminary life is the issue of effeminacy. The fact of the matter is that they are not used to, and are uncomfortable with, living in an environment that is often effeminate. I remember when one of our seminarians from a farm family was embarrassed to say that he would not want his brother to visit his dorm because of the way the men acted on his floor. While not, perhaps, stating it in the most precise manner it was understood by all when he said that many seminarians on his floor, “acted like a bunch of women.”
St. Thomas includes effeminacy under the vices opposed to perseverance. It is from the Latin mollities, which literally means “softness.” Mollities is the verb used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 which deals with the sexual sin of sodomy. It involves being inordinately passive or receptive. What St. Thomas means by persevering is when “a man does not forsake a good on account of long endurance or difficulties and toils.”
Thomas states that this effeminacy is caused in two ways. First, by custom, where a man is accustomed to enjoy pleasures and it is, therefore, more difficult for him to endure the lack of them. Second, by natural disposition, less persevering through frailty of temperament, and this is where Thomas compares men with women, and also mentions the homosexual act of sodomy, and the receiver in this act as being effeminate or like a woman. The vice of delicacy for Thomas considers those who cannot endure toils, or anything that diminishes pleasure, and thus delicacy is a kind of effeminacy.
I have five sisters, and all are feminine, but I would describe none of them as effeminate or soft. They are women; yet, they do not exhibit this particular vice. So, it must be understood, I am not putting down women or speaking on homosexuality, (though effeminacy is often a sign of this sexual disorder) but rather on acting in an inappropriate manner that is often prevalent in seminaries.
St. Thomas also speaks on modesty concerning the outward movements of the body. Here, he quotes Saint Ambrose in stating that, “Beauty of conduct consists in becoming behavior towards others, according to their sex and person.” Thomas states that, “Outward movements are a sign of the inward disposition” and quotes Ecclesiastics 19:29-30, “You can tell a person by his appearance … the way a person dresses, the way he laughs, the way he walks, tell you what he is.” St. Ambrose adds that, “The habit of mind is seen in the gesture of the body,” and that “the body’s movement is an index of the soul.” Ambrose goes on to say, “Let nature guide the movement: if nature fail in any respect, surely effort will supply the defect.” This effort is lacking in most seminary formation. Such things should be noticed and discussed by seminary faculty in both external and internal formation, as they can often be signs of deeper issues.
St. Thomas, moreover, asserts the truth that it is often from our outward movements that other men form their judgment about us. Thomas encourages us to study our outward movements so that if they are inordinate in any way, they may be corrected. Such things need to be addressed in formation because they have a definite effect on our ability to be, and to bring, Christ to others.
Does the seminary deal with a seminarian that sways when he walks, who has limp wrists, who acts like a drama queen, or who lisps? It must. This is not about a witch hunt, but about being honest enough to admit that such external behavior affects our ability to share Christ. I knew a seminarian that spoke in a very effeminate manner, and to his credit he recognized this impediment to his future preaching the Gospel, and on his own sought help from a speech instructor. However, the seminary did not see this glaring problem, nor move this man to get assistance. That is the problem.
When we are at the altar, or preaching the Gospel, we are Jesus Christ, and must do our best to image him to our people. Anything we do that takes people’s attention away from this reality must be addressed. Over dramatic movements, purposeful lisps, swaying—in short, effeminate behavior— removes attention from Christ and his word, and puts it on the priest. This is not just distracting to other men, but I know my sisters will roll their eyes when the Liberace-like priest celebrates himself while celebrating the Mass.
In the book, The Church Impotent, Leon Podles asks why men in the Christian West are so little interested in religion, and that men who are interested often do not follow the general pattern of masculinity. Fr. Tom Forrest, a priest active in international evangelization, points out that only 25 percent of the participants in Catholic gatherings he has attended are men. The fact is that women dominate daily Masses, church staff and volunteers, and church groups. Why are we not attracting men when the Orthodox seem to have a balance, and Islam and Judaism have predominately male membership? The author goes on to state that something seems to be creating a barrier between Western Christianity and men.
Because Christianity is now seen as a part of the sphere of life proper to women rather than to men, it sometimes attracts men whose masculinity is somewhat doubtful. By this I do not mean homosexuals, although a certain type of homosexual is included. Rather, religion is seen as a safe field, a refuge from the challenges of life and, therefore, attracts men who are fearful of making the break with the secure world dominated by women. These are men who have problems following the path of masculinity.
I am not a psychologist, and I cannot speak on an over-attachment to the feminine, but there is a truth that masculinity, as a needed virtue in the seminary, is something that is generally ignored in formation. This may be one of the problems with why the church has a difficult time attracting men to Mass, and serving the Church.
What is it that draws soft or effeminate men to the seminary, and why is this not dealt with in formation? Podles offers the prior explanation for the former question, but the latter can only be understood if it is admitted that there are many bishops, faculty, and priests, who suffer under this vice and are, therefore, unwilling or unable to recognize it, or address it. All seminaries are not equal: some relish in their softness, others have select faculty that will privately admit to the problem, but for fear of offending colleagues and bishops, refuse to speak out on it. In my years of seminary formation, the most controversial conference was given by my former Bishop, Robert Carlson, on the vice of effeminacy. Some faculty and students were offended—the truth always stings—and felt my bishop either somehow lacked compassion, or was mean-spirited in discussing such an issue. This must end, and as with all problems, its solution begins only with admitting its existence, and the reality that many seminaries breed an effeminate culture.
In a study by Lewis Terman and Catherine Cox, involving a masculinity-femininity test, Catholic seminarians scored at a point far less masculine than any other male group of their age. Right next to them, though, were the Protestant male seminarians, which the authors of the study stated ruled out celibacy, or sexual deviance, as a cause for connection to this lack of masculinity.
In a parish, it will be helpful if you can talk on sports in order to relate to men. If you have an easier time, or even prefer interacting with women to the exclusion of men, this will cause problems in your parish, and affect your ministry to men. I remember a seminarian from my dorm who, even though he was not athletically gifted, used to go out and practice basketball and softball with one of his classmates. He did this not so much for the exercise, but because he felt it would help him minister to the kids in the grade schools and high schools where he would serve as a priest. This man recognized the importance of sports in our culture, and the fact that it could be used to draw the young, especially boys, to the Church, and to Christ.
The question, then, is what can be done in helping form and ordain more manly priests? First, seminaries and bishops must recognize effeminacy as a formation issue. In choosing faculty to teach and form our future priests, the question must be asked: Does the candidate exhibit manly or effeminate qualities? Also, bishops need to realize that just because a priest requests an assignment, this does not automatically make him the right man for the job. This is especially true if the priest desires to work in liturgy, campus ministry, teaching, or seminary work where a manly model of priesthood is most needed and, unfortunately, often most often missing. Bishops need to take an active role in knowing and forming their priestly candidates. It is, perhaps, not only his most important decision, but also the decision for which he will be held most accountable. Bishop Carlson is one of the few, if not only, bishops in our country who has every seminarian live at least a summer in his residence. He knows the men he will ordain. He recounts a story of a seminarian he inherited who had already been through five years of formation, and was extremely effeminate. In working with this seminarian, he asked him about his sexual orientation. The seminarian responded he did not know. At that time, he was two years away from being ordained, and neither the rector, nor seminary faculty, saw this as a problem. This is the problem.