Saginaw: Portrait Of A Collapsing Diocese
By WILLIAM H. MARSHNER
September 5, 1974
In the rich farm country of central and eastern Michigan, graced with a vacationer’s paradise on the shores of Lake Huron, the Holy See erected the Diocese of Saginaw in 1938. Under two bishops — William F. Murphy (1938-50) and Stephen S. Woznicki (1950-68) — the young diocese grew and prospered. Then came a third bishop, Francis F. Reh, followed by ruin.
Catholic laypeople bombarded this reporter with invitations to come to Saginaw, to their living rooms and club basements, to hear the tales of
horror. For ten days and nights I listened to the senior pastors, threatened now with punitive demotions; to the parents whose children have lost the Faith; to the CUF members who have been vilified and persecuted; to the CCD teachers who are shocked about the things they are supposed to teach. On the other hand, I listened to some of Saginaw’s bureaucrats and updated Sisters, the smooth “middle management” whose badge is a degree in education and whose goal is monopoly power.
But before I hand on the horror stories, I should like to present something which is in a way more devastating: the sheer facticity of Saginaw’s collapse. Using the statistics in the Official Catholic Directory, published yearly by P.J. Kenedy and Sons, one can see the number of priests, Sisters, parishes, missions, chapels, schools, baptisms, etc., which existed in Saginaw on three interesting dates: 1961, the last full year before Vatican II; 1969, the beginning of Bishop Reh’s administration, as he inherited the diocese from the beloved and conservative Bishop Woznicki; and the present year, 1974.
In 1961, there were 143 secular and 24 Religious priests active in the diocese, serving 112 parishes (all but one of which had a resident pastor), 23 missions, and 69 chapels (five of which had resident chaplains). There was a diocesan minor seminary with 188 seminarians studying there or elsewhere. There were 18 diocesan or parochial high schools, 61 parochial elementary schools. Total Sisters in the diocese were 490, of whom 429 taught school, assisted by 172 lay teachers and 11 priests teaching full time. There were 616 converts and 6,229 infant Baptisms, for a total Catholic population of 155,200.
Eight years later, by 1969, Bishop Woznicki’s Saginaw must have experienced the tensions and confusions which everywhere injured American Catholicism after the Council and after the spread of artificial birth control. We should already see a certain amount of statistical slippage. But how much? The figures speak for themselves.
In 1969 there were still 143 secular priests active in Saginaw, along with 30 order priests; a net gain in total priests. There were 116 parishes, all with resident pastors: another gain. There were 19 missions and 62 chapels (two with resident chaplains). The seminary was still open, with 167 diocesan seminarians studying there or elsewhere: a much smaller slippage than one would have expected in this crucial area. The school picture, considering the universal financial crunch of those years, again shows less decline than might have been expected: there were still 14 high schools (serving about 100 more children than in 1961) and 58 parochial elementary schools (serving about 3,000 fewer children). Total Sisters had declined very slightly, to 475, of whom 405 taught school, assisted by 296 lay teachers (a large gain) and 14 priests teaching full time (another gain). Converts for the year totalled 563; infant Baptisms, 5,039. The total Catholic population had grown to 177,774 — an increase of over 22,500.
In 1971, the boundaries of the diocese were slightly changed, effecting a loss of about 11 priests.
Now we enter the plunge. By 1974, after five and a half years of Bishop Reh and his helpers, the active diocesan priests have declined to 109, the 116 parishes have been reduced to 104 (of which only 100 have a resident pastor), and the number of missions has been reduced to 12. All of the 69 chapels have disappeared, save one. The diocesan seminary has been closed, and the number of seminarians has dwindled to 16. High schools have collapsed to 5; the surviving elementary schools are 37. Total Sisters have fallen to 306, of whom only 167 teach school. Even the number of lay teachers has declined from 295 to 262 and there are no longer any priests teaching full time. Infant Baptisms have fallen to 3,568. Worst of all, perhaps, the total Catholic population itself has dwindled by some 9,223 souls.
FORCES BEYOND CONTROL?
Who or what is at fault?
I suppose the most comfortable answer, from the middle management’s point of view, is this: forces beyond anyone’s control. The crisis produced by these “forces” in the Church is nationwide. So why pick on Saginaw? Moreover, if you compare statistics from other American dioceses, you will see that just about everywhere, the real statistical dip occurred only at the very end of the Sixties and in the first years of the Seventies. So why blame the policies of Bishop Reh?
Oddly enough, there is a decisive answer to these objections. It is true that from 1969 to 1974 there has been a national decline in the numbers of priests, Sisters, seminarians, schools, and baptisms. But in every one of these areas, Saginaw’s woes are miles beyond the national average. In those years, whereas diocesan priests declined nationally by 3.7 percent, in Saginaw they declined by at least seventeen percent; total Sisters declined nationally sixteen percent, compared to Saginaw’s 35.5 percent, not to mention Saginaw’s fifty-nine-percent drop in teaching Sisters! Seminarians declined elsewhere by forty-three percent, but in Saginaw by ninety percent; Catholic high schools have closed nationally by twenty- four percent, but in Saginaw by sixty-four percent. And look at baptisms: infant baptisms have declined in Saginaw at a rate almost twice the national average! And parishes: total parishes grew nationally, while Saginaw declined eleven percent.
Or take another kind of evidence. Covington, Ky., is a diocese comparable to Saginaw in most respects. It is small, Midwestern, largely rural, heavily German and Irish in population. I have before me the Covington figures from 1961 and 1974, a span of years which should show all the tensions, confusions, and “uncontrollable forces” which have made havoc elsewhere. But look: in those eleven years, the number of parishes has remained at 82 (all with resident pastors); the number of missions has grown from 19 to 34; the number of chapels, from 77 to 82 (26 with resident chaplains!). The diocesan seminary is still open. Even the number of Sisters has risen, from 1,014 to 1,104, a remarkable accomplishment. Only three high schools have closed or been consolidated, leaving 10 (and serving about 600 more students than in 1961). Lay teachers are up from 152 to 435, and the total Catholic population has grown from 90,000 to 103,500, a gain of fifteen percent! On the other hand, the declines in Covington are just those which really are universal: seminarians have declined in numbers from 89 to 41, and 20 parochial elementary schools have had to close, leaving 51. The total number of priests is down slightly, from 219 to 210.
In other words, Covington, with a third less Catholics than Saginaw, today supports over three times as many Sisters, twice as many high schools, almost twice as many priests, and nearly half again as many elementary schools.
These remarkable statistics, proving that Covington, at least, has experienced nothing remotely like the Saginaw collapse, are largely the result, in my opinion, of one crucial factor. From 1960 until the present day, Covington has enjoyed the uncompromisingly orthodox leadership of Bishop Richard H. Ackerman. Seeds of destruction, rooted in preposterous interpretations of the “spirit” of Vatican II, were powerfully restrained. As a result, the major medium and carrier of these interpretations — not the clergy as such, and certainly not the laity, but the religious-education apparatus — has been held in check.
POWER STRUGGLE WITH ‘EXPERTS’
Since 1969, there has been no such check in Saginaw. This is not meant to imply that Bishop Francis Reh is an unorthodox man. Far from it. I chanced to hear him one evening questioning a Confirmation class and explaining to these young people the Catholic Faith. I was greatly edified. But the bishop’s personal orthodoxy cuts little ice in the strange and shadowy power-struggle that is going on today in diocese after diocese.
That struggle, typically, pits a big majority of the teaching Sisters, abetted by a segment of the clergy plus a few laymen “trained” to teach religion, against everybody else in the diocese, especially the bishop. Dogmas as such are rarely denied, but the discipline that flows from an honest understanding of dogma is routinely flouted: whence freakish liturgies, hand communion, public dissent from Humanae Vitae, clerical dating, etc. Dogmatic theology and canon law, the subjects that bishops know something about, are rarely contested head-on; but social science and “pastoral” theology, which the teacher-experts claim to know about, are handled in such a way as to obscure or even negate the logical consequences of dogmatics and canon law: whence abusive policies on the marriage tribunal, the promotion of dubious catechetical “methods,” the emancipation of school Sisters from the authority of pastors, and the demotion or premature retirement of “uncooperative” pastors.
From these evils, in turn, flows a multi-lateral alienation. Priests are alienated from brother-priests, bishops from their curia, laymen from their clergy, pastors from teaching Sisters, parents from their children’s teachers, children from the Church. And from alienation come defection, financial contraction, indifference, and apostasy — the things that make the Catholic statistics of Saginaw a study in subtraction. Against these evils an orthodox but inactive bishop is no help, nor is a bishop who tries to be everybody’s friend. Only a bishop who resolutely opposes his will and power to the purposes of the religious-education apparatus with its allied clergy and laity — only such a bishop can stave off collapse. The Bishop of Saginaw, alas, has other ideas. Frankly and openly, he is the apparatus’ ally.
As a result, the above-mentioned evils flourish in Saginaw with unweeded profusion. We have seen the dry statistics; now let us savor the atmosphere.
— Five years ago in the town of Coleman, there was a special Mass for Thanksgiving Day. The priest consecrated Oysterettes, and the communicants came up to the altar to dunk their “hosts” in the chalice. After coming down again, each one was given a hunk of turkey. The priest was Fr. Lawrence Pashak, who is now the diocesan Youth Director and Vice Chancellor.
- Fr. James Falsey at St. James’ in Bay City knows how to save time; he “consecrates” both elements simultaneously, saying, “This is My Body and Blood.”
- Fr. Terrence Yule in Orchard used to do even better. He was known to omit the Consecration entirely. But two years ago he dropped out and married a nun. —Fr. Charles Howley, the Vocations Director for the diocese, is pastor at Mt. Carmel in Saginaw. There he uses Dutch and other unauthorized Eucharistic prayers, gives Communion to divorced persons living in invalid marriages, and sometimes sits down while laymen and laywomen distribute Communion to the strident vibes of a Dixieland band. One Sunday he allowed a woman from Mother Waddles Kitchen to preach the sermon, and on another Sunday, a Protestant minister. —Fr. George J. Serour was one of the first priests of the diocese to start giving Communion in the hand. He also gives the Sacrament to Protestants, according to some witnesses, and has even been known to announce, before the Consecration, that “This is a symbol of the Body and Blood.” Serour is now pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians in Saginaw, associate director of the permanent diaconate program, and head of the Holy Year committee.
- The Franciscans at St. Thomas Aquinas’ in Saginaw are also thought to be “far out.” One young priest there grabs his guitar and lets the altar boys pass out Communion. Others compose their own Eucharistic prayers. Yet despite these and other gross irregularities, the pastor, Fr. Alcuin Mikulanis, has been made Communications Director for the diocese.
- In another Saginaw parish the collection is taken up by four girls in micro-minis. The offended parishioners have discussed various strategies of protest. Some suggest pinching. One man hit upon the idea of depositing a quarter marked as “cover charge for Father’s skin show.”
- Fr. Ben Marwell, O.F.M. Cap., is shameless enough to have made up an impromptu Eucharistic prayer at the Baccalaureate Mass for Sts. Peter and Paul Area High School two years ago. Hundreds in attendance were scandalized. Communal “penance” services, without individual confession, but with general absolution, I am told, are another Marwell specialty.
— And then there is Fr. John F. O’Callaghan, the freaked-out pastor of St. Mary’s in Bay City. A public dissenter from Humanae Vitae and a pentecostal, Fr. O’Callaghan used to be at Mt. Carmel in Saginaw; but things got a little sticky there when his sermons so outraged a prominent attorney, Mr. Joseph Mainolfi, that Mainolfi demanded equal time, got it, and denounced O’Callaghan from the pulpit. When he came to his new parish, O’Callaghan firmly announced, “I am going to do my thing whether you like it or not.” Aside from minor misbehavior like hand Communion, O’Callaghan’s “thing” consists of making up his own liturgies and depriving the people of missalettes. “You don’t need those prayers,” he says. A major source of Father’s liturgical inventiveness is a collection of verbose nonsense called The Experimental Liturgy Book, edited by a Jesuit named Hoey and published by the Episcopalian Press, Seabury. O’Callaghan used a so-called canon out of this book on Palm Sunday, when I happened to attend his “Mass.” He was parading around with a staff composed of palm branches, like a Druid or perhaps a vegetation god. His illicit “canon” explicitly referred to the consecrated species as “symbols,” in a way that cast the gravest doubt on the very validity of his Eucharist.
It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that Father’s crotchets are exclusively liturgical. He is also a theologian: “We don’t need to listen to the old man over in Rome,” he said on one occasion. And as a newsmaker his talents are formidable. When I first came to Saginaw, the local papers were full of a prank he pulled with his parish council. He asked that body, in effect, to rule on the validity of the Church’s law of celibacy by deciding whether it (the council) would retain him as pastor, if he should decide to “exercise his God- given, inalienable right to marry.” Bishop Reh, I am happy to report, was furious at this incident.
- Fr. Joseph Favara is dean of the Bay City deanery and pastor of Visitation Parish. This place is notorious for that silliest of all liturgical gimmicks: dancing at the Offertory. According to my sources, the same ridiculous abuse used to take place at Sts. Peter and Paul in Saginaw, when Msgr. Thomas R. Horton (see below) was pastor there, and it still goes on at St. Josaphat in Carrollton, where the pastor is Fr. Floyd J. Welna. Despite the fact that this Welna has tragically alienated his heavily traditional, Polish laity by staging outrages that are scarcely recognizable as the Mass, he is the former president of the diocesan Priests’ Senate and still serves on the Building Commission.
- Fr. Frederick Kawka is pastor of St. Philip Neri in Coleman and of St. Anne’s Mission in Edenville. Despite the fact that for years he has flouted the Church’s law on Communion-in-the-hand and even uses unauthorized Eucharistic prayers, Kawka is allowed to serve on the diocesan Liturgical Commission.
Morals, especially where sex and marriage are concerned, make for another interesting batch of horror stories.
- There used to be a Holy Ghost Sister, named Sr. Jean, at the Visitation parish school in Bay City. She was about sixty years old. She used to put a chair by her desk and make the children come up, so she could hear their confessions. She always asked the eighth-grade boys to tell her about their sex activities. I know of one boy who blames her specifically for ruining his faith.
- Fr. Delmar Smolinski was Vice Chancellor of the diocese when he left the priesthood. Then he came back and was reinstated as Vice Chancellor. Then he married a nun who taught at St. Stephen’s High School. Thereupon, the ex-nun continued to teach at St. Stephen’s, and her husband for a time worked for the diocese as (can you guess?) a marriage counsellor.
- Ex-nuns, by the way, are teaching in Catholic schools all
over this diocese. I am told that they are given preferential hiring. Well, in my experience as a Catholic and a journalist, I have never encountered more irrational or more implacable enemies of Church authority than these dropout women. If the employment of these unfortunate creatures in Catholic schools is not already forbidden, it should be, especially in the United States.
- Fr. Howard Brown (“Howie”) was assistant pastor at Sacred Heart in Kawkawla and head of the diocesan communications department. As such, he was on TV every week. But he had a girlfriend, whom he married in a secret ceremony before a justice of the peace in Detroit. When he returned home with this Juno (the goddess whom Jove referred to as his soror et coniunx), Brown simply carried on as a priest and continued his show. After a couple of months, a few priests and laymen began to catch on. They complained to Bishop Reh, who had the marriage license researched, discovered the truth, and resolved to let Howie go. But Howie was a sensitive soul, and rather than upset his nerves, the Bishop allowed him yet a few more weeks of grace before the shabby imposture came to an end.
- The first nun to go “flakey” in the small town of Beal City was a certain Sr. Joanne. She didn’t see why the Pope should rule the Church; after all, she said, “There are so many more brilliant men.” She told a pious layman, the father of twelve, that she thought the Federal government should step in and prevent people from having more than two children. She left the parish three years ago and has since left the convent.
- The parents of a girl who was dating a divorced man were quite upset. They sent the girl to Fr. Edward Konieczka, hoping he would tell her to break off. No such thing: he told her he could marry them in the Church.
- Another priest said, “If the Blessed Virgin Mary were living today, we don’t know whether she would wear a mini or a maxi or a micromini.”
- Sr. Nathalie teaches sex education to seniors at Sts. Peter and Paul Area High School, but is scornful of existing books on the subject. So, she teaches from mimeographed sheets which are a complete how-to-do-it, when-to-do- it and where-to-do-it. I spoke to a young man who had suffered through this course, and he told me that when he objected to the obscene content, Sister merely replied that he wouldn’t get ahead in life. During the time of my visit, Sr. Nathalie had charge of the music for the diocese’s controversial Easter Vigil, held in the Saginaw Civic Center.
- Clerical contempt for the moral teaching of Humanae Vitae is so widespread as to be scarcely worth talking about, especially since the days of heady public dissent are over. What was shouted from the housetops in the Summer of 1968 is now whispered in the confessional, so that in almost every American diocese a couple who want to find a pro-pill priest can do so with a little “shopping around.” But here again, Saginaw has something special. Fr. Donald Dueweke, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker in rural Beal City, doesn’t wait to be asked. One young couple came to him about another matter altogether, and without their even asking for family-planning advice, Dueweke volunteered it. “Find a doctor and get on a good contraceptive,” he said. I have a witness who will swear to this. Dueweke is meanwhile a member of the Priests’ Senate.
- I just happened to be present when this very story about Dueweke was reported to the bishop’s secretary, the young Fr. William C. Beitz. After hearing the story, Fr. Beitz opined that, yes, Dueweke had been out of line. “My approach,” he went on, “is that I would never tell a Catholic that he either could or could not use birth control.” My emphasis.
- At All Saints Central High School in Bay City, the curriculum is something else. I was told that in recent years the four-year program has been as follows: freshmen get to study, “Who are you?”; sophomores study Hinduism or another non-Christian religion; juniors take “Relating to Yourself and the World,” and the seniors, hapless people, take “With Marriage in Mind.” The latter course is built around the book by the same name, written by the notorious Urban Steinmetz. It is remarkable that such a book should appear in a Catholic school at all; but in the religion program? I know of one kid who was ashamed to show it to his mother. I also talked to a parent who denounced the book to Fr. Joseph V. Adamec, Chancellor of the Diocese. “There’s heresy in that book,” the parent said, and Fr. Adamec is reported to have replied, “I know it, but it’s a good book.” At least one of the heresies in the book is Steinmetz’s reiterated statement that pre-marital intercourse is moral, at least in many situations.
WITH PAGAN MARRIAGE IN MIND
- For this and other reasons, With Marriage in Mind was the topic for discussion at a meeting of the diocesan Board of Education. I talked to a man who went to that meeting and who almost came to blows with a key board member, Msgr. Thomas R. Horton. The reason? Horton told my informant that pre-marital intercourse is not a mortal sin. My informant was furious at this denial of perennial and indubitable Catholic teaching; he said, “Look Monsignor, you taught me religion twenty years ago. This book is heresy.” Horton insisted, “It is not necessarily a sin.” This Horton, by the way, is one of the key people in the Saginaw Diocese. In addition to his school board job, Horton is the dean of priests for the city of Saginaw, a judge on the diocesan tribunal, and a diocesan examiner.
- A few years ago, Steinmetz himself was invited to address the entire clergy of the diocese at one of the official “education days.” Who invited him is not quite clear. Steinmetz rewarded his clerical hosts by telling them that masturbation is no sin at all but a purely natural action. Bishop Reh was not present, and only a few of the priests challenged this loathsome idea.
- Msgr. Olin Murdick was Superintendent of Schools in this diocese before going on to great things in Washington, D.C. Already in 1970 he was irritated by the fact that many parents were pulling their children out of the religion classes. So, he made it a rule that every pupil in a Catholic school had to take religion. Around the same time, Murdick also committed himself to the cause of Urban Steinmetz. One group of parents told me the astonishing story that on one occasion, when they were arguing with Murdick about his subject, he replied in great heat, “I will see to it that you get sex education in every class if necessary. I have made up my mind.” The high-handed manner, the determination to manipulate children’s morals in defiance of parental rights, is typical, of course, of the Catholic educational apparatus everywhere in this Country. What is astonishing about this particular case is the note of candor.
- Mercy Hospital used to be a Catholic hospital, run by the Sisters of Mercy. The good Sisters had gone into considerable debt (about $1 million) in building the present structure. The diocese refused to help them out and made no attempt to raise the money. Having no alternative, the Sisters deeded the facility over to the city. And now, with the religious statues still in their niches, this hospital is the abortion mill for Bay City.
- The Saginaw Tribunal (or Matrimonial Court) has a reputation for handing out annulments on the flimsiest grounds. The Officialis is Fr. Kenneth Ler- czak, who was known as an outrageous liberal when he was Vice Officialis but was promoted anyway. And his successor in that post, Fr. Robert Meissner, is no better. According to one report which I received, the misbehavior of this Tribunal goes well beyond an occasional stretch of the law, however. Allegedly there have been cases where divorced persons wishing to remarry have come to the Court with grounds so inadequate that even this Court could do nothing for them. Whereupon, instead of laying down the law, the Court has told them of “certain priests in the city” who would probably bless their “marriages.” Others allegedly were told to go to Communion, even though their marriages were invalid.
- Some of the priests said to perform such invalid marriages include Fr. Leonard Wilkuski (see below), Fr. Joseph Schabel (St. Rita’s), and Fr. Edward Konieczka, the pastor of Holy Rosary in Saginaw and a member of the Priests’ Senate.
RIDICULE NOT CHARITY
- One of the worst moral failings of any clergyman is to ridicule his people’s piety. This is something that goes beyond the area of pastoral insensitivity and gets into sacrilege. In that light, consider the following. An elderly Polish woman was saying her Rosary before Mass at St. Mary’s Chapel, Central Michigan University. The priest came over to her and asked, “Why are you saying the Rosary over and over?”
- “I’m praying for peace, Father.”
- “Oh, you don’t need to do that. The Rosary doesn’t mean anything anymore.” And later, during the same Mass, he ridiculed her from the pulpit.
- Just how wild the clerical behavior in Saginaw can be, is well illustrated by the example of Fr. Raymond Moeggenberg, the pastor of St. Athanasius’ in Harrison. It seems that Moeggenberg replaced his altar boys with altar girls, a thing that Bishop Reh disapproved. So, the bishop sent him a long letter telling him to desist. Moeggenberg published the letter in his parish bulletin with a certain marginal notation. Across the top, down the sides, and across the bottom, Moeggenberg spelled out “BULLSHIT BISHOP, BULLSHIT.” I am told that his sermons are sprinkled with similar vulgarities.
- One last incident in the moral vein. It doesn’t mean much in itself, but I think it has symbolic value. Bishop Reh’s pals among the clergy wanted to give him a nice present on his fifth anniversary as Ordinary of Saginaw. But what do you give a bishop? Think about it. What would you give a successor of the Apostles? Well, Bishop Reh’s friends gave him a barrel (that’s right, a barrel) of whiskey.
Then there is the stack of stories which I have labeled as dealing with heresy. Unfortunately, none of the heresies circulating in Saginaw is the least bit interesting. No Sabellians, Eutychians, Patripassionists, or Ontologists. Just a lot of dull Americans who think they don’t have to obey the Pope or that they don’t have to go to Mass if they don’t want to or that the Ten Commandments are out of date or that giving Holy Communion to Protestants is a nice sign of brotherhood. The notions and values in question are at once libertine and conformist, like the talk on the Johnny Carson Show.
— When a letter came from the Holy See putting an end to the “good conscience” procedures, for example, one priest very sensibly suggested to his fellow-priests, who are always looking for something to talk about at their deanery meetings, that this letter would make a capital topic. No way, my informant was told, with the added flippancy that “this would be like being dictated to from the top.”
— At Our Lady Queen of Angels Retreat House, one of the priests used to tell people that the Papacy is now a symbol. “We hope soon to replace the Pope with a committee.”
— The assistant pastor at St. James Parish a few years ago was Fr. Thomas Kowalczyk. He used to tell the nuns, “That foreigner sitting over there in Rome isn’t going to tell us what to do here.” He also had advice for parents: “You don’t have to make your kids go to church, especially your teenagers. If they want to stay home and play the guitar, that’s a way to keep the day holy.”
— The younger clergy, I am told, constantly downgrade Confession and the reality of sin. A number of them refuse to baptize babies if the parents do not regularly attend church — but they do not refuse to give Communion to non-Catholics.
— Fr. Leonard Wilkuski, pastor of St. Andrew’s in Saginaw and reputedly a wheel in the diocese, is a public dissenter from Humanae Vitae. He authorized a divorced and remarried couple to receive Communion, I was told, even though the tribunal had twice refused to bless their marriage. Then when Key ’73 came to town, Wilkuski told his congregation that they were free to receive Communion in Protestant churches. He himself organized a pulpit exchange with the Presbyterians and gave Communion to the separated brethren in St. Andrew’s. I am told that Wilkuski has been called on the carpet for giving Communion in the hand, but the practice still goes on. The parishioners just grab it away from him, perhaps under the inspiration of the rock band which wails and thumps at the twelve o’clock mass.
- Another Wilkuski story relates how, one time, there was a funeral at St. Andrew’s, and many of those present were non-Catholic. A woman came up to the rail. Fr. Wilkuski said, “The Body of Christ,” but she did not answer, not knowing she was supposed to.
Father said, “Are you a Catholic?”
“Well, you’re a Christian, aren’t you?”
“Well, take the host.”
‘WE’RE TOO ADVANCED FOR THAT’
- Other priests accused by my sources of giving Communion to Protestants or to Catholics in unblessed “marriages” include Fr. Mason Vaughn (St. Boniface’s), Fr. Julius Spleet (St. Frances Cabrini), Fr. Joseph Schabel (St. Rita’s), Fr. Paul Bala (St. Helen’s), and the previously mentioned Msgr. Thomas R. Horton.
- The national divorce rate for teen-age marriages is catastrophic. Quite sensibly, the Diocese of Saginaw has a policy of making it tough for anyone to marry under the age of eighteen. But some people told me that this policy has led to a singular abuse. They say that kids who are refused permission to marry in the Church are then told to go to a justice of the peace. “Go to a JP and come back when you are eighteen to get it blessed.” I talked to the Chancellor, Fr. Adamec, about this charge, and he denied any knowledge of such an abuse but explicitly disclaimed responsibility for what an individual priest might have said.
Back around 1970, the Sisters at Holy Trinity called an adult education meeting to explain the changes in the Church. One of the questions which came up was the apparent de-emphasis of the Ten Commandments. The Sisters are reported to have said, “We don’t need the Ten Commandments any more. We’re too advanced for that.” I was in a room full of people when this story was told to me, and at once the whole room exploded, “Oh, that’s nothing new. We hear that all the time.” Apparently the fourth-graders in Saginaw hear it all the time, too. I talked to a man who was a substitute teacher in one such elementary-school class. He started explaining the Ten Commandments and, incredibly enough, got an argument back from the tots. The children were unshakably convinced that they didn’t have to obey them!
- The same man taught an eighth- grade class in 1970-71, only to discover that the students had no idea what the Blessed Virgin Mary had to do with the Rosary.
- A certain Sr. Katherine at St. John’s once said this to a group of parents: “The Ten Commandments were all right for the dumb, ignorant, nomad Jews in the desert. But you can’t expect us to teach them to your kids now.”
One parent objected, “What if we have already taught our children these things?”
Answer: “Well, if the damage is already done, there is nothing we can do about it.”
- It is frightening to think of how deeply the religious-education apparatus has been corrupted in this part of the world, and how far back the corruption goes. Fourteen years ago, classes for CCD teachers were being held at Catholic Central High by Fr. Joseph P. Friske. He was a man of considerable intellect, and he talked about Original Sin in a way nobody could understand. He talked about the Omega Point, which also went over people’s heads. He didn’t like the idea of teaching the Ten Commandments, and a few people were disturbed by this, but at the time nobody saw what was behind it all. One woman who remembers these long-ago classes told me that it was not until years later that she realized Fr. Friske had been using obscure and perhaps even unpublished works of Teilhard. Friske is now the pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Ithaca, Mich.
I hope it goes without saying that priests such as the ones I have just been describing are not the only kind in Saginaw. There is also another kind: dedicated, upright, orthodox (and, by the way, too scared to talk to this reporter). But I gathered the distinct impression that the really good priests are a small minority, and that even those priests whom one would describe as half-way sensible (as opposed to really good or really bad) amount to no more than forty or fifty percent of the total clergy. For this reason, the overall atmosphere in Saginaw does not leave one with the mixed impression that one gets in most other dioceses. No, one feels surrounded by unmixed tawdriness, vulgarity, corruption and heresy, from which it is possible to escape only here and there, in a handful of decent parishes.
A good touchstone of the mood in any diocese is the Catholic book store. I went to one in Bay City which was stocked from front to back with absolute junk. Practically every book on the shelves was one of those juvenile, over-illustrated confections produced by the companies that have learned to draw big profits from religious education. I asked the proprietress, a flaming Pentecostal, about the reading habits of her patrons. “Well, a few of the priests and nuns read Teilhard,” she said, “but the lay people don’t buy many books at all. They mostly come in to buy rosaries.”
“Oh,” I said, “is it only the lay people who buy rosaries, then?”
“Yes, the laity here is very conservative,” she pronounced, with obvious distaste.
Just for fun I tried to buy some encyclicals. Did she have a copy of Humanae Vitae, for example?
“No, no, no, we haven’t carried any encyclicals since Pacem in Terris. Nobody ever asks for them.”
Of course not. Saginaw is a diocese dominated by the Great Dream of the Canon Law Society of America and the religious- education apparatus. What is that Dream? Why, to strip Catholicism of its Roman crust and make it as American as apple pie — as American as the situation ethics which are daily proclaimed on The Secret Storm and The Edge of Night. Years ago, the good, fine, stodgy Midwest — the place where no monument of the past is too sacred to be replaced by a parking lot — figured out that Pope John and the Vatican Council were trying to turn the Roman Catholic Church into a sensible, modern, American institution. After that, it was no longer necessary to read encyclicals, since people already had the “basic idea.”
The tyranny of an educational apparatus — this is the subject which I shall explore further in the next installment of this report. We shall see how it leads not only to the persecution of CUF but also to the persecution of senior pastors behind the mask of a “tenure” policy.