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By Rev. Roman Manchester
When I left the priesthood just over a year ago, I probably hurt many people and left them with questions. I was so traumatized by events, however, that I simply up and left Rhode Island to drive a tractor trailer across the country. When I told the bishop my plans he just smirked and made no effort to keep me.
This whole Cdl. McCarrick scandal, however, has ripped the scab off my wound, and now I'm ready to talk. I won't do it all at once, but in shorter posts like this one. Hopefully, this will answer a lot of questions and bring some sense of peace to those who were hurt by my leaving.
I have not closed the door to my return to the ministry at some point in the future, but I cannot go back at this time. I can't stand admitting this because it makes me seem like a wimp, at least to myself, but I have PTSD, and am not psychologically able to resume the ministry. Just thinking about it fills me with dread and anxiety. I don't trust the bishop, and I have every reason to believe that he would target me for retribution if I returned to the ministry.
Before I begin, I should make it understood that I can only speak of my own experience in the priesthood and/or of things that are a matter of public record. I cannot speak of things that did not directly involve me. Even though I have knowledge of certain events, discussion of such things would only be hearsay and gossip. I will also try to remain vague enough so as to protect the innocent.
I remember giving a homily at my home parish about eight years ago. It did not go over well, and word of it made it back to the chancery. Many people were up in arms that I had spoken in such a frank and direct manner about the problems facing the Church. I was filling in for the pastor at the parish in which I grew up, and it turned out to be the last time I was ever invited to celebrate Mass there with the exception of a funeral for a family member a few years later.
It was Vocations Sunday, and the homily was supposed to be one that encouraged vocations to the priesthood. Nevertheless, I had already been exposed to the seedy underside of the priesthood, and did not feel that I could encourage young men to consider a vocation without full knowledge of what they were getting themselves into.
In my homily, I basically said that the priesthood is a noble vocation in need of good men — and I still believe that. However, I also told them that we need soldiers, not wallflowers. This is a time for soldiers, not diplomats, because there is a war going on inside the Church for the soul of the priesthood, a war that the laity, for the most part, do not know is happening, do not want to know is happening, and do not get to witness firsthand.
I then told them that there was a pervasive homosexual subculture within the priesthood that has taken over the positions of leadership. They recruit seminarians who are like themselves and discourage heterosexual men from entering.
Back when I was applying to the seminary, I distinctly remember the vocations recruiter at that time questioning my fitness for the priesthood. This was the vocations recruiter, not the vocations director. The vocations director was actually very supportive. The particular issue that concerned the recruiter, however, was an item that I had discussed in my autobiography. I spoke about my dating history, and he was concerned about my attraction to women. He was concerned that my heterosexuality would be an obstacle to my celibacy. I did not think it odd at the time, but looking back, that should have been my first red flag. I was very naïve back then.
So I told the people about all of this in my homily. I told them about the gay subculture and how young men would be introduced to it very early in their seminary careers, and they would have two options: Join it, or fight it. I believed in my heart that they had to know what they were going to encounter before they entered the seminary. I was not going to sell them a bill of goods. I was not going to be like the Army recruiter who tells a young man what he wants to hear just so he will sign the contract. When I was in Air Force basic training back in 1993, the most common complaint from all the men was, "My recruiter lied to me." I was not going to be that guy.
If a young man wants to enter the priesthood, he should know that he is volunteering for war — spiritual war — and there is a chance he will become a casualty of that war. Many men never make it out of seminary, and they needed to know that. Also, I thought that if I told them the truth I might get a more positive response. Knowing young men the way I do, I realize they are more likely to respond to a call to arms than they are to a limp-wristed call to the "gift of celibacy." If they only knew that the Church was under attack from the inside, they would be mobilized to storm the gates to fight and defend Her, because that is what men do.
My voice, however, was met with howls of indignation from a very loud minority. Word got around the diocese quickly, as I received phone calls and emails from brother priests who had heard about the homily all around the state. Although I was never contacted or reprimanded by the chancery, I strongly suspect a note of the complaints was added to my personnel file. The personnel file, by the way, is like the bishop's version of the files that J. Edgar Hoover kept on all of his friends and enemies. It is not a file I have ever been allowed to see, and God only know what is in it — God and the bishop, that is.
One funny story I tell people, and I believe I told it to the people in my homily that day: When I entered the seminary at Seton Hall, I was part of a large class that made up about half the seminary student body. We were a very masculine group. We organized a flag-football team, a basketball team, and a field hockey team to compete in the University's intramural leagues. It was the first time the seminary ever participated in Seton Hall's athletic leagues, and we dominated in flag-football and basketball much to everybody's surprise. Nobody thought the old men could beat the kids, but we did.
One day, I came back to the seminary after a football game, and I was covered in mud and blood and sweat. I wanted to get back to my room to shower, but when I entered the elevator, one of the retired 80-something-year-old monsignors entered with me. He was dressed in his good suit, looking like he had just come back from somewhere important. I apologized to him for my appearance.
"I'm sorry for my appearance, Monsignor, but I just came from the football game," I said.
Monsignor looked at me and said in his typical low, gruff voice, "Roman, it's good to see real men in the seminary again."
That said just about everything.
That is enough for now. More to come later ...
Read the next installment: "War on the Priesthood: A Culture of Cover-Up"