The other day, the Baltimore Sun ran a perfectly ordinary news profile of Father Robert F. Leavitt, who is leaving his post as president and rector of St. Mary's University and Seminary after nearly three decades of leadership on that campus. The double-decker headline was standard fare: "Mentor to priests steps down -- As head of St. Mary's since 1980, the rector has guided the Catholic seminary through tremendous change."
The story deals with some hard subjects, as any news story about the Roman Catholic priesthood must do in this era. For example, we read about a crucial challenge for the seminary:
One goal -- develop priests who embody the ideals despite the credibility lost during the sexual abuse scandals.
"I take a lot of pride in building priests of character," Leavitt says. "I think that one of the things I would want to make part of my legacy is that character and strength and moral courage becomes a trademark of the priesthood again. It would take a lot of people to win that reputation back in the minds of the public at large."
Enrollment at St. Mary's peaked at 350 in the 1960s, but it fell to 150 when Leavitt became rector and has been cut in half since then. Not all of those clerics remained in the priesthood, Leavitt says.
These days, about 60 seminarians are enrolled in St. Mary's priestly formation program, which usually takes about six years. In the 1990s, graduating classes got as small as six or seven, Leavitt says, but now recruitment is better, perhaps inspired by Pope John Paul II. This summer, 13 seminarians were ordained, and classes have numbered between 13 and 16 for the last six or seven years.
Elsewhere in the story, Father Leavitt addresses another major influence on the past few decades at the seminary, which would be the leadership of a pope whom most people viewed as a traditionalist on moral issues.
Most of Leavitt's tenure as president-rector overlapped with that of Pope John Paul II. "I've tried to take the seminary in the direction that John Paul II took the church ... connected it with people who are concerned about God and faith and the world."
However, there is a problem -- as you would expect, since I am writing this post.
Suffice it to say that if one goes to Google and searches for the words "seminary," "Baltimore" and "Pink Palace" (go ahead, try it) you will quickly find out that this is, for many traditional Catholics, a very controversial seminary, a seminary at the heart of the hot, bitter and ongoing debates about whether there is a problem in the American priesthood linked to homosexuality. There are progressive Catholics who are worried about this "gay subculture", as well as conservatives.
How in the world can a journalist dig into this news story and not learn this basic fact about this seminary? I mean, didn't anyone from the Sun interview any conservative Catholics at all?
Actually, looking through the story, it does not appear that they did. Surprise.