Thursday, January 15, 2009

Seminary Report is Out

Catholic News Service reports that findings from the 2005-2006 U.S. seminary visitations have been released. They also helpfully provide a link to the full report. The Vatican document is signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski of the Congregation for Catholic Education and Dated Dec. 15.

This is a public release of general findings and does not include individual seminary assessments which presumably were conveyed to bishops and seminary heads much earlier. Nonetheless, it is refreshingly direct about areas of concern for U.S. seminaries.

Coupled with the assessment that most diocesan seminaries have much improved since the 1990s is a frank description of what those prior problems were and the admission that problems still exist in some diocesan seminaries.

But where diocesan seminaries faired well in this assessment, seminaries for religious orders did not. Over and over again in discussing the 10 major areas under study in the report, faults were most often attributed primarily to seminaries for religious, e.g., while discussing homosexuality:

"The Apostolic Visit was obliged to point out the difficulties, in the area of morality, that some seminaries had suffered in past decades. Usually, but not exclusively, this meant homosexual behavior. Nevertheless, in almost all the institutes where such problems existed, at least in the diocesan seminaries, the appointment of better superiors (especially rectors) has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome. Of course, here and there some case or other of immorality - ­again, usually homosexual behavior -continues to show up. However, in the main, the superiors now deal with these issues promptly and appropriately. Nevertheless, there are still some places - usually centers of formation for religious - where ambiguity vis-a-vis homosexuality persists." (emphases added)

And again, with regard to fidelity to Church teaching, especially in the area of moral theology, the document says:

"Even in the best seminaries, there can be some theology teachers who show reservations about areas of magisterial teacl1ing. This is particularly true in the field of moral theology. Other points of Church teaching, such as ordination being restricted to men alone, are also questioned. Such lack of sentire cum Ecclesia is often not overt, but the students receive the message clearly nevertheless. In a few seminaries, and particularly in some schools of theology run by religious, dissent is widespread.
"Without doubt, the most contested area of theology today is moral theology. It is also one of the most useful in pastoral ministry: without a sound grasp of moral principals, the priest will fail in his duties as a preacher and confessor. While most diocesan seminaries treat the subject fairly well, it is not rare in religious institutes to find basic tenets of Catholic moral doctrine being called into question." (emphases added)

The report doesn't name particular religious orders, which is unfortunate, because there exist many fine and orthodox religious centers of formation. But I suppose most readers can guess who suffers accutely from the defects above.

The most encouraging part of the report is its discussion of the quality of today's seminarians - one that I'd heartily confirm from anecdotal evidence:

"Almost universally, the candidates - both diocesan and religious - received great praise from the Apostolic Visitors. The candidates are generous, intelligent, full of zeal, pious, and faithful to prayer. They are demonstrably loyal to the Church's Magisterium. They are signs of great hope for the Church in the U.S." (emphases added)

The whole thing is well worth reading. Many of its insights could as well be applied to Catholic universities.