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Ain't no one heah but us capons, boss!

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 16, 2004

Remember the April 2002 "Vatican Summit" that pledged a "new and serious apostolic visitation of seminaries" in response to the Crisis? Well, two years down the road, Fr. Edward J. Burns, director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Priestly Formation, informs us that such a visitation, if it takes place at all, will be neither serious nor new:

From his own experiences as part of teams visiting seminaries to review their performance, he said, he believes the U.S. seminaries today "are really great places of formation."

When the U.S. bishops adopted their child protection charter in 2002, one of the charter's elements was a commitment to collaborate in a visitation of each seminary, under Vatican oversight, focusing on the quality of its program of "human formation for celibate chastity."

Father Burns said the bishops are currently awaiting Rome's decision on the content and conduct of those visitations, but he believes they will be modeled after the apostolic visitations of U.S. seminaries conducted in the 1980s and the voluntary visitations that have continued since then.

Really great places of formation.

Just off the top of my head I can think of Gerald Shirilla, and Carl Schipper, and Milton Walsh, and George Berthold, and Anthony O'Connell -- all of whom administered or taught at U.S. seminaries, all of whom were nailed for unnatural vice, and all of whom passed muster at the Marshall Visitation which, according to Burns, will provide the model for the next one.

The Marshall Plan consisted largely in self-evaluation: we send you the norms and forms, you report on your compliance, we come by to read your responses to you. During its own inspection in the mid-1980s, St. Patrick's Seminary somehow neglected to mention the enthusiasm of its academic dean for kiddie porn or the fondness for teenage boys exhibited by its associate professor of systematic theology. By contrast, the police who later arrested the offenders did not discover them by a general mailing sent to San Francisco residents asking each to evaluate his adherence to the California criminal code.

Why dwell on this particular class of seminary failure? Because it's a vice grotesque enough to involve the police, and hence the press, and therefore everyone must concede it's not a figment of our imagination. Those familiar with seminaries recognize defects at least as glaring in theology, spirituality, liturgy, and in the manner of living -- but since in such case the tribunal competent to redress the injuries is presided over by the very men responsible for the institutions on trial, these defects -- unlike vice squad visits -- are eminently deniable. Felony convictions don't tell the whole story, but they can't be snorted away as the ravings of ill-informed outsiders. They count.

Which brings us to the original question: why would you conduct a "friendly" visitation unless you wished not to learn unfavorable info and wished not to embark on reform?

Q: "Now what's the story with your seminaries, lads?
A: "Really great places of formation!"
Q: "That's all I wanted to know."

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 16, 2004 11:05 AM ET USA

    We should let the seminaries conduct their own evaluations and send them signed and notarized to the Vatican. We should also laugh at, ridicule and disregard any conclusions so signed and notarized. When the appeals for funding come (always in the guise of a homily during Mass), we should yawn as if our strength has been sapped too much by listening to the appeal to actually write a check. Then we should meet for coffee in the parish hall and continue as if no appeal had ever taken place.

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