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the seminary visitation: John Allen's mid-term report

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 04, 2006

Reporting that almost a third of the 229 seminaries and formation programs have undergone their apostolic visitation, the NCR's John Allen gives an account of the process so far. Ominously, the buzz-word is "cordial."

[M]ost bishops who have led visitation teams say they see the process as a matter of "fine-tuning," rather than remedying systemic problems. Several bishops have likened the visitation to an academic accreditation process, helping institutions to build on strengths and correct weaknesses.

Great. That's doubtless why the Holy See called the U.S. cardinals together in April of 2002 and insisted on a "new and serious" visitation: for purposes of accreditation and fine-tuning.

"I believe one result will be to show great trust in our seminaries," said Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Texas.

And if I were a tort lawyer in Fullerton, I'd hope so too.

"By and large, rectors, staff, and professors are doing a very, very good job," Aymond told NCR Dec. 22. "Sometimes they've been unfairly criticized, as if every problem a priest later has is the fault of the seminary. That's always been wrong. These are men and women who have given their lives to seminary formation, and they deserve our confidence."

Confidence? Look, you've got a brother bishop who played Brokeback Mouton with his seminarians while he was their rector, currently hiding behind Fifth Amendment immunity to stay out of the hoosegow. No one disputes the contention that the greater number of formatores are doing their job, but many aren't -- including some who have "given their lives to seminary formation." Why not separate the shepherds from the goatherds, as it were, and then let us decide who deserves our confidence? Back to Allen:

In NCR's late December interviews with five bishops and four rectors, as well as seminarians, Vatican officials and experts on American seminary life, no one suggested there is a crisis in moral theology in American seminaries. ... A senior Vatican official, for example, asked to pinpoint areas where the visits might make a difference in seminary life, responded: "It could be that some reading lists in moral theology are a little deficient, and need to be corrected."

Reading lists. Right. If Robert "Do I wish I didn't feel his biceps?" Lynch had skimmed Arregui's Theologia Moralis in 1978, he'd be Cardinal Archbishop of Singapore today.

Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, another visitor, told NCR that after what he calls "unevenness" in formation following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), an "enormous amount" was learned in the 1980s, and today he expects a major focus of the visitation will be to "affirm what's in place … and to commend the good things happening."

Let me single out for special affirmation the outstanding automatic lawn-sprinkling system at St. Vincent's Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida, installed in response to the call to discipleship of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). I'd like to hear Bishop Patrick Ziemann elaborate on Bishop Wuerl's discourse on the "unevenness" of post-Conciliar formation.

"I don't anticipate any sweeping changes," said Franciscan Sr. Katarina Schuth of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Schuth, widely noted for her research on seminaries, said institutions have made great strides in dealing with issues of psychosexual maturity and formation for celibacy. "The best minds have been working on these issues for 20, 30, 40 years," Schuth told NCR Dec. 20. "To think this whole group has missed something essential is hard to imagine."

Three dioceses bankrupt and another half-dozen on the brink. A billion-dollar buggery bill. More than four hundred priests tail-piped to death. Church auctions. School closings. Dead-beat dads in roman collars. That's 40 years of The Best Minds at work, folks. To think this whole group has missed something essential -- they've done a heckuva job -- is hard to imagine.

Some bishops privately told NCR that the visits may provide cover for seminaries and houses of formation, especially those run by religious orders, which are sometimes unjustly criticized for lax oversight or ambiguity on church teaching.

Unjustly criticized? The Aquinas Institute of St. Louis took on the Visitation norms directly by putting its queen en prise at the beginning of the match and defying the visitators to act. The Institute displays no ambiguity whatsoever on Church teaching: it rejects it. Whether the Holy See responds with pink slips or a corrected reading list remains to be seen.

Msgr. Kevin McCoy, former rector of the North American College in Rome, told NCR that the focus on sexual morality should not distract seminaries from other "meat and potatoes" issues of priestly formation. ... "A man who can't, or who refuses, to greet you with a 'good morning' can do more damage in a parish," McCoy told NCR. "If he doesn't display readiness for compassion, if there's no affect, this is not a man who can build community."

Now there, boys and girls, is a man destined for ecclesiastical preferment.

[Fr. Donald] Cozzens said he worries that the visitation is a "command and control" exercise that may not adequately capture the experience of professors and staff. He said he's also concerned that the emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy may compromise the intellectual quality of seminaries, turning them into "graduate schools of apologetics."

"We have to be careful not to be fooled by surface cordiality," Cozzens told NCR. "The jury is still out."

What gives Cozzens reason for consternation gives your Uncle Di reason for hope. He's right: the jury is still out. The visitators may conduct the inspection courteously and still submit candid reports to Rome. Whether the reports languish there, or serve as part of a stable-cleaning, is yet to be determined. Bishops are not good at correcting bishops -- in fact, most of them have their jobs because, inter alia, they can be relied upon to be "team players" -- which, as The Crisis has shown us in humiliating detail, includes looking the other way when there's mischief afoot. The cordiality may be a reflex of the same instinct.

Years after the Marshall Visitation, we saw the firing of Sister Carmel McElroy from Saint Meinrad's, which the Lefties correctly understood as a token gesture and -- in view of the ordained tapeworms left untouched -- rightly condemned as scapegoating ("See, we cleaned house!"). It may be that there'll be a pair of McElroys in our future for PR reasons. But if Rome truly wants to tackle the problems instead of handing out participation trophies, it'll be deans and rectors that are sent packing. At least this visitation came with Instructions.

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Show 17 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Clorox - Jan. 07, 2006 8:19 PM ET USA

    Look, there will be no reform until there is episcopal blood on the floor. The Vatican has to take at least one American bishop out as an example to the rest. But that won't happen. My evidence? Exhibit A: Rembert Weakland on a recent vocations flyer for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 06, 2006 12:28 PM ET USA

    The bishops are investigating themselves? Uncle Diogenes, isn't there a common sense principle to the effect that no one should be a judge in his own case (Nemo in propria causa judex esse debet)??

  • Posted by: Convert1994 - Jan. 06, 2006 9:10 AM ET USA

    Hope springs eternal! Last night in the Catholic Telegraph I read an interview with Archbishop Pilarczyk and I commend him for his straightforward answer when asked about the DDD and homosexuals in the seminary. He explained in plain language why the "priesthood is not for you" if you are homosexual.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Jan. 06, 2006 1:31 AM ET USA

    Great column, again, Diogenes. Indeed, let us pray that the actual reports sent to Rome are brutally honest and clear... and that the Vatican responds by: sending many deans and rectors packing; closing more than a few seminaries; and strengthening the remaining orthodox seminaries. Saint Charles Borromeo and Saint John Vianney, pray for us.

  • Posted by: Sir William - Jan. 05, 2006 2:14 PM ET USA

    If the bishops won't police themselves or our priests, and the Vatican does not seem to have the nerve to do it either, why should the laity sit idly by and let them be given approval by silence? Aren't they always saying to us, "Be empowered"? Is not "Admonish the sinner" is a work of mercy? Fast, pray and do penance and let them know we won't tolerate nonesense any longer, especially where our children are concerned. I feel empowered already.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 05, 2006 1:12 PM ET USA

    Please keep my subscription to CWN because this is the only site where traditional Catholics can come together and find fellowship, albeit, in a stunted sense on the internet. Maybe we come here because we know that we won't find many people like us at our own parish or we know that we are viewed with suspicion by our pastors and bishops. We find here a sense of community that is sorely needed.

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Jan. 05, 2006 12:51 PM ET USA

    "Sometimes they've been unfairly criticized, as if every problem a priest later has is the fault of the seminary." Some of these are the same folks who call for the closing of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, because a few bad corporals have become tyrants. Sometimes their hypocracy is too much to bear.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 05, 2006 11:32 AM ET USA

    The Lord has been mighty patient with all this in His Church in the U.S. This might just be the last chance for us to make it right, lay people with prayer and public acknowlegement of the problems, and Church hierarchy to get us all back on the road. If He has to take corrective action, I'm pretty sure it won't be done " in the spirit of Vatican II" whatever that schlock is. It'll be that other Spirit. If you believe your Bible, well, I hope we don't disappoint Him.

  • Posted by: Convert1994 - Jan. 05, 2006 9:31 AM ET USA

    EBM, Our Lord Himself cleaned up the Temple with a whip and overturned tables. He referred to dissenters as "a brood of vipers." Moses smashed the golden calf. With all due respect you are confusing tolerance with acceptance. John

  • Posted by: - Jan. 05, 2006 8:34 AM ET USA

    Please cancel my subscription to this service. I tried in several ways to do it myself, can't. I am angered and saddened by the language and sarcasm in the comments, especially Diogenes. I am aware of our problems, The use of unchristian criticism and snideness will not sovle them. Thank you

  • Posted by: benedictusoblatus - Jan. 04, 2006 9:56 PM ET USA

    Just what exactly do you clean out of stables anyway? I'm not much into equestrian arts, but I can imagine that a poorly tended stable can be a pretty rank place. But that's not all bad. A good nose, intestinal fortitude, and a willingness to work hard can result in the detritus being thoroughly cleaned up and the stable returned to good order. Rotten seminaries don't pass the "smell" test. They lack evidence of supernatural virtues, sound faith and piety. If they smell bad, clean them up.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 04, 2006 8:46 PM ET USA

    What's needed is the wrath of God. Numberless serious crimes have been committed, and the Church needs a serious blood-letting. If a bishop covers up for a degenerate priest, he is guilty of a serious crime: he should be defrocked and handed over to the civil authorities for a just punishment. And if somebody accuses me of pointing fingers, passing judgment, or being uncharitable, I reply, "I'm not the one sodomizing your sons."

  • Posted by: - Jan. 04, 2006 8:32 PM ET USA

    Bottom line: Let us pray. Maybe that needs to be more emphatic . . . Pray or else!

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Jan. 04, 2006 5:16 PM ET USA

    oh boy, here we go again. Di, many of the contributors to this space, and others apparently were correct in their scepticism. Time for Di to run the pic of that old rusted jalopy...it sums things up nicely. (yes! I liked that photo the broken down car as an analogy to the sem visitation effort, or non-effort, or whatever the heck they're trying to make it out to be!)

  • Posted by: - Jan. 04, 2006 4:20 PM ET USA

    Gee, Di, what did you expect? Did you seriously believe that these visitations would expose the corruption and the corrupt? Or did you really think that any on a visitation team would want to be the one to carry the bad news to Rome? And you seem to have forgotten that all things Catholic are now done in the “spirit of Vatican II.” It’s a 3-monkeys visitation, Di; no one will hear, see or speak of the evil. (And that’s exactly the way this visitation scheme was designed to function.)

  • Posted by: Charles134 - Jan. 04, 2006 2:27 PM ET USA

    I dispute the contention that the greater number of formatores are doing their job. This isn't Lake Wobegone, where everyone is above average. Some large percentage of formatores are actively undermining faith and morals, and most of the rest aren't fighting this. I'd like to add, since I've got 198 chr's left, that I am a sinful jerk who's hurt lots of people. I'm not saying I'm better than the greater number of formatores, I'm just saying that they're terrible.

  • Posted by: zonner - Jan. 04, 2006 12:53 PM ET USA

    What was needed was an investigation the old fashion way-the apostolic visitors coming from outside the USA. I have it on the best of authorities that the Marshall report asked for the closing of a seminary(I know which one) because of what was going on there but the Archbishop refused.

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