Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

deeply impressed

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 31, 2006

The visitors have said they came away from the visits "deeply impressed by what is going on at the seminaries," Archbishop O'Brien said.

That's the punch-line of the CNS story on the near-completion of the visitation of U.S. seminaries. The U.S. bishop who coordinated the visitation believes his mission was accomplished:

"Bottom line, I think this visitation was most successful," Archbishop O'Brien said in a talk to the 2006 Catholic Media Convocation in Nashville. A former head of two seminaries, he was coordinator of the visitations for the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees seminary formation.

So, you thought the abuse crisis itself, or the diocesan bankruptcies consequent thereon, or the arrest of seminary staff for unnatural vice, or the widespread clerical defiance of Church teaching, indicate that a purge is called for? Well you're wrong.

"The hype to begin with led some to believe this was going to be a crusade ... to weed out immorality," Archbishop O'Brien said. "That's not what it was about."

Instead, he said, the objective of the visitations was to determine if seminarians were being prepared properly to live a chaste and celibate life.

"I think the phobias that went around quickly dissipated" as the visits continued, he said.

Lots of diplomatic equivocation here; O'Brien left his emergency exits open. The "phobias" mentioned might belong to those afraid that heads would roll, or those afraid that heads wouldn't roll, or both. I think we all know which group feels -- or is meant to feel -- relief. Not to put too fine a point on it, your Uncle Di's phobias haven't dissipated.

It doesn't look good, but the story isn't entirely finished yet. On the one hand, Archbishop O'Brien is not the kind of man to tell the media, "The visitors were appalled at what they found," even if it happened to be the case. On the other hand, O'Brien's is not the judgment that ultimately matters; the will to reform needs to be felt by the Holy See if anything is going to change. "We have to be careful not to be fooled by surface cordiality," former seminary rector Donald Cozzens told the NCR last January. "The jury is still out."

Though Cozzens fears what most of us hope for, and vice-versa, his caution applies equilaterally. If the visitors took a good hard look behind the scenes, and if they communicated what they found to Rome, and if Rome wants the stables cleaned even more than it wants genial relations with bishops, genial relations with religious orders, and genial relations with the media -- then and only then might we see some action. I think it's Cozzens who will end up with the visitation he was hoping for rather than the visitation he feared, but I'd be happy to be wrong, again.

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