Sed Contra: Investigating the Seminaries

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 2003

With a decision on a plenary council put indefinitely on hold, the next major step in addressing the causes of the sexual abuse crisis is the upcoming apostolic visitation to our nation’s Catholic seminaries. Questions will be asked—as they should be—about how much Catholics can trust that the seminaries will undergo truly zealous scrutiny.

The breakdown of priestly discipline combined with an evident lack of commitment to papal leadership and the Church’s moral teaching (see “Sed Contra,” January 2003) points directly to the priestly formation in general and seminary education in particular.

The proposed apostolic visitation must be more than a public-relations exercise to calm a shell-shocked Catholic public; a major new poll Crisis has conducted shows that 39 percent of Catholics now have less confidence in the moral teaching of the Church, and 65 percent think that acts causing the scandal are still occurring. (Next month, we’ll give you the full poll results.)

Several years ago, Crisis ran a multi-article analysis of the state of Catholic seminaries. We found, not surprisingly, fundamental weaknesses in many seminary curricula and formation programs. Too often seminarians were not finishing the two years of philosophy mandated by canon law, Latin was ignored, and the requirements of pastoral training were minimizing the hours devoted to Church history and theology. The spiritual formation itself was often turned into peer-enforced exercises in political correctness with the aid of aggressively administered psychological testing.

Seminary administrations, with a few notable exceptions, didn’t appreciate Crisis putting its nose into their business. One bishop who heads a midwestern seminary asked me point-blank, “What business is it of Crisis to criticize seminaries?” When faced with such outrageous clericalism, the only response is to reply—as I did—that the health of those institutions that train our priests is the concern of all Catholics.

The question then arises whether or not the method and findings of the apostolic visitation will be made known to the Catholic public. Surely the bishops’ national review board for clergy sex abuse will have an oversight role to play. But will the laity be told who will conduct the visits, what they will be looking for, and how the evaluations will be tabulated? Most importantly, will we be given the results?

Catholic laity, even those who donate big money to educational institutions, know nearly nothing about what goes on inside them. They believe what they’re told—that the Faith is being taught with vigor and without apology. I suppose that’s why so many Catholic colleges and universities fought so strenuously against Ex Corde Ecclesiae and why only a handful of theology professors have asked for a mandatum (and it is more than a year past the deadline for that request).

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