15 January 2009

Report: Apostolic Visitation of US seminaries (UPDATED)

[NB. The link to the actual report is now fixed.]

In response to the sexual abuse scandals that hit the Church square-on in 2002, the Vatican initiated in the fall of 2005 an "Apostolic Visitation" of all American seminaries and schools of theology that teach seminarians.

The review boards interviewed seminarians and recently ordained priests in order to evaluate contemporary priestly formation in the U.S. Interviewers asked questions about academic work, moral formation, spiritual life, faculty fidelity to the magisterium, etc. I was interviewed for this visitation just six months into my priesthood.

The final report has finally been released. Overall, diocesan seminaries are given very high marks for substantial improvements, especially in the tightening up the loosey-goosey "it's-all-about-me" formation programs, for instilling a sense of priestly identity in the seminarians, and for appointing strong, faithful priests to serve as rectors.

I am embarrassed but not surprised that seminaries and schools of theology operated and staffed by religous orders are consistently thumped for not making the cut. The critical language of the report is very restrained in pointing out problems. However, that these schools were singled out at all is very, very telling. Like most official documents of the Church, if there's even a hint of negative critical language, it is carrying a very painful slap. . .even if the hand is covered in the finest silk.

Schools run by religious are smacked for hiring and retaining dissenting professors (two areas of dissent were noted: blurring the distinctions btw lay/ordained ministries and advocating for women's ordination); for allowing lay and non-Catholic members of the faculty to vote on decisions about ordination; for laxity in teaching orthodox moral theology; among others.

The report is interesting too for its proposed solutions to remaining problems. Listing the proposed reforms together and taking them as a program, you get the diocesan equivalent of a religious order's novitiate! Excellent.

Time will tell. . .the inevitable biological solution. . .if problems in religious order schools can be solved fraternally and to everyone's benefit, or if it's going to take the delivery of a whole bunch of pink slips.

[UPDATE] I want to draw your attention to Clayton Emmer's wonderful blog, The Weight of Glory. Clayton blogs extensively on issues related to Catholic seminary formation. Check it out!


  1. Anonymous1:11 PM

    Thanks for posting that!

    However, the link doesn't work... Try this one: http://www.usccb.org/cclv/final_report.pdf

  2. Anonymous1:30 PM

    Thanks for another insightful post, Father! It's nice to hear that the diocesan seminaries, at least, are doing well.

    You might want to take a second look at the link to the document - maybe add http:// in front and remove the dot at the end.

  3. Anonymous6:08 PM

    Let's just pray that the Holy Spirit opens the hearts of the superiors of religious orders to take this report seriously. Amen.

  4. Augustine,

    Reports like these are much easier for bishops to implement than for religious superiors...the "collectivist" nature of religious life tends to push us toward lengthy consultations, consensus, etc. Many times the actual process of consultation, consensus becomes the the goal; I mean, process for the sake of process, to consult IS what it means to be religious...older generations of religious who grew up under oppressively authoritarian modes of religious gov't are particularly swirly about cmtes, sub-cmtes, feedback loops, reports on progress in the sub-cmte feedback loop, etc.

    Yea, that's my way of saying: "Don't be betting your stipend that this report will change anything among religious-run schools."

  5. I can't believe they would single out religious orders for blurring the lines! Where would they get an idea like that from?


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  7. Anonymous8:57 AM

    Fr. P,

    Yet, if demographics is working against the moonbats in religious orders, given that they still run their respective seminaries, how can the new generation change anything if they're being formed in the same heresies? Or is the Holy Spirit acting in such a way that the novices come with a built-in BS-o-meter that gives them a better grasp of what is orthodox and what ain't?


  8. Augustine,

    Simply put, the moonbat generation may be the canonical formattors, but they aren't the real formattors. IOW, in those cases where the moonbats are in charge of formation, a shrinking number of places, the younger generations simply go along to get along but they do not actual take in the moonbatism. More and more the younger generations are looking over the heads of their immediate, appointed superiors and toward the generation that the Baby Boomers rebelled against. So, sometimes, it is not unusual to see an alliance btw the novices/.students and the 80-90 y.o. against the 50-60 y.o.'s.

    As always, this idea is highly generalized and only represents my experience.

  9. Maybe there are some out there currently in formation who would like to share their experiences about this?

  10. Question: if someone is denied ordination due to irregular procedures (laity and non-Catholics voting), may he appeal to the Holy See? And where would this actually get the seminarian/religious for daring to go over heads?

  11. Dave,

    This is an excellent question...however, it's a question for a canonist.

    I don't know if the inclusion of lay and non-Catholic faculty in the voting process is illegal (per se) or just highly discouraged...I mean, I don't think that it is illegal in a way that would invalidate a decision to pass on a candidate.

    Appealing to Rome is always a possibility. However, doing so leaves you rough and stained in the home diocese. I imagine that it would be difficult to live in that diocese as a priest. So much of our life in the Church is based on the good will, good sense, and the promotion of the common good, that those in charge might come to see a rejected seminarian as "damaged goods."

  12. Anonymous7:15 PM

    Fr. Philip,

    You are right about the alliances being formed between the novice/students and say the 80-90 year olds. That was my experience with a certain "young" Dominican friar who survived the Spanish Civil War and is still alive and well in San Antonio...the man is a saint...definitely a saint! :-)

  13. I'm looking forward to reading the whole report. I'm encouraged by a number of things mentioned in Cardinal O'Malley's cover letter.

    The whole topic of seminary formation interests me and has been one of the main topics of my blog in years past.

  14. Raul,

    Speaking of Spanish saints, Fr. Vincente Pena died last week. RIP.

  15. very interesting....now...are any of these suggested changes actually going to be made? When will there be a review to see if any changes have done any good??

  16. Mom,

    Changes will come swiftly in the diocesan seminaries. They have to worry that bishops will pull his guys out and send them elsewhere. There's an economic motivation to doing what the report asks them to do.

    Religious schools of theology are not motivated as much by episcopal authority. Most of them are financially supported by their respective orders and rely heavily on lay students. And it is b/c they rely so heavily on lay students that they are reluctant to follow any kind of theological model that appears to put clerical education over lay education.

    The thought of having entirely separate clerical/lay programs is simply beyond the pale to them. So, it is not uncommon to have religious sisters and lay women in classes that are designed to teach seminarians how to say Mass and hear confessions...can you guess the reason given for this absurdity?

  17. Anonymous7:39 PM

    Br. Andrew,

    The answer to your question is simple, the Benedictines.

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  19. nope, can't guess......well okay my guess would be something along the lines of non-co-ed classes are exclusionary..ie...hateful??

  20. Mom,

    Yea, they give the whole "separate but equal" is evil thing...but the real reason is that they think they are being "prophetic," i.e., they believe that if they just keeping on pushing, keep on pretending that women will one day be ordained, they will be. When religious, esp. religious women, say they are being "prophetic," what they mean is: we're ignoring the rules until the Powers That Be agree with us. Sometimes this works. With female altar servers, for example...pastors ignored the rules against altar girls until someone made a stink about it to the Vatican. When the Vatican looked like it was going to enforce the rule, these "prophets" started yelling, "But we've had altar girls for years now! It's unjust! It will devastate them! What a pastoral disaster!" The Pope relented. So, they figure if they just go ahead and educate female students as if they are seminarians, some day the poor, ignorant church will come around and find enlightenment.

  21. Anonymous1:28 AM


    I just now saw your note about Fr. Vincente Pena. I was incredibly blessed to have met him in San Antonio. Earth's lost is definitely Heaven's gain. That holy man should be canonized for his holiness. Fr. Vincente Pena...PRAY FOR US!