CNS has a story. The whole report is here as a PDF from the USCCB.
The Vatican’s report says:
“[A]n Apostolic Visitation is a blunt instrument and by no means an infallible one. It a seminary is visited on March 1-7, 2006, then the Visitation report will show the general state of the seminary only on those days [emphasis in the original]. It is a snapshot. Indeed, we cannot claim that the Visitation will have unerathed all the problems that may be present. What is more, we have repeatedly underscroed that the responsibility for your seminaries rests with you, the bishops and major superiors.
In what follows my emphases and comments.
Vatican report: Most U.S. seminaries are generally healthy
By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — An apostolic visitation team concluded that U.S. Catholic seminaries and houses of priestly formation are generally healthy, but recommended a stronger focus on moral theology, increased oversight of seminarians and greater involvement of diocesan bishops in the formation process.
“This visitation has demonstrated that, since the 1990s, a greater sense of stability now prevails in the U.S. seminaries,” the report said. “The appointment, over time, of rectors who are wise and faithful to the church has meant a gradual improvement, at least in the diocesan seminaries.”
The report, sparked by the sexual abuse crisis that hit the U.S. church, concluded that seminaries appeared to have made improvements in the area of seminarian morality, most notably with regard to homosexual behavior. [Hmmm…. a connection, perhaps, between sodomy in general and pedophilia in particular? Hmmm….]
“Of course, here and there some case or other of immorality — again, usually homosexual behavior — continues to show up,” the report said. “However, in the main, the superiors now deal with these issues promptly and appropriately.”
The report was dated Dec. 15 and signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which deals with seminaries. It was published on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to coincide with National Vocation Awareness Week, which began Jan. 12. [Were you aware it was “Vocation Awareness Week”? Most of us are pretty well connected. So… Did you know that? I didn’t.]
The report said some seminaries need to examine how educators can ensure the good behavior of their students when they are off-campus as well as their access to emerging technology. [What… are they going to shut them in again in the evenings or other times? That is the way it was in the Roman seminary I was in, though not in the USA.]
“Seminaries face extra challenges today, as compared to recent years,” the report said. “Among these is how to monitor the students’ use of the Internet.” It recommended that seminaries and religious houses of priestly formation use Internet-filtering programs and restrict Internet use to public rooms within the seminary. [There is a point here. However, does this prepare men for what they will be doing in the “big world”? I don’t know. This is not 1908. This is 2008.]
Bishops sometimes delegate too much responsibility for the acceptance of diocesan candidates to their vocation directors and other subordinates, the report said.
“This is unfortunate, as it is the bishop who will ultimately have to call, or not call, the candidate to orders,” it said, recommending a more collaborative approach to the formation process.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, said in a letter to U.S. bishops that it was “gratifying to read in the report that our seminaries are generally in a healthy condition that strongly promotes the formation of men for the sacred ministry in this country.”
“The general conclusions of the visitation are positive,” Cardinal O’Malley added. “I am sure that all bishops and religious superiors will take seriously the observations and recommendations of the congregation that will further strengthen our seminaries and houses of formation.”
The plan to hold apostolic visitations to assess the quality of formation in seminaries arose in Rome at an April 2002 special meeting of the U.S. cardinals and U.S. bishops’ officials with top Vatican officials.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, now head of the Baltimore Archdiocese, was chosen to coordinate the visitation team, which included 117 bishops and seminary personnel. Archbishop O’Brien was rector of the Pontifical North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome, from 1990 to 1994. For five years before that and two years after, he headed the New York archdiocesan seminary, St. Joseph’s in Yonkers, N.Y.
Working in teams of three for smaller programs or four for the larger ones, the panels visited more than 200 U.S. seminaries and formation houses in 2005 and 2006. The visitations paid special attention to areas such as the quality of the seminarians’ human and spiritual formation for living chastely and of their intellectual formation for faithfulness to church teachings, especially in the area of moral theology.
Cardinal O’Malley noted that although the report generally praised the academic standards of most institutions for both philosophy and theology it reported gaps in some programs, particularly in the areas of the theological study of Mary and the study of early Christian writers, [AHHHH! FINALLY! TE DEUM! TE DEUM! AT LAST!] as well as some lack of commitment to “sentire cum ecclesia” (to think with the church) in the area of moral theology.
In 1990 the Congregation for Catholic Education issued a document that required all seminaries to have training in Patristic Theology (not just an anthololgy of some snipets from the Fathers or Patrology) as a separate rubric from Church history, etc.
There are a few things to absorb in the report.
The Vatican’s report says:
“A seminary without a proper concept of the priesthood is starting off entirely on the wrong foot.”
The late Msgr. Richard Schuler, once pastor of St. Agnes in St. Paul, used to question whether the faculty of one seminary could correctly answer three questions: 1) Who is Jesus Christ? 2) Who is the Church? 3) Who is the priest?
Once upon a time, most of the seminaries in the US were confused on this point.
I am happy to say that in my experience of seminaries I have visited on my own, the environments were very good and clear and the seminarians were happy. As a matter of fact, I think many of the positive changes in seminaries over the last 15 years came from the seminarians themselves, as the demographics shifted.
The report says that
“in the great majority of diocesan seminaries, the doctrine on the priesthood is well taught. The faculty and seminarians follow the teaching of the Magisterium on the subject….” “However, there is “an incomplete grasp”.
Service is stressed, but less so the priestly character. The function of a priest is strong, less so who the priest is in a deeper theological sense. Not all seminaries distinguish well enough between ministerial priesthood and common priesthood of the baptized. Sometimes there is too much of a mix of training of seminarians with those not in formation for ordination. The report was somewhat tougher on formation programs for religious.
Regarding the governance of the seminaries, it was found that some faculty had not made a profession of faith required before teaching. Also, some faculty members suggested to students their disapproval of articles of Magisterial teaching.
Criteria for admission were examined. There were concerns about the lack of a propeduetic period foreseen by Pastores dabo vobis 62.
Concern was raised about “compression” of studies.
I have no idea what they are going to do about this, since the entire structure of classical, liberal education has been nearly completely destroyed everywhere.
Otherwise, “Seminary rectors, in conscience, must always keep the barriers to ordination high.”
Candidates themselves are praised, but it is reasonably and correctly observed that they are men of their times, with the concommitant difficulties.
“Not infrequently, they come from broken families, or from backgrounds with little faith experience or knowledge of Catholic doctrine. They may be weighed down by their past, which also complicates the work of formation.”
As far as their formation is concerned, a couple comments jumped at me.
“It seems that most seminarians are in the practice of confessing at least monthly. It should be asked whether twice monthly would not be better….”
“It is profoundly regrettable that many seminaries do not include traditional acts of piety in their horarium. … Some institutes even have an atmosphere that discourages traditional acts of Catholic piety – which begs the question as to whether the faculty’s ideas of spirituality are consonant with Church teaching and tradition.”
Also, “internal forum needs to be better safeguarded”. My experience from seminary in the USA was complete violation in this regard. I hope this is over for good.
Regarding intellectual formation, I think it is important to remember that seminaries are not really “grad schools”, and some seem to pretend to be. Students are different ages and from different backgounds, so a seminary can’t be confused with a grad school. Still, there is a concern that there isn’t enough training in philosophy.
Then, back to something spoken of elsewhere in the report, which suggests to me that it was a real concern:
“Even in the best seminaries, there can be some theology teachers who show reservations about areas of magisterial teaching. This is particularly true in the field of moral theology. Other points of Church teaching, such as ordination being restricted to men alone, are also questioned. Such a lack of sentire cum Ecclesia is often not overt, but the students receive the message clearly nevertheless. In a few seminaries, and particularly in some some schools of theology run by religious, dissent is widespread.”
Their big concerns is, of course, moral theology.
It is alarming that there was no mention at all of Latin. It is clear that if a student does have any Latin coming into major seminary (and how sadly indicative of disaster in our education is that?) it is probably too late to turn him into a Latin machine. But something must be done. At the very least, even if the benefits are not obvious, Canon Law requires it.
However, the report says that generally the programs are well-thought out and well taught. Some are excellent.
In the matter of being placed in parishes…. well…
There was an interesting and strong paragraph about evaluations. In my time, this was the nightmare scenario. I am told by seminarians that things have improved, but there are still problems. The report says,
“In a very few seminaries, suspicions were voiced that the evaluations are sometimes used to ‘punish’ seminarians.”
Also, the process is often opaque.
Go and read the General Conclusions.