Apostolic visitation deems US seminaries generally healthy, notes numerous problems
an. 15, 2009 (CWNews.com) - A Vatican investigation into American seminarians, undertaken in a response to the sex-abuse scandal, has given the institutions a passing grade but taken note of many difficulties. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has quietly posted on its web site the final report of the apostolic visitation of seminaries in the United States. Dated December 15, the report, issued by the prefect and secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, offers a generally positive assessment of US seminaries but notes numerous problems.
The apostolic visitation stemmed from an extraordinary April 2002 meeting between Roman curial prefects and cardinals and other leaders of the American hierarchy. Issued at the height of the clerical abuse scandal, the meeting’s final communique called for “a new and serious Apostolic Visitation of seminaries and other institutes of formation must be made without delay, with particular emphasis on the need for fidelity to the Church’s teaching, especially in the area of morality, and the need for a deeper study of the criteria of suitability of candidates to the priesthood.”
While concluding that “in the great majority of diocesan seminaries, the doctrine on the priesthood is well taught,” the report nonetheless noted in some seminaries, students have an “insufficient grasp” of Catholic teaching and the distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful and the hierarchal priesthood is blurred. Some religious institutes speak primarily of “ministry” rather than the priesthood in a “mistaken attempt” not to offend opponents of Catholic teaching on women’s ordination*.
While praising bishops and major superiors for being “interested in and supportive of” seminaries, the report urged each bishop to make the seminary “the object of his most intense and assiduous pastoral care.” Although the majority of seminary rectors are “good and holy men,” not all are leaders who are “comfortable making difficult decisions.“ Rectors need to spend more time at the seminary, while frequent personnel changes among seminary faculty need to end. Praising “most diocesan seminaries” for the unity of their faculty with the magisterium, the report nonetheless noted the presence of some faculty members who dissent from magisterial teaching; such dissenters are “out of kilter with the rest of the faculty and with the seminarians themselves.”
I wonder if it’s rather a sense of American egalitarianism that resists the idea that priests are special.