WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Diocesan seminaries in the United States are generally healthy, concluded a letter from the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education after an apostolic visitation to review centers of priestly formation.
The letter was released this week by the U.S. bishops’ conference. It was directed to cardinals, bishops, major superiors, and all those responsible for diocesan seminaries and religious houses of priestly formation in the United States.
It recognized a breakdown of seminaries in past decades, when a “false sense of freedom was sometimes cultivated, which led to the throwing off of centuries of acquired wisdom in priestly formation.”
However, the visits to individual seminaries from September 2005 to July 2006 found that “since the 1990’s, a greater sense of stability now prevails” mainly due to the appointment of “rectors who are wise and faithful to the Church.”
The visitation reported, “While there are some institutes that continue to be inadequate, the diocesan seminaries are, in general, healthy.”
Taking a look
The apostolic visitation was initiated in 2002 following a meeting between Pope John Paul II, representatives of the Roman Curia, and American cardinals with the presidency of the U.S. Bishops Conference.
Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, archbishop of the Military Services at the time, was chosen to coordinate the visitation team’s trips to every seminary and religious house.
After the conclusions from the trip were reviewed by the Holy See, the report was compiled and sent in a letter signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, prefect and secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, respectively.
The letter lauded the majority of seminaries for teaching the doctrine on the priesthood well, though it noted a need to emphasize the character “impressed by the sacrament of orders” rather than just the idea of priestly service. This will help avoid a “theologically poor, functionalistic image of the priesthood.”
It continued: “One of the most encouraging results of the visitation was the conclusion that most seminary superiors are good and holy men, dedicated to their special apostolate, who are genuinely doing all they can to prepare men well for the priesthood. This congregation commends their hard work and personal sacrifice.
“Quite often, the visitation discovered one or more faculty members who, although not speaking openly against Church teaching, let the students understand — through hints, off-the-cuff remarks, etc. — their disapproval of some articles of magisterial teaching.”
The team made the point that bishops “sometimes seem to delegate too much responsibility for the acceptance of diocesan candidates to their subordinates, especially the vocation directors.”
And the visitation expressed concern in cases where seminaries were pressured by a lack of vocations to lower their standards, to accept “obviously unsuitable candidates,” to shorten the formation or hurry a man to ordination. “Such a strategy risks possible wretched consequences.” Rectors “must always keep the barriers to ordination high.”
“Almost universally, the candidates — both diocesan and religious –received great praise from the apostolic visitors. The candidates are generous, intelligent, full of zeal, pious, and faithful to prayer. They are demonstrably loyal to the Church’s magisterium. They are signs of great hope for the Church in the U.S.”
“Yet, the candidates often also evince some of the problems of our time. 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.”
The report referenced past difficulties in the area of morality, usually meaning homosexual behavior. “Nevertheless, in almost all the institutes where such problems existed, at least in the diocesan seminaries, the appointment of better superiors — especially rectors — has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome.”
Of particular mention was the seminarians’ use of the Internet. The visitation lauded that many seminaries have applied Internet-filtering programs, or have restricted Internet use to public places in the seminary.
The report lauded the academic standards of the seminaries, and the readiness of the students to “dialogue with contemporary society.”
It pointed out the need to educate the seminarian in moral theology: “Without a sound grasp of moral principles, the priest will fail in his duties as preacher and confessor. […] All centers of formation need to ensure that the richness of Catholic teaching on moral issues is presented to the students, so that all basic areas are covered. In a special way, the same goes for bioethical and medical questions.”
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On the Net:
Full text of final report: http://www.usccb.org/cclv/final_report.pdf