Apostolic Visitation to U.S. Seminaries: the Problem Areas

The final report of the Apostolic Visitation of U.S. seminaries was dated 15 December 2008.  The report presented the good and bad views of the seminaries.  I will summarize the the problem areas here, so that they will provide a simple checklist for evaluating seminaries, especially here in the Philippines.

PROBLEM AREAS

A.  Concept of the Priesthood

  1. The students have an idea of priestly service, but teachings such as on the character impressed by the Sacred Orders, on the nature of sacra potestas, on the tria munera, etc., are not so well known.
  2. The mixing of seminarians and laity in theological classes leads to the blurring of the distinction between the common priesthood (of the laity) and the ministerial, hierarchical priesthood.
  3. The priestly formation must be devoted to the priesthood itself and not to priesthood being de facto part of religious life.
  4. Some thinks that to limit the priestly ministry to men is discriminatory.

B.  The Government of the Seminary

  1. Rectors must not only be exemplary priests (or religious); they must also be leaders capable of making difficult decisions.
  2. Some rectors are frequently absent in their seminaries.
  3. Formation faculty must be priests; though the teaching faculty can include religious and lay people, the majority of the teachers must be priests.
  4. Frequent changes in the faculty are bad for the formation of students.
  5. Seminary formation suffers due to faculty members having duties inside and outside the seminary.
  6. Many centers run by the religious have a culture of widespread dissent.
  7. There are some 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.
  8. In problems involving doctrinal teaching, the procedures for removing a faculty are not invoked as often as they should be.
  9. The laity must not study in the seminary.
  10. Let the USCCB decide whether there are too many or too few seminaries.

C.  Criteria for Admission of Candidates

  1. There must be a propedeutic period for diocesan candidates.
  2. Prior to and following their pre-notiviate and notiviate, the seminarians must be evaluated to determine their suitability.
  3. The Rule of Life of the College Seminary and pre-theology course should be more, not less, exacting than that of the theologate.  Unsuitable students must be dismissed.
  4. There must be a minimum of 6 years of formation to determine the irregularities in the behaviors of the candidates.
  5. The bishop, not the vocation directors, should call the cadidate to orders.
  6. Seminaries should have their own screening procedures and not rely on the ones provided by the diocese.
  7. Individual candidates from sponsoring dioceses must be well documented.
  8. Students studying in the same seminary–diocesan or religious–must be governed by the same rules for accepting and rejecting students.
  9. It is not clear who has the right to see the results of psychological testing of candidates.
  10. Seminary rectors must always keep the barriers to ordination high: they should reject unsuitable candidates and should not shorten the formation time.

D.  The Seminarians

  1. Some candidates come from broken families or with little knowledge of Catholic doctrine.
  2. Seminaries with candidates coming from different cultures must incorporate various cultural expectations.
  3. There are still some places–usually centers of formation for religious–where ambiguity vis-a-vis homosexuality persists.
  4. The lack of oversight regarding what students do off-campus invites trouble.

E.  Human Formation

  1. Formation advisers must not intrude into spiritual direction, i.e., they must not ask about matters of sin.
  2. The Rule of Life in the seminary must be more demanding, so that the seminarians would take on a more priestly and ascetic character and shed a wordly style of life, e.g.,  alcohol use, curfews, absences, off-limit areas to guests, etc.
  3. Restrict internet use to public places; internet-filtering programs must be used.
  4. Since the rule of life for older candidates is diminished, the superiors must closely watch if these candidates have interiorized  the strict rules in his previous years.
  5. During summer breaks, if a student does not comport himself as if he were in the seminary, then his formation has not interiorized his formation.  Plans must be drawn for the students during breaks so that their formation is not interrupted for several months.

F.  Spiritual Formation

  1. Liturgies celebrated at religious centers of formation do not obey liturgical norms.
  2. There are no fixed periods of time for prayer.
  3. Seminaries must educate students on the classical forms and Catholic spirituality.
  4. All seminaries must organize community masses in the seminary every day even on Sundays; lauds and vespers must also be celebrated daily.
  5. Seminarians must go to confession at least once every two weeks.
  6. Seminaries must include recitation of the rosary, novenas, litanies, Stations of the Cross, and so on.
  7. Some institutes even have an atmosphere that discourages traditional acts of catholic piety, which begs the question whether the faculty’s ideas are constant with catholic teaching and tradition.
  8. Some sins are revealed even in the public forum; other seminaries prepare lists of exceptions to the inviolability of the seal of the confessional.
  9. It is difficult to ascertain, in the external forum, whether each individual seminarian is interiorizing his formation.
  10. Some faculty members question the link of celibacy to priesthood.

G.  Intellectual Formation

  1. Many teachers in the seminary do not have proper qualifications from an institute recognized by the Holy See.
  2. Because of teacher scarcity, some teachers teach beyond their expertise and do not have enough time to keep up to date in their disciplines.
  3. Some essential courses are omitted or telescoped.
  4. It is highly unlikely that seminarians studying in community colleges would receive Catholic philosophy education that is useful for theology and whose teachers are Catholics with eccelesiastical degrees.
  5. Mariology and Patristics are not taught.
  6. Students have weak grounding in Latin, which should have been useful for the Liturgy and for consulting primary theological sources.
  7. In seminaries run by the religious dissent is widespread, such as on the fields of moral theology, the ordination of men alone, and bioethical and medical questions.
  8. Theology and spirituality cannot be divorced; teachers should not shy away from spiritual and pastoral questions should they arise in class.
  9. Programs of pastoral formation should be under the direction of a priest, such as those on the administration of the sacraments; religious and lay people can only assist in the planning and organization.
  10. Seminarians must not be sent to pastoral experiences that are incompatible with Catholic pastoral practice.

H.  Promotion to Holy Orders

  1. Seminarians are only evaluated only on their fourth year theology and not before it.
  2. Non-ordained and non-Catholic faculty members should not vote on the ordination of a seminarian.
  3. Evaluations of seminarians must not be arbitrary; those who are denied promotion must be given an explanation by the superiors.
  4. Impediments and irregularities to order must be checked before the formation, in order to avoid problems later.
  5. If there is doubt on the worthiness of a seminarian to be ordained, do not ordain him.

I.  Service of the Seminary to the Newly Ordained

  1. Seminaries must provide ongoing formation for the newly ordained; this is difficult if the newly ordained priests are spread out over a large geoegraphical area.

Signed:

Congregatio de Institutione de Catholica (de Seminariis et atque Studiorum Institutis)

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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