The Vatican has just completed its report on the health of U.S. seminaries, which resulted from questions about the formation of priests brought on by the sexual abuse crisis. The report finds that most American seminaries are healthy and that seminarian morality has improved, particularly in regard to homosexual behavior.
The report from the Vatican’s Congregation of Catholic Institutions begins by explaining that the Apostolic Visits were intended to provide a snapshot of U.S. seminaries and religious houses of formation that focuses on the issue of ensuring the proper formation of priests.
The visits to the numerous seminaries and religious houses of formation took place between September 2005 and May 2006, with one institute being visited in July 2006. The delegations were headed by priests or bishops who were chosen through a joint USCCB and Vatican vetting process. The clergy were also joined by members of the laity who served as “resource persons.”
The apostolic visitation teams concluded that U.S. Catholic seminaries and houses of priestly formation are generally healthy but produced several recommendations on improving the discernment and education process.
"This visitation has demonstrated that, since the 1990s, a greater sense of stability now prevails in the U.S. seminaries," the report stated. "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."
In fact, the seminary visitors found that rectors were already aware of the problems that are mentioned in the report and were working to resolve them.
The trouble spots highlighted by the report include: an “incomplete grasp” of the difference between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the laity; faculty who subvert the Church’s teachings; the need to screen seminary candidates for irregularities and impediments at the beginning of formation; a lack of supervision of seminarians by the rector and the bishop and a discouragement of traditional forms of piety.
One area sure to receive attention from media coverage is the area of seminarian’s moral behavior. The report sums up its findings on the matter by observing:“The apostolic visit was obliged to point out the difficulties, in the area of morality, that some seminaries have suffered in the past decades. Usually, but not exclusively, this meant homosexual behavior. Nevertheless, in almost all the institutes where problems existed, at least in the diocesan seminaries, the appointment of better superiors (especially rectors) has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome. Of course, here and there some case or other of immorality -- again, usually homosexual behavior -- continues to show up. However, in the main, the superiors now deal with these issues promptly and appropriately."
The report, which was made public on Wednesday, is dated December 15 and is signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which deals with seminaries and religious houses of formation. According to Catholic News Service, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published it on their website to coincide with National Vocation Awareness Week, which began this past Monday.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, offered his reaction to the report in a letter to the U.S. bishops. "It is 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," he said.
"The general conclusions of the visitation are positive," Cardinal O'Malley noted. "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 full report on U.S. seminaries can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/cclv/final_report.pdf