January 15, 2009

Apostolic Visitation to Seminaries

Via the always informative Communio, it has come to my attention that the report of the Apostolic Visitation of United States seminaries and religious houses of priestly formation has appeared. I myself was interviewed for this visitation, and was very curious to read their findings.

The report echoes both my own experience of ten semesters of theological education and what I have observed going on around me. It says that things are basically functioning well and in good order. This is to say that the 'reform of the reform' seems to be working, and the excesses of post-conciliar confusion seem to be going out of style. This is basically my experience as well; I feel like I received a very fine education where we studied, particularly in the areas of Sacred Scripture, patristics, and fundamental systematics.

On the other hand, the remaining troubles delineated by the report also resonated with my own experience. The report is very worried that there is not enough of a sense of the specific theology of the priesthood being taught, and that in some places one comes away with an impoverished, functional sense of who a priest is within the Church. For me, I happened to take a course called "The Theology of Ordained Priesthood" as an elective, and it was only through this sustained study of the priesthood of Christ--which the Church shares in as his sacramental Body--that I was able to know that I should declare myself a candidate for Orders. I might have done it anyway without the course, but not with the best theological discernment.

In those schools where candidates for ordination are educated alongside those preparing for lay ecclesial ministry, (as it was where I attended) the report is concerned that there was not enough distinction between the two "tracks," to the detriment of both. The same criticism goes, mutatis mutandis, for religious formation programs in which all candidates are preparing for ministerial life, but not all for ordained life.

The report is also concerned that the prerequisite study of philosophy is not always handled well. In some places it is a "hoop" to be jumped through in the most slipshod way possible. This echoes my experience even in my own community, where brothers were not always set up for success in theology by a thoughtful and sustained journey through the rigors of the history of thought in general.

In the areas of orthodoxy and morality, the report, I think rightly, says that things are much better than they were even a half of a generation ago. However, seminary education still suffers in some places from teachers who aren't interested to sentire cum ecclesia, as it were. The indulgence of homosexuality (and the decadence and irreverence of its attendant culture) remains a problem in some places as well.

The one criticism of the report that did not match my experience was the concern that seminary programs were lacking in patristics and mariology. My own theological course did well with these, patristics especially.

Thanks to everyone who worked in this ministry, congratulations on the report, and thanks especially for listening to us.


Lee Hamilton said...

A very intriguing document on a very critical issue (or host of issues) - thanks for your insights.

ben in denver said...

Thanks for linking to this report. I am very interested to read it. The two seminaries in Denver both opened and have operated under the close supervision of your Capuchin brother Abp. Chaput. I have had the opportunity to come to know a number of the young men who have studied there, and without exception (even the ones who eventually discerned a call to marriage instead of orders) all of them have been excellent young men of real faith and devotion.

I have at times wondered whether or not there are any practical consequences resulting from the fact that a number of the faculty at our seminaries are lay people. I will be interested to see if the report has much to say about this.

One piece of good news that I have heard recently is that the rector of St. John Vianney Seminary is considering asking a priest from the FSSP to offer instruction on the extraordinary form. Nothing has been decided yet, but I would think that having this training available could only have positive fruit.