The Vatican Report on American Seminaries

The USCCB has released the report of the Vatican’s visitation of American seminaries.

Anyone familiar with Catholic seminaries will recognize the picture that is portrayed: teachers don’t always teach Catholic doctrine, or if they teach it, often indicate their own dissent in subtle ways; traditional Catholic devotions are frowned upon; there’s a blurring of distinction between laity and priests and a fudging of Catholic teaching on the priesthood. The Vatican notes that seminaries run by religious orders have significant problems. It says these things have to change.

The Vatican’s solution reinforces traditional Catholic clericalism. Whereas most seminaries have admitted lay students for many graduate programs, the Vatican says a hard line must be drawn between any programs for the laity and seminarians.

Many seminaries are also involved in the theological education of the laity. Most institutes try to separate the two study paths. Nevertheless, a clear distinction between the essential activity of the seminary–the formation of candidates for the priesthood–and other peripheral activities–principally, the theological formation of the laity–is sometimes made difficult either because of a lack of theological clarity about the distinction between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, or else because of the high number of lay students frequenting the institute. The Congregation is firm on this point: seminaries exist for the formation of candidates for the priesthood (cf. Pastores dabo vobis, n. 61). Thus, the laity should not routinely be admitted to share the seminarians’ classes or their living spaces (their dining area, the chapel, the library, and especially not the living quarters). If circumstances require the seminary to educate the laity (which really ought to take place elsewhere), it must arrange to do so in such a way that the integrity of the seminary is not compromised. Otherwise, the seminary loses much of its necessary priestly characteristic.

Did you catch that? “The laity should not routinely be admitted to share the seminarians’ classes or their living spaces (their dining area, the chapel, the library …)”. So, if the School of Theology of the University of St. Thomas in Houston wants to admit laity to theological programs, they have to have “separate but equal” classes, and they can’t eat in the dining room, go to mass at the chapel, and can’t use the library. What are the Vatican folks afraid of? How might a layperson contaminate the refectory or the library? That’s not it, of course. It’s creating a mindset of separation between priests and laity. That’s the point. They’re trying to  reinforce the clericalist mindset that priests are set apart, set above, to rule and to teach and to sanctify. So instead of eradicating the problem of sexual abuse, they are simply shoring up one of the attitudes that made that crisis possible.

6 thoughts on “The Vatican Report on American Seminaries

  1. Bill, I’d be interested in reading some of your experiences as a Catholic lay leader and the events leading up to your becoming an Adventist pastor. Have you written much along those lines here or elsewhere? What about a book?

    • Well, a wise friend made me promise not to think about it, or to accept speaking invitations, for a couple of years. It’ll be two years on April 21. I’ve only spoken at a couple of local churches about it .. and NNE camp meeting had me add a shortened version onto a men’s ministry talk. So, we’ll see.

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