Report gives good marks to seminaries used by our diocese

The final report of an apostolic visitation of U.S. Catholic seminaries and houses of priestly formation has concluded that they are generally healthy, but recommends a stronger focus on moral theology, increased oversight of seminarians and greater involvement of diocesan bishops in the formation process.

The seminaries that are used by the Diocese of Peoria received good marks from the visitation teams, according to Father Brian Brownsey, diocesan director of vocations.

The diocese has 32 men in the seminary at this time, most of them studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn. Other seminaries used by the diocese include the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, the North American College in Rome, and Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.

“One of the most common questions I’m asked as vocation director is ‘How do you know which seminaries to use? Isn’t one seminary as good as another?'” said Father Brownsey. With so many seminaries doing so well, he acknowledged, “it has become a more difficult choice.”

“The short answer is that our men are sent to the seminaries where they will best flourish. The longer answer is that I do visitations,” he told The Catholic Post.

Father Brownsey called it “affirming” that the criteria used by the apostolic visitation are the same as the diocese uses in evaluating a seminary.

“This visitation has demonstrated that, since the 1990s, a greater sense of stability now prevails in the U.S. seminaries,” the final report said. “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.”

The apostolic visitation, sparked by the sexual abuse crisis that hit the U.S. church, found that seminaries appeared to have made improvements in the area of seminarian morality, most notably with regard to homosexual behavior.

The report was signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which deals with seminaries. It was published on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“It’s very much modeled as an accreditation of a college visit. It’s very similar in process to it, only what they’re looking for is very different,” explained Msgr. Steven P. Rohlfs, vice president and rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and a priest of the Diocese of Peoria.

The team that visited Mount St. Mary’s included a bishop, three priests and a layman, all of whom were involved in some way in seminary education, said Msgr. Rohlfs. The team then spent a week interviewing the rector, faculty and all of the seminarians, joining them for meals and regular prayer and touring the seminary, Msgr. Rohlfs said.

The visitation’s goal, he said, was to ascertain “what needs to be stopped and what needs to be initiated in our seminaries” to better screen and form candidates for the priesthood.

“The perfect seminary doesn’t exist and never has,” Father Brownsey said. “The first rector was Jesus. He was perfect, but his seminary was far from it. He had 12 seminarians: one betrayed him and another denied him; all but one abandoned him. They grumbled and complained and were extremely slow to learn. But it was successful nonetheless.”

The plan to hold apostolic visitations to assess the quality of formation in seminaries arose in Rome at an April 2002 special meeting of the U.S. cardinals and U.S. bishops’ officials with top Vatican officials.

Working in teams of three for smaller programs or four for the larger ones, the panels visited more than 200 U.S. seminaries and formation houses in 2005 and 2006. The visitations paid special attention to areas such as the quality of the seminarians’ human and spiritual formation for living chastely and of their intellectual formation for faithfulness to church teachings, especially in the area of moral theology.

Editor’s note: The apostolic visitation report is available in its entirety online at www.usccb.org/cclv/final_report.pdf.

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