Saturday, February 12, 2005

seminary formation is key.

the national catholic register reports that the american bishops are commissioning a study on the causes of clergy sexual abuse. as a seminarian studying for the priesthood this topic is naturally of interest to me. the bishops are to be commended for approving such a study which has been under the planning of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops'(usccb's) National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People (nrb).

in light of all of that, we mustn't forget the first report of the same nrb: "the report on the crisis in the catholic church in the united states" which came out febrary 2004. in this report, the nrb stated: "On the specific issue of sexual abuse of minors, a priest's formation in a seminary is key" (page 72). so, if this new study is to focus on the causes of abuse, it will most likely also feature the quality of formation in seminary, as the february report did.

in that report, the nrb said that "For many years, seminaries focused almost exclusively on intellectual preparation and neglected human formation." it added that: "Sexuality was not meaningfully discussed. As two bishops recounted, issues relating to the Sixth Commandment were addressed in Latin, whereas other subjects were covered in English. A third bishop echoed this and noted, 'When I was in the seminary the boundary issues were taught with one sentence, numquam solus cum sola, 'never one man [alone] with one woman.' That was it.'" moreover, seminaries then "did not permit or encourage seminarians to discuss their concerns about sexuality and celibacy, nor were seminarians given access to psychological counseling. As a consequence, the Board was told, some seminarians avoided or repressed their sexual problem" (page 75).

and the result of this for some priests was devastating, especially for some of the priests who were at seminaries during the pre-Vatican II years. because sexual issues and concerns were not adequately dealt with, whatever problems they had manifested themselves tragically through abusive behavior. if only sexual matters were more openly dealt with then, it would have reduced the risk of unhealthy burying and repression of sexual problems by candidates and the consequent acting out, according to the report.

the opposite was true just after the second vatican council, where laxity in formation pervaded. this was the period of the late 60's to early 70's when the sexual revolution was underway--and moral relativism, uncertainty, and ambiguities marked the seminary formation of some priests. the report added that there was a loss of direction and a loss of a sense of moral focus during that time, which also contributed to the abuses during the 70's and 80's.

so, on the one hand there was repression during the pre-Vatican II years which resulted in a less-than-adequate formation for some priests and on the other--just after Vatican II--there was a lax, almost permissive atmosphere.

both extremes are not healthy. as the data from the nrb report shows, the quality of the formation is "key." what is called for is a formation that deals with a candidate's intellectual, spiritual, psychosexual, pastoral, and relational maturity: a holistic approach to formation.

additionally, the type of candidate is also dealt with in the report. it consistently called for men who are mature, psychosexually mature, to be exact: candidates who are fully aware of their sexuality and who are serious about their calling. also, the report called for the necessity to continue the screening process already in place in many if not all seminaries, where a battery of psychological tests are conducted on applicants. and these tests would basically look for "red flags" such as confusion about sexual orientation, narcissism, childish interests and behavior, lack of peer relationships, and extremes in sexual development.

so, if one carefully reads the nrb report, there are considerations larger and bigger than a mere identification of a candidate's orientation, which was hardly dealt with by the nrb.

as someone who believes that every vocation is precious and valuable, i think we should help any man who enters a seminary through a type of formation that will help him discern his calling--a type of formation that is well-rounded and one that deals with the whole human person: from the intellectual to the affective and human.

luckily i can say for myself that the type of formation i have received has been more than adequate, giving me not only a healthy sense of my own psychosexual maturity, but also the tools needed for me to live out a healthy and chaste celibate lifestyle.

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