I don’t know why I clicked this link nor why I carried on to read about two-thirds of the report on the investigation of St John’s Seminary in Massachusetts. On the whole it convinces me that seminaries are not the best way to form people for the ordained priesthood.
One thing that struck me was the rampant loneliness that stretched from rector to expelled seminarian and everybody in between. Certainly, a minister can draw from her or his loneliness and other wounds from time to time. But for a culture that attempts to emulate the cloistered monastic life, St John’s Seminary seems to fall far short. The descriptions of life seemed to have the worst of the college experiences: cheap beer, awkward attempts at romance (or a faked shadow of it), people-pleasing up and down the ladder. The thought of combining late adolescence with alcohol and loneliness strikes me as a recipe for disaster.
Seminary leadership was roundly criticized. When it was criticized from within the institution, offenders stayed put mostly, and whistleblowers were transferred. I found amusing the tale of the criticism of a faculty member who, in turn, brandished the silent treatment for one to six years, depending on to which person the interviewers spoke.
Another confirmation for me that candidates for ministry, ordained or lay, men or women, would probably do better in an open environment that involved these items:
- Working for a living, at least 2/3rds time, and perhaps not as a church employee.
- Serving in ministry in a parish or charity organization during formation, about fifteen-plus hours a week. Such experiences would include supervision of and by, and collaboration interaction with lay people and vowed religious.
- Classwork in a university’s graduate school, preferably with a diversity of divinity students from different traditions, and of varied cultures and both sexes, obviously.
- An eight-day directed retreat annually, and a thirty-day retreat at some point before graduation or ordination.
- A spiritual director not associated with the place of learning or the parish served.
- A small team of mentors, about three persons, to help the candidate learn to reflect on life experiences (spiritual as well as those pertaining to human development).
- College graduate, and lacking a clear case otherwise, at least thirty years of age.
No bishop is ever going to ask for my input on these items. Seminary culture, good and bad aspects both, are too ingrained in Roman Catholicism for any of us to expect significant change before several decades pass.