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The REAL Sins of the Seminaries -- A response to Amy Welborn (Sat Oct 1, 2005  2:21 pm)
by Ingrid Shafer

In "The Sins of the Seminaries" (NY Times, September 25, 2005), Amy Welborn writes concerning the Instrumentum laboris that "In truth, it's about far more than homosexuality. And it's badly needed," noting that there are only two questions explicitly concerned with homosexuality, while the eleven-page document asks such questions as, "What are the seminary's standards for admission? Is the seminary's spiritual life vibrant and rooted in Catholic tradition? Are seminarians capable of intellectual dialogue with contemporary society?"

Ms. Welborn is correct. Such questions are indeed badly needed, but this instrument is not designed to reform seminary education in such a manner as to enhance the intellectual and psycho-sexual maturity of future priests or to encourage them to think independently and creatively. It is not concerned with establishing high academic standards for admission. It is not designed to reward the courage to challenge authority or look at the ways seminarians are prepared for meaningful dialogue with members of the scientific community in such areas as bioethics. It is not designed to reform a clerical culture of privilege, secrecy, and preoccupation with avoiding damage to the church's public image.

Instead, these questions encourage only the most traditional aspects of Catholic practice, such as "devotion to Our Lady and the saints," "recitation of the rosary," "Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction," and assorted "exercises of piety" in general -- except for those under the "influences of New Age and eclectic spirituality." The Instrumentum calls for "a clear process for removing from the seminary faculty members who dissent from the authoritative teaching of the Church" and insists that moral doctrine should only be "taught in conformity with the documents of the Holy See -- in particular the Encyclical Letters Humanae vitae (1968), Veritatis splendor (1993) and Evangelium vitae (1995); the Declaration Persona humana (1975); and the Circular Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (1986)." Clearly the emphasis is on loyalty to superiors, obedience, and conformity -- the pre-Vatican II virtues of an institutional church understood not as the "People of God" but as a top-down absolute monarchy.

We should heed the words of the great moral theologian Bernard Haring, one of the guiding spirits of the Second Vatican Council, that "A theologian or group of theologians becomes inauthentic when, rather than suffer for the truth, they allow themselves to be frightened and choose to bury the talents of creative freedom and creative loyalty in favor of 'safe' repetition of old formulas." We should heed, especially, Pope John XXIII's call to aggiornamento -- bringing the Church up to date, renewing the Church in step with the realities of the evolving contemporary world, by discerning, as he put it as he lay dying, "the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead." This Instrumentum laboris, if applied, is an instrument for breeding a generation of intellectually mediocre clerical yes-men who are in no way prepared to face the challenges of the future. It represents a retreat back behind the walls of the Fortress Church. How tragic!

Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

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