Fr. Tom Reese, SJ, argues that “the Catholic Church’s U.S. seminaries need reform.” While noting some positive developments, Fr. Reese charges that “too many of the priests coming out of … seminaries have been trained to be authoritarians with few pastoral skills,” and “seminarians are not taught to listen, to delegate, to work with committees or to empower the laity, especially women.” His conclusion is that “Catholic seminaries need more than minor tinkering,” and he speaks of a “real reform of diocesan seminaries.” Pray Tell asked Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe what he thinks.
Are our seminaries doing an adequate job preparing men for parish ministry?
Yes, the seminaries we use to form our men for service in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe do a very good job of preparation. They are well versed in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council; the theological preparation is broad and deep. The seminarians are given many opportunities for pastoral service and theological reflection on that service. There is a strong emphasis on diocesan spirituality and the importance of building up fraternal support. In addition, I am impressed with the time given to human formation, ensuring that our seminarians are healthy physically, emotionally and psychologically. (Editor’s note: major seminarians of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe study principally at the Josephinum in Columbus, OH, and Mt. Angel in Benedict, OR.)
How much are seminaries giving future priests a vision of
liturgy that contrasts with typical parish practice, and how will this work
I believe that our seminaries strike a balance between teaching our men the ideals of good liturgy as envisioned by the Church and at the same time preparing them for the realities they may find after ordination. In other words, the seminarians are helped to apply the ideals they learn in the seminary in parishes that are not able to always live up to those ideals; they are helped to bridge the gap between the ideal and the typical.
The “typical” can include a lack of well-trained musicians, poor acoustics and inadequate lay involvement (lectors, Eucharistic ministers), to name a few. Beyond the seminary and the parish experience, there are other factors that can cause a contrast between a priest’s vision of liturgy and typical parish practice. Certain Catholic media outlets and online sites promote a liturgy that more resembles pre-Vatican II norms rather than that found in the parishes. If a given priest subscribes to these factors, then there can be friction in parishes that are not willing to adapt to them.
There are some stories of young priests dividing parishes and
turning off people by the agendas they push. How much are the seminaries
responsible for this?
I do not believe that the seminaries we use are responsible for agendas that may be pushed by certain newly ordained priests. Rather, it is the seminarians themselves who have their agendas that differ from the parish experience. In fact, since our seminaries have a very good connection with the diocesan experience, especially through their pastoral year programs and theological reflection opportunities, I see the seminaries as reducing the friction that may arise between a newly ordained priest and the parish.
Where do the frictions come from then?
A lack of fraternity in presbyterates and the fact that our newly ordained are made pastors rather quickly after ordination contribute more to possible liturgical divisions than seminary training.
The Council of Trent in the 16th century
revolutionized formation for ordained ministry. Are we in a similar era of
transition, and does the seminary system need reform?
No, I do not think the seminaries are in need of reform although I am impressed with their ability to continually grow and improve. For some time now, our seminaries have implemented the Program for Priestly Formation (PPF), thus avoiding the rigidity of the pre-Vatican II seminary formation program and the somewhat challenging years immediately after the same Council. They are also very involved with the writing of the sixth edition of the PPF currently underway.
What is the most important thing for seminaries to work on going forward?
The prevalence in our society of broken marriages that signal an increasing lack of commitment and fidelity in relationships, as well as the prevalence of consumerism and relativism (especially in the media and social communication), along with weak school systems, interpersonal isolation, sensual overstimulation and a turning away from religious affiliation have all had a tremendous influence on those who are entering our seminaries. Thus, our seminaries must be more attentive than ever in helping our seminarians to grow spiritually, psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally. They must not assume that basic maturation goals have been taken care of in the home and they must be able to read the signs of the times in order to tailor their formation programs to the men they are forming.
The interview was conducted by email by Anthony Ruff, OSB.