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CONVOCATION-OBRIEN May-30-2006 (710 words) xxxn

Coordinator of U.S. seminary visitations expects report this fall

By Andy Telli
Catholic News Service

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said May 26 that the Vatican's visitations to U.S. seminaries and houses of formation are nearly complete, and he hopes the resulting reports will be released this fall.

"Bottom line, I think this visitation was most successful," Archbishop O'Brien said in a talk to the 2006 Catholic Media Convocation in Nashville. A former head of two seminaries, he was coordinator of the visitations for the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees seminary formation.

The objectives of the visitations, which were sparked by the sexual abuse crisis that hit the U.S. church in 2002, were to examine the criteria for admission of candidates and various aspects of priestly formation, including the intellectual formation of seminarians in the field of moral theology and the programs of human and spiritual formation aimed at ensuring they can faithfully live chaste, celibate lives.

"The hype to begin with led some to believe this was going to be a crusade ... to weed out immorality," Archbishop O'Brien said. "That's not what it was about."

Instead, he said, the objective of the visitations was to determine if seminarians were being prepared properly to live a chaste and celibate life.

"I think the phobias that went around quickly dissipated" as the visits continued, he said.

He said one institution, which he did not name, had a negative reaction to its visitation, but "by and large there was great welcoming."

The congregation appointed 117 bishops and seminary personnel as visitors. They traveled in small teams to 156 diocesan and religious seminaries and houses of formation.

During the visits, the teams interviewed seminarians, faculty, staff and members of the board of directors, Archbishop O'Brien said. He said there were 10 areas of concentration, including the concept of the priesthood, governance of the seminary, admission policies, academic formation, human formation, pastoral formation and service of the seminary to the newly ordained.

In all there were 56 questions, six of which had to be answered, Archbishop O'Brien said. These had to do with whether psychological testing is employed in admissions procedures; if the interviewee had concerns about the moral life of the seminary; whether there was evidence of homosexuality in the seminary; whether there was adequate formation to enable seminarians to live a life of celibacy and chastity; whether students were being prepared to respond to the moral relativism they will face in the society; and whether the seminary checked regularly for impediments to ordination.

Unlike seminary visitations conducted in the 1980s, this time there were no exit interviews conducted at the end of the weeklong visits to allow seminary staff to learn the impressions of the visitors. "Rome was opposed, and I think for good reason," Archbishop O'Brien said.

Some of the impressions left in the exit interviews during the visitations in the 1980s did not match the final conclusions reached after the education congregation reviewed the results of the visits, he explained, and Vatican officials wanted to avoid repeating that situation.

When the congregation completes its review of the visitation reports, he said, it will issue an overall report listing the strengths and concerns about U.S. seminaries and an individual report for each seminary.

"Each seminary will get its own report. The question is will it be made public?" Archbishop O'Brien said.

"I think each report should be made public to the appropriate constituencies," he added. He said it would be difficult to keep the results confidential.

Every bishop considering sending a seminarian to a seminary is sure to ask about the results of the review, he said, and seminary rectors will likely want to compare the results for their institutions.

He said the overall report won't name specific seminaries or rank them in terms of compliance with the congregation's objectives.

The visitors have said they came away from the visits "deeply impressed by what is going on at the seminaries," Archbishop O'Brien said.

"Are there going to be situations that will have to be addressed? Undoubtedly," he added.

"I hope there will be consequences for all concerned," he said. "I just don't know what means Rome will use to make sure seminaries are in compliance."


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