I arrived back from Germany to find the blog-boards buzzing with news - well, rumours - about the Apostolic Visitation of seminaries. Specifically, a number of blogs were circulating rumours that the Coordinator of the Visitations was one Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Lincoln Diocese. Somewhat shocked at the rumors, since they were so obviously untrue, I tracked them back to their source
. Apparently a seminarian or formator at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit leaked to a blogger that that seminary's Visitation was announced for mid-October, with Bishop Bruskewitz as Chair of the Visitation Team.
Regrettably though perhaps understandably, readers confused the office of 'Chair' of an individual Visitation Team with the 'Coordinator' of the entire Visitation process. For clarification: In any visitation, even for the purposes of academic accreditation, each institution is visited by a team, and every team has a chair, who assumes ultimate responsibility for that individual visit. With 229 seminaries (according to reports we've been getting), we can anticipate around 100 different visits (some joint programs will probably be combined), hence 100 different chairs. One Coordinator oversees the entire program.
Yet within hours the rumour that Bruskewitz was the overall Coordinator spread to blog after blog. The comments on the original blog teemed with enthusiasm, with many boldly announcing that this position was a stepping stone on Bruskewitz's way to a promotion to the Cardinal Archbishopric of Washington, DC, and a pitiable Lincoln resident begging the Holy See not to take him away. Then the hopes were dashed by CNS
, who picked up a news release announcing that Archbishop Edwin O'Brien
of the Military Archdiocese was appointed as Coordinator.
Not that the like-minded have anything to worry about. LifeSite news ran a story
the same day crowing over O'Brien's sky-high record on pro-life issues (his scathing rebuke
of dissenting politicians may have won them over). O'Brien served
as rector of St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie and the Pontifical North American College in Rome - two of only a handful of seminaries renowned for their orthodoxy during this period, and for steering clear of the excesses which swamped most American seminaries in the 80s. He also served as an auxiliary under Cardinal O'Connor of New York, a man not known for a reputation as a left-winger. (Not that O'Brien's record will satisfy all comers
, of course.)
The other reason the surprise was ill-founded is that O'Brien's role as Coordinator hit the press back in April in an AP story
("Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the U.S. Military Archdiocese has been appointed to coordinate the review"). O'Brien himself did a full interview for Our Sunday Visitor
on the Visitations on July 3 (not on the web, which only tells you that bloggers do not read non-web-based media, and also have short memories).
If you want the real
O'Brien's take on seminary formation, you have to go a few years back, though, to a June 2002 article he wrote (long before his appointment) for the OSV periodical The Priest
(also unavailable on-line, sorry folks), entitled "Reformation of Catholic Seminaries." Here we find a stinging rebuke of the seminary formation programs from the 1960s through the 1980s, maligned as seedbeds of dissent, intellectual apathy, and sexual misconduct of all kinds. As a result, many clergy trained in the pre-Marshall Visitation* period received a formation that can only be described as a "tragic failure," generating priests "whose affective immaturity proved pathological." O'Brien concludes:
"That some . . . in the priesthood, fell into the temptations we are reading of, while certainly inexcusable, scandalous and so very destructive to the lives of others, is understandable in light of the shallow spiritual and emotional soil into which their celibate commitment was sometimes planted. Undoubtedly many thereafter saw the tragic error of their ways, repented and reformed. While the Lord has surely forgiven them, they, the Church and many of their victims will not avoid paying a most costly price for a long time to come." (emphasis added)
Here you have it. The sexual abuse crisis as a symptom of a deeper problem: failed, abysmal, and destructive seminary formation programs which created failed priests who carried out abysmal and destructive ministries. The cure: a reform of seminaries which ensures (a) a seminary environment that nourishes moral integrity and chaste celibacy, (b) intellectual formation that is both faithful to Magisterium and rooted in the profound philosophical tradition of the Church. O'Brien recognized this over three years ago, and probably a decade or two before that. That the Holy See chose such a man to head the Visitations should neither surprise nor discourage us.
* On the Marshall Visitation in the 1980s a half-decent summary was written by one participant, Bishop Donald Wuerl, in the September 30, 2002 issue of America. The final and formal report from the Congregation for Catholic Education on that Visitation can be found in Origins documentary service, October 16, 1986 (vol. 16, no. 18).