Before launching into a detailed look at the Instrumentum Laboris that is guiding the current visitation of U.S. seminaries, I promised to say a few words about myself and my own experiences as a seminarian from 1994-1997. I do this as an attempt to answer the objections of some who might posit that asking a former seminarian what is wrong with seminary formation is like asking a divorcee what is wrong with their former spouse. We live in a time marked by jadedness and cynicism, so this sort of thinking is to be expected.
One of the criticisms I often heard leveled against Goodbye, Good Men — Michael Rose’s expose of American seminaries — was precisely this: his interviews targeted the disenfranchised and those who had axes to grind. While I think that such criticism is a bit too easy, I think it must be answered. (As an aside, I waited eagerly for the release of this book and feel that much of what was written in this book, especially in the introduction and closing chapter, has enduring value in addressing the question of seminary reform. I was disappointed by the reprint, which chose as its subtitle How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church. I think this kind of scapegoating is unhelpful and unbalanced, although perhaps it helped to sell a few more books. I posit that a willful conservative can do as much damage as a willful liberal, and so a better title might have been How those Willfully Resistant to the Holy Spirit are Fracturing the Communion of the Catholic Church. I’ll say more later about this.)
So what is the shape of my ax? I’m probably the person least qualified to tell you. I am certainly not here to claim that I am a paragon of virtue, or that I have a great analysis of what has gone wrong in seminary life. I’m not going to bore you with a detailed autobiography (a brief one can be found here). However, before I share my experiences, observations and conclusions, I will simply tell you these two things about myself: 1) I was not happy with the seminary formation program I attended, and 2) I was not one of those “blacklisted” seminarians who left the seminary after being given a negative evaluation. You can review the evaluations I received in Theology I and Theology II by clicking here.
In the next post, I’ll give my overall analysis of what was happening in the seminary I attended, and then I’ll get down to the business of unpacking the Instrumentum Laboris.