the governance of the seminary (part two)

Is there a spirit of harmony and ecclesial communion among the formation faculty members? Do they show a sincere sentire cum Ecclesia? Do they give a good example of priestly living?

Another million-dollar question, which seems applicable to any Catholic institution of higher learning.

As I look back on my seminary experience, this was perhaps the thing that surprised and saddened me the most. In 1994, when I entered, I was naive, passionate about my faith, and to a large extent unaware of the ways in which acedia, pride and politics could turn the Church into a battleground. I had graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville a year earlier, which, for all its merits, does not prepare one for the experience of entering a house divided against itself.

I’ve often described the seminary environment as being like the home of a couple contemplating a divorce. One of the spouses is losing patience with the other, and while unready to pack the bags — for all sorts of reasons — remains on the fringes of the relationship in an attitude of resentment, and the children become pawns in a subtextual battle that is played out on every front. To be a seminarian in the community of the seminary was like being a child in a dysfunctional family, with Rome as one parent and the American Catholic Church as the other.

I often wished that the faculty could put aside their agendas when they stepped into the classroom or when they sat down to write an evaluation of the seminarians, but it really seemed beyond the capacity of some of them. I never found myself, to my knowledge, on the receiving end of hostility from the faculty, which I guess indicates that it was possible to avoid conflict by careful diplomacy. Others were less fortunate, receiving written evaluations with reservations because of things such as a desire to receive Communion on the tongue. One faculty member actually took the evaluation of a classmate as an opportunity to launch a visceral attack on the pastor of the seminarian’s home parish. (To his credit, when notified about this, Archbishop Flynn required the faculty member to make an apology to the pastor).

At any rate, when seminarians feel the need to walk on eggshells, one can’t help the impression that the Gospel mandate of charity has been left on the sidelines. During my leave of absence, I wrote the rector of the seminary and gave him a copy of a book by Cardinal Ratzinger which I felt really spoke to the situation: Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. I thought that an essay at the end of the book, which was a homily delivered by Ratzinger at the seminary in Philadelphia, would be a great centerpiece for a seminary retreat.

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