Is There An Alternative To Seminaries?

Perhaps the Catholic Church would have better priests if candidates for ordination received their formation outside of seminaries.

The Problem

Some seminaries fall under the influence of priests, theologians, and other leaders who are lacking in faith and holiness, who are poorly-catechized, including some teachers of heresy. The seminarians are taught many grave errors, with the claim that these are doctrine. They are not given proper formation in any of the virtues, nor in the teachings of the Faith.

Worse still, some seminaries are infested with wicked persons who lead the seminarians into grave sins: sexual sins, heresies, and various other grave moral errors. In some cases, the seminary culture favors homosexuality, encourages seminarians to commit acts of grave depravity, and drives away any seminarian who objects. (This was well-documented in the book Good-bye, Good Men by Michael Rose.)

Most seminarians are young men. In today’s society, men of that age (late teens and early twenties) are immature. They have spent most of their lives in schools. They have not held down a job, lived on their own, or had to make the mature decisions of an adult. They are still children. So when they enter a bad seminary, they are easily influenced toward grave sin.

Secular culture has much influence over the faithful as they grow up, resulting in seminarians who have been given a type of perverse formation by society. Parishes have done a poor job of teaching children the faith. Bishops have become mostly administrators, and not apostles. Parish priests are over-worked and cannot fill all of the teaching roles needed by the Church. Lay theologians are mostly unfaithful to magisterial teaching, and that includes conservatives.

Seminaries are often associated with Catholic colleges or universities, and those institutions are not faithful or holy. The more time that a Catholic spends in Catholic higher education, the more likely he is to lose the faith. So the environment is not conducive to proper formation for candidates to the priesthood.

A Proposed Solution

Seminaries are not essential to the priesthood.

1. Viri Probati

Some men in their 30s or 40s are holy and faithful. They go to Confession and Mass frequently. They have learned the teachings of the Church well. They have an emotional and intellectual maturity, which allows them to repel the sinful influences in and out of the Church. They are chaste, having overcome the various temptations that the world offers. These men have been tested by time and by life experiences outside of schools. They are the viri probati (tested men). To be ready for ordination, first as transitional deacons, then as priests, they need some additional training and course work, which can be obtained while they continue in their homes and jobs. They should not be moved to a dormitory-like seminary, with a group of immature youths. After a year or two of training and instruction, they could be ordained as transitional deacons.

The viri probati are not married men, as some commentators have assumed or suggested. Many Catholic laymen are unmarried, and have reached a point in their lives where they have decided not to marry.

2. Current Permanent Deacons

Some permanent deacons are perhaps ready and willing to become priests. These would particularly include those deacons who are no currently married. They might be ready for elevation to the priesthood after only a year of additional training and instruction.

Permanent deacons occupy a place in parishes of limited usefulness. Their assistance at Mass is helpful, but not essential. They are required to have jobs to support themselves, as the parishes usually do not pay them. So they are only helping at parishes part-time. It would be very helpful to turn permanent deacons into priests. A shortage of priests is much worse than a shortage of permanent deacons.

3. Mature young men

Some men in their early twenties may be mature enough for the priesthood. But having them move into a dormitory-style living quarters at a seminary is a step backward. You are returning those mature young men to school days, and they are likely to behave accordingly. Divide a group of men, half into prisoners and half into guards, and they will behave according to the role they are given. Put a group of mature men into a dorm, and they will behave like frat boys or college sophomores.

Instead, young men with the appropriate maturity should remain in their current living situation: with family, or in an apartment with friends. They should continue to work full-time. Their formation can take place in their free time — which will serve as a proof that they are mature. Like the viri probati, their training and formation can take place evenings and weekends. If they don’t want to give up their free time for this purpose, then they are not ready.

4. Immature men

Sometimes youths in their teens, or immature men in their early twenties, feel called to the priesthood. They should be told that the path is lengthy. They should be given general instruction in the faith, suitable for any laypersons. They should be directed by the diocese to attend a Catholic school, or to choose a small Catholic college. They should study theology and related disciplines. But it would be a disservice to the Church and to them to rush them into a seminary. They should be encouraged to take time off between high school and college, to work in a job or in a volunteer position. They should be directed to gain life experiences, before advancing to actual preparation for the diaconate and priesthood.

Remaining Seminaries

Seminaries which remain in service to the Church, alongside other routes to the priesthood, should be given a thorough overhaul. Remove all heretics and schismatics from positions over the seminary and the seminarians. This includes popular bloggers who are nevertheless unfaithful to Church teaching. Remove the dormitories, and have the seminarians live at home, with family, or in an apartment setting with friends who are NOT seminarians.

One of the problems with seminaries is that they are bubbles — just like college is a bubble. The seminarian is surrounded by other seminarians, priests, and few other persons. They are isolated from society in general. They can then be easily caught up in whatever microcosm of culture prevails in that seminary — including very sinful cultures. So, remove the bubble. Keep the seminarian living quarters separate from the seminary and his fellow seminarians. Require the seminarians to have a job or a volunteer project (I realizes some seminaries have this feature.) Do not give the seminarians a college-like atmosphere, which would then promote college-like behavior.

Require a public reporting system whereby the seminarians are required to publicly discuss any problems in the seminary, such as online or in a local Catholic media outlet. Solicit feedback from the seminarians to improve the process of formation at the seminary. Develop an independent organization that sets standards for seminaries and does reviews of their work.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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