Josephinum Proposes Admission Changes to Weed out Predators
By JoAnne Viviano
March 21, 2016
In the wake of the arrest of a former student, the leader a Roman Catholic seminary on the Far North Side has recommended a trio of admissions policy changes, including the creation of an applications database that would be available to seminaries nationwide.
The Pontifical College Josephinum announced the proposals publicly on Monday, about seven weeks after former Josephinum seminarian Joel A. Wright, 23, was arrested in San Diego on federal allegations that he planned to travel to Mexico to rape 1- to 3-year-old girls.
The proposal includes: 1) the creation of a national database of formal applications to seminaries, dioceses and religious orders; 2) reference, social media and records reviews of applicants by private investigators led by someone with high-level FBI experience; and, 3) in-person interviews of applicants by representatives of the Josephinum's admissions committee and its director of psychological evaluation and counseling.
“We’re trying to be a leader in this area, even nationally,” said Monsignor Christopher Schreck, rector and president. “We’re also trying to do our utmost to close any loopholes in our admissions process. It’s already a rigorous process, but this makes it even more rigorous.”
The database would allow seminaries to review whether potential students had been rejected at other schools and why. Schreck said seminaries have been discussing such a project for several years, trying to work out details and legalities.
He has proposed the national database to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and suggests that Josephinum take a leadership role in its establishment.
Wright's mother told WBNS-TV that her son had been rejected by dozens of dioceses and religious orders due to his vision and orthopedic issues. Advocates for sex-abuse victims have said that Josephinum likely would have rejected Wright if they were aware that he had been rejected by others.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, expressed little confidence that administrators would follow through.
"Catholic officials have been talking about better seminary screening for decades," he said. "So it’s hard to be enthusiastic about this latest promise."
The executive committee of the Josephinum board met on Monday and approved of sending all three proposals to the full board for review at its April 19 meeting, said the Rev. John Allen, the seminary’s vice president for advancement.
Among current admissions requirements are fingerprinting, two criminal background checks, psychological testing, letters of recommendation and training on the prevention of child sexual abuse.
Advancement in social media and a tech-savvy generation require an added level of review, Allen said.
“Our sacred responsibility is to verify the integrity of every person who aspires to the priesthood,” he said. “There’s no place in our seminary formation system for anyone who would in the slightest way pose a threat to children or the weak and vulnerable.”
Wright, of Vermont, was a first-year student at Josephinum. Administrators said he was expelled on Jan. 29, before they learned of his arrest that same day, because he had left school without permission. Authorities say he had traveled to San Diego to eventually go into Mexico.
He was sponsored by the Diocese of Steubenville in eastern Ohio.
"These suggestions that they are hoping to implement are adding another layer of scrutiny to what we thought was already a pretty good process," said Steubenville diocesan spokeswoman Patricia DeFrancis.