The Catholic church rethinks seminary training after its child abuse scandal

The Age

Sept. 24, 2019

By Farrah Tomazin, Chris Vedelago and Debbie Cuthbertson

Australia’s Catholic Church is considering scrapping the centuries-old system of training priests in seminaries, which helped create some of the country’s worst paedophiles.

Two years after a Royal Commission exposed the scale of child abuse in the church, Catholic leaders are already quietly reshaping the way clergy are appointed, with new screening and monitoring protocols for seminary candidates and a revamped “national program of priestly formation” being developed.

But multiple Catholic sources say that church leaders are also discussing dismantling the seminary system altogether in favour of a broader model of priest apprenticeships with more interaction with the community.

At the moment becoming a priest generally requires living in an exclusive, male-dominated residential college, and undertaking a seven-year training program with four dimensions: spiritual, pastoral, human and academic.

But an investigation by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald has thrown fresh light on the role seminaries played in the abuse crisis. Church leaders accept that past practices – such as poor vetting, inadequate lessons in celibacy and ministry and a clerical culture that shunned women – contributed to the church’s abuse problem.

Evidence to the Royal Commission and subsequent legal cases showed a number of seminaries had become places where repressed young men would experiment sexually with one another with little consequence, before some of them turned their attention to children in their parish.

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