Vatican Teams Checking Seminary Effectiveness

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [Pennsylvania]
January 18, 2006

A Vatican-chartered inquiry team began work at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe Monday, part of a study of whether U.S. seminaries are providing proper spiritual, moral and theological training for the priesthood.

Two bishops and two priests will spend five days interviewing all 64 candidates for priesthood and all regular faculty. All graduates of the past three years have been invited to meet with the team or to offer signed comments in writing.

Identical studies are being done at all 229 Catholic seminaries in the United States. SS. Cyril & Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary on the North Side was among the first to be visited in November, and St. Paul Seminary in East Carnegie will be visited next month.

Because the visitation is the Vatican's response to the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic priesthood, and it coincides with a statement banning men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" from ordination, many media have treated it as an investigation into the sexual climate of the seminaries. However, the 55 questions that each team is expected to address range widely. Only one concerns whether there is "evidence of homosexuality in the seminary."

That question, however, is among six mandatory ones. The others concern psychological testing of candidates, the "moral life" of students and faculty, quality of preparation for celibate living and whether seminarians are able to offer compelling intellectual responses to contemporary society.

"One of the main things [in the study] is forming them into men of prayer, and certainly orthodox teaching," said the Rev. Kurt Belsole, rector of St. Vincent.

Father Belsole expects at least two years to pass before hearing how St. Vincent fared.

"There is no exit interview. The [visitors] are going to present all of their opinions to the [Vatican] Congregation for Education, but we don't hear anything ourselves," he said.

He isn't worried, however.

Two years ago, he said, he and the Rev. James Wehner, rector of St. Paul Seminary -- where Pittsburgh candidates spend two years before moving on to St. Vincent -- reviewed every aspect of their programs in light of existing church directives. The only thing St. Vincent was missing was an admissions handbook, which has since been issued, Father Belsole said.

The visitation was "a quite pleasant experience" for the students and faculty of SS. Cyril & Methodius, said the Rev. John Petro, the rector. Because the North Side school has only six candidates for priesthood and a small faculty, there were only two visitors: A Ukrainian Byzantine bishop who serves Ukrainian immigrants in Italy and a priest with seminary leadership experience from the Ukrainian Eparchy -- diocese -- of Stamford, Conn.

"They participated in life here, joined us for Liturgy and for meals. They came to know the community," Father Petro said.

They seemed most interested in criteria for admissions and ongoing evaluation of students, and wanted to see all pertinent documentation, he said. SS. Cyril & Methodius is pursuing full accreditation with the Association for Theological Schools, and finds that process "much more challenging" than the Vatican visitation, Father Petro said.

"Everyone here seemed to have a positive experience of their being here. There wasn't any sense that they had come here on a witch hunt," he said.

(Ann Rodgers can be reached at or 412-263-1416.)


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