Some additional questions for seminarians

by Tom Roberts

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Some years ago,a priest psychologist I was interviewing who had reviewed years of files of sexually abusive priests who had been treated, summed up the situation by saying the problem of clergy sexual abuse and inappropriate sexual behavior in general among Catholic clergy would not abate until there were honest discussions of sexuality among priests and bishops.

At least part of that has begun to happen, if awkwardly and under somewhat forced circumstances, according to a recent story in The New York Times. What's lacking, of course, are the questions about the culture that spawned the scandal.

The questions asked of seminarians about their sexual orientation and experience seem logical to ask of people who are ultimately going to commit to a life of celibacy.

That kind of candid conversation, certainly a result of the sex abuse crisis, is perhaps overdue. Some might argue that the motivation in part, to rid the seminaries of gay candidates, is at best questionable and at worst homophobic and hypocritical, given the significant percentage of gays in the priesthood.
But any start at candid conversation can only be beneficial.

At another level, however, the questions that aren't being asked are more telling, particularly if the intent is to deal with the sex abuse crisis. As the point has been made repeatedly on this site and in the pages of NCR, the crisis long ago ceased being about sex and became a crisis of the clerical and hierarchical culture, one that is self-protective, closed and beyond any reasonable systems of accountability. That's what led those in leadership to hide the crimes, pay for silence and essentially lie and deceive the community for years about what was going on.

So the questions of today's seminarians should include what they expect of ministry; what they mean by service; what kind of accountability they think is appropriate. They should be made to engage in conversations about privilege and power; about whether a regal bearing and the trappings of the royal court are appropriate to an imitation of the Servant of Servants.
They ought to be asked if they like people, especially women, and if they understand the significance to the life of the church of those who still have the faith to show up in the pews.

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