Church needs fewer, better seminaries: Seminary professor


New York, Oct. 23, 2018: In the wake of recent reports concerning widespread sexual harassment and sexual abuse at seminaries, an American seminary professor has suggestions for how the seminary process could improve.

Fr. Thomas Berg, a professor of moral theology and director of admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York, suggested in an Oct. 18 Washington Post column six ways the formation process of seminarians could be changed to ensure that they would be properly formed both spiritually and emotionally.

Berg criticized the current seminary system for an “overemphasis on academics” that leaves seminarians lesser formed emotionally and personally. He warned that those kinds of deficits do not form priests who are ready to effectively serve their parishes, and could result in additional misbehavior.

“Where focus on personal psychological integration is lacking, space opens for disordered living of precisely the type that has made headlines in recent months,” he said. Seminaries in several U.S. cities announced investigations into misconduct this summer.

Next, Berg said that there needs to be increased trust and transparency between seminarians and formation teams. He said it “pained [him] to hear” that some seminarians had felt as though they could not discuss recent abuse stories. This censorship was “utterly wrongheaded.”

He said that seminarians should be able to “freely, frankly and confidently express to the formation team their concerns about the seminary community, their opinions about the formation process and any other honest apprehension or contribution they want to make in the spirit of honest dialogue.”

Additionally, he called for seminaries to have clear sexual harassment policies and protocols, and said that a person associated with the seminary, lay or otherwise, should be appointed to contact the diocese regarding sexual harassment or abuse.

Berg additionally called for a possible minimum age for seminarians, and said that “bishops need to slow down the rush to ordination.” He suggested that an age of 22 may be an appropriate time to begin seminary studies, which would allow the seminarian to acquire a college degree and work experience before entering.

While the current seminary process takes about seven years, Berg suggested that the process be extended by another year. An initial year of formation would consist of “detoxing from the culture and social media,” and would result in “growth in self-knowledge, prayer, and a secure masculine identity.” The final year prior to ordination could consist of “intensive fieldwork” in pastoral ministry.

Bishops may not appreciate this idea, he said, but he believes it is necessary, as the Church cannot be well served by priests who are ordained before they are actually ready for the position. This spiritual immaturity could result in mental health crises or other issues among clergy.

“When years later some of them falter, with addictions or other personal struggles, we all pay a heavy price,” he explained.

Berg also expressed concern at what he described as “priests who lack the skill set and drive to become mentors, role models and moral guides” being assigned to seminaries as formators.

“A doctorate in theology does not render a priest automatically suitable for such ministry,” he said. Bishops need to require that the formators themselves undergo ongoing professional formation to better serve the seminarians.

For his final points, Berg addressed the number and quality of seminaries in the United States. He said that steps should be taken to identify which seminaries are successful in the formation of priests, and those that are failing at this task. He suggested that bishops should form a panel of “seasoned seminary formators” who will visit each seminary to review their processes.

Seminaries that are “failing in their mission” should be reformed or closed.

Finally, Berg said that the current number of seminaries in the United States–70–is far too high and that number needs to be consolidated. A third of those seminaries, according to a recent report, have fewer than 50 seminarians, whereas 11 of them have more than 100 men in formation.

Instead of this glut of seminaries that are clearly not needed, Berg suggested making “15 or 20” regional seminaries, staffed by the best-of-the-best formators from seminaries around the country who would work in teams.

The current times require a “radical rethinking” of seminaries, one that must be started by the bishops, he said.

Source: Washington Post

Have Something to Say? Comment on Facebook

5 thoughts on “Church needs fewer, better seminaries: Seminary professor

  1. What is the basic factor that makes a good priest ? The experts will sure say that,education,formation in the seminary,training given to them in spiritual growth and so on and on. They are all good,they all can help. But it is not whole. No one can see the mind and heart of others,no one can hear the murmurs of others, no one can correctly assess another. A person whose interiority has pledged itself to Christ ,a person who from the bottom of heart is determined to serve Christ and His Church under any circumstance is far superior,humbler,and qualified to be a priest. In spite of this some may fall, but most of them repent and return to God. The so called well educated and rightly formed in seminary aspire for power and pelf , because the interiority never reconciled with an austere life and never was determined to serve Christ in all circumstances. Are there ways for formation of interiority of persons ?

  2. It is also true that seminary formation is mostly academic having little pastoral value or relevance to life. It needs a radical overhaul.

  3. It has also been observed that a seminary is not more than a refinery that cannot change the basic properties of the raw product. Iron ore cannot produce gold. So candidate selection is critical for quality not quantity.

  4. The decree on Priestly Formation advocates rightness of intention and freedom of choice. This is not possible in youngsters entering minor seminaries. Vocation Promotion is faulty. Minimum age should be 21.

  5. More needed in India. Seminaries with poor quality staff makes years waste and anti-witnessing group. More the years of seminary formation more mess… Seminary formation duration is more than IAS & IPS? It is the sign of imprudence of the bishops and its conferences. Aluva magalapuzha seminary divided mess increased due to lack of authentic staff…
    Some cash making institutions started their own seminary for priestly formation… What a pathetic situation of the misuse of bishops conferences who grant permissions for this mess. We hear, instead of teaching catholic virtues, bible and liturgy etc…the theology students are send their seminarians to Hindu temples (Rishikesh) in the name of inculturation. Those students convinced of many heretic thoughts in their priestly life. Most of them are followers of pelagianism. They convinced of denial of uniqueness of redeemer Jesus. They consider Topics like LGB as human rights…most of them are send in secular studies… With their secular back up they deform all other members of the religious congregations and the mission centres where they intrude as apostles of Syro-Malabar church and resources persons of retreats, seminars,Mon going formation etc.

Leave a Response

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.