By Hilary White

ROME, January 16, 2009 ( – A Vatican report on the moral and intellectual life of US seminaries, begun in 2005, has said that the main problems lie with professors who overtly or subtly dissent from Catholic moral teaching. Such professors, the report said, are not frequently enough fired from their positions.

“Quite often,” the report said, “the Visitation discovered one or more faculty members who, although not speaking openly against Church teaching, let the students understand – through hints, off-the-cuff remarks, etc. – their disapproval of some articles of Magisterial teaching.” The report next says that although procedures exist to fire such dissenting faculty, these “are not invoked as often as they should be.”

The Vatican report, signed by Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, Prefect Congregation for Catholic Education, is the result of a Vatican-led investigation of American seminaries following the explosion of the clergy sex-abuse scandals in 2001. Although written in carefully diplomatic language typical of high level Vatican offices, the report uses unusually blunt terms, especially in its criticisms of seminaries run by religious orders, such as the Jesuits or Dominicans.

What the report calls a “lack of harmony” in the formation of priests “is almost always” due to educators “being less than faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.” 

While most media, including Catholic News Service, a body of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has reported that the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education has found the US seminaries to be in “overall good health,” the document notes that in “centres of formation for religious,”“ambiguities still exist” in the problem of acceptance of homosexual activity or inclinations. The report urges seminary educators and evaluators to continue to watch candidates for signs of homosexual tendencies and “underscores” the importance of the Vatican instruction that prohibits accepting as candidates men who suffer from long-term and deeply ingrained homosexual inclinations.

In the wake of the US clergy abuse scandals that broke into the public eye in 2001, the prevalence of homosexuals in the US priesthood was widely downplayed as a cause. Despite the publication of a report that found that over 80 per cent of the perpetrators were homosexuals and their victims adolescent males, not young children, Church officials and media alike continue to insist that the crisis is purely one of “priestly paedophilia.”

In its section on intellectual formation, the report noted, “In a few seminaries, and particularly in some schools of theology run by religious [orders], dissent is widespread” especially in the area of moral theology, which includes the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. “It is not rare in religious institutes to find basic tenets of Catholic moral doctrine being called into question.”

The report agrees in the main with many faithful Catholic writers and commentators such as George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who maintained that in addition to new policies that allowed homosexuals to be accepted as seminarians, it was more general infidelity to orthodox Catholic teaching, the “culture of dissent,” that was responsible for the sex abuse scandals.

Many Catholic commentators observed that the spike in abuse cases occurred at the time when seminaries, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and the sexual and social revolutions of the 1960s and ‘70s, ceased screening candidates according to standards based on the traditional moral teachings of Catholicism.

The report also makes mention of the acquiescence in some seminaries, again particularly those run by religious orders, to pressure to accept the concept of women’s ordination. In its critique, the report said that seminaries are hampered by “mistaken” fears of offending those “who judge the reservation of the Sacrament of Holy Orders [priesthood] to men alone as discriminatory.”

The report indicates also the decline in many seminaries, widely reported anecdotally by priests and seminarians, of the traditional Catholic devotional life. The report called it “profoundly regrettable” that many seminaries do not include such practices as the Rosary as a normal part of the day to day life of students. “Some institutes even have an atmosphere that discourages traditional acts of Catholic piety – which begs the question as to whether the faculty’s ideas of spirituality are consonant with Church teaching and tradition.”

“Unless a great many seminaries introduce regular recitation of the Rosary, novenas, litanies, Stations of the Cross, and so on, the seminarians will lack an education in the sacramentals and will be unprepared for ministry in the Church, which greatly treasures these practices.”

The report, on the other hand, praised the seminarians themselves, saying, “Almost without exception, the seminarians show authentic apostolic zeal and possess a ‘Catholic’ vision of Church life.”

To read the full text of the document:


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