Look, I have a lot to do, so I am going to try my darndest to make this one of my few posts today.
(Some call it karma, others call it chickens coming home to roost, still others just call it life. The editor who, more often than not, ends up hounding writers of introductions, saying that the piece is needed yesterday, please...has to write an intro herself now. In three days. And today's day 3)
This seminary visitation meme is amusing to me. Carroll envisions the inquistion. I wonder what educational institution on earth doesn't get evaluated and visited? I've been on a visitation team to a high school for accreditation purposes. Spent a week there. Served on committees when my own schools were undergoing the process. It's been done.
The visitation instrument is imperfect. Peter Steinfels critiqued it for the lack of emphasis on intellectual vigor. In my original version of the NYTimes piece, I expressed cynical distressed that there was not a single question addressing the teaching of homiletics, one of the great gaping holes in American seminary formation, at least judging from the results.
I will say, though, that in conversations about this, Michael, who knows a lot more about this than I, brushed aside the concerns about intellectual creativity (although he had more sympathy for the homiletics critique) because, as he pointed out, seminaries are not colleges or universities. Formation is a much broader and deeper task than intellectual training. There have been brilliant, academically successful priest-saints, and there have been priest saints who were anything but lights in the intellectual firmament. And in the past, the Church has made room in odd ways for candidates who couldn't quite cut it academically, as unfair as their treatment might seem at the time - Solanus Casey is our best modern example, a man who failed out of seminary (mostly, it seems because of language issues - he went to seminaries in Wisconsin, and classes that were not taught in Latin were taught in German, which he did not speak.), and was ultimately ordained, but as a priest simplex - not permitted to preach or hear confessions. (The divinely-ordered irony being, of course, that Fr. Solanus' ministry that brought him in touch with thousands of people was that of porter - probably as close to hearing confessions as you can get without actually doing so...)
Well, that's a digression.
When you read Carroll's piece, if you care to bother, you read, first off, this obssession with a homosexual witch hunt. I'm just so bored with this after last week, I can't tell you. The seminary visitation may end up being pro forma like the last one, with everyone simply putting their best face forward, as one does during these things, but I am fairly certain that except for seminaries that are defiant (as is the case with Aquinas in St. Louis, the first seminary visited) and largely dismissive of, if not the letter, but the spirit and implications of Catholic teaching on sexuality, there are other concerns, as indicated in the evaluative instrument.
Carroll, like so many op-eders of the past week, have used this occassion to panic about exclusivity, the coming witch hunt, closed borders and God knows, probably rising gas prices, too. CWNews has a good collection of links to the range of opinion. If by "range" you mean "various expressions of naval-gazing talking points."
All energized, of course, by the Martyrdon of Fr. Cuenin in Boston.
Look. Does anyone think seminary formation is perfect? No. Does anyone think that priesthood isn't in crisis in this country, both in terms of numbers, quality and pressures? No. I was speaking to someone from a Wisconsin diocese the other day, and he was telling me about the shrinking number of parishes and priests in his diocese, and how the priest who today has four parishes under his wing will have six to care for in five years - if he's still around.
But is the visitation an exercise in scapegoating and denial? No if there are problems in formation, they should be addressed, and the crisis in priesthood bears examination on all fronts, from its beginnings in formation to the consequences borne out in disasters on the episcopal level. Now, we know, and are constantly aggrieved at the lack of episcopal mutual accountability and fraternal correction. If anyone needs a visitation besides seminaries, it's the chanceries and diocesan structures that ravage the land, experts, paradoxically in both ignoring problems and creating new ones. But seminary culture is, more than most of us realize, an extension of episcopal culture, and the womb in which it gestates and is reinforced. It all needs fixing. The fixing will never be done until Judgment Day of course, not for seminaries, bishops, or any of us. But that doesn't mean there's no point in trying.
The bigger story is going on in Rome, over the next three weeks. The synod, long planned, is certainly providential. For truly, every crisis in the Church is rooted in our misunderstanding of, misuse of, exploitation of and diminishing of the Eucharist. So while Carroll and others are over here yapping and whining, I'm far more interested in listening to the Pope reflect on the ties between Jesus' gift of himself in the Eucharist, love, integrity and justice - which is exactly what he's been speaking of so far.
James Carroll and others: Your agendas are like blinders. They're earplugs and big heavy packs of rocks, keeping you from seeing, hearing and moving forward. There are massive problems in our Church - nothing new there, to tell the truth. But the bigger picture is helpful, to say the least. The secondary magisterium in this country is not quite sputtering yet - they are still convinced of their relevance as they natter on about journeys and community with nary a reference to the Gospel or the richness of Christian tradition to themselves and their audiences of twelve - but the time is coming. And what time is that? When the hunger that God's people feel for truth and joy that's not dependent on the latest program or how lovely your local community is or isn't finally overwhelms and we can finally understand where real nourishment is and how life-giving it is.