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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action


The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and conditio n.
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC President
Seminaries and Social Justice
Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA
President of ARCC
Back in February, my distinguished colleague on the board, Anneliese Sinnott, wrote a compelling article regarding the U. S. Catholic Church’s response to the scourge of racism. Shortly after that I received an email challenging ARCC to look into what the seminaries are teaching in terms of racism or even the broader topic of social justice. So, I have taken up that challenge. For the past month or so, I have been exploring the websites of seminaries throughout the United States. I focused my attention on the M.Div. programs for the formation of priests. I scanned their literature and their sites for the use of the word “racism” or even mention of race at all. I also looked at the curriculum to see how many courses were offered on Catholic Social Teaching. What I found was of no real surprise to me but still rather disturbing.
Of the 48 seminaries that I found listed in the Official Catholic Directory, I was able to find specific academic information in only 38 of them. However, I was able to scan the language used to describe the essential formation strategy of all of them. The result is that there is no specific mention of racism or even race in any of their literature. There were, however, seven who mention multi-cultural dimensions of the formation program. The number of seminaries that even have a class in Catholic Social Teaching that I could identify was 27. Of these, only 7 have more than one class. What this comes down to is that out of programs that had between 90 and 124 credits required for a Master of Divinity program, the normal credits devoted to Catholic Social Teaching is 3. This hardly seems in keeping with the exhortation by the bishops in paragraph 54 of Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love. 
Reviewing these sites is certainly a surreal undertaking. Even though, I had attended seminary several years ago (the one I graduated from was one that had three courses tied to multicultural studies) I was rather uncomfortable perusing the sites. There are many things that strike me in what I read and viewed. The first is the images themselves. Throughout these sites the photographs are mostly of men in clerics and vestments captured in images I would have expected from the 1950s. The buildings were mostly old with gothic design. If there hadn’t been the occasional picture that included a laptop, I would have trouble recognizing what century we are experiencing.
In addition to the images, I found the language rather interesting, if not troubling. The majority of the seminaries include descriptions of the four areas of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. What caught my attention is the emphasis in formation about the individual seminarian. While there was appropriate language about developing healthy behaviors, there is an awful lot of focus on the seminarian as a “bridge and not an obstacle for others in the meeting with Jesus Christ.” It does not take much of an imagination to see how this can sow the seeds of clericalism. In each of the areas of formation, the concentration was on the importance of the priest. I found almost no mention of developing a sense for social justice. There is very little discussion of the role of the priest, as with us all, as members of the community. The message is clearly one of separation from the rest of the community.
While this examination of the seminaries is rather brief and perhaps more cursory than it deserves, it did reveal to me that we need more appropriate institutions. We will not be able to answer the challenges of the 21st century and beyond if we continue to develop priests through 19th century institutions. I cannot see how it will be possible to be followers of Yeshua if we are not emphasizing social justice and loving communities. Perhaps it is time to rid the church of separate seminaries and develop priests in a more mainstream setting. After all, Yeshua worked among the poor and disenfranchised. He did not call upon his disciples to be especially set apart. Quite the contrary, he challenged them to be as sheep among the wolves. (Matthew 10:16)
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