Signs of the Times

Seminary Enrollment Up

U.S. Catholic theological seminaries enrolled 101 more students this year than last year, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate said. The figure rose from 3,483 in the 2000-01 academic year to 3,584 in 2001-02. It marked the fifth straight year of increases and the highest theology-level enrollment since 1992-93.

With the number of active U.S. priests on a steady decline for more than three decades, the enrollment in theological seminaries, the final years of preparation for priesthood, stands as one of the best guides for predicting future ordinations. From 1967/68, when CARA first began to gather yearly seminary statistics, until 1997/98, theology enrollments declined almost every year. They went from a high of 8,159 in the first year of that period to a low of 3,114 in the last. This year’s figures represent an increase of 470, or 15 percent, over a four-year period.


The increase is not quite so large, however, if the pre-theology students are excluded from the theology enrollment figures. Pre-theology refers to the year or two of academic formation given to college graduates who were not previously in the seminary and who lack some of the academic prerequisites for taking up graduate-level theological studies. Almost nonexistent in the 1960’s, pre-theology students made up 4 percent of postgraduate seminary enrollment in 1980/81, 8 percent in 1990/91 and 20 percent in 2000/01 and 2001/02.

Who Speaks for the Vatican?

Recent weeks have shown that even the Vatican does not always speak with a single voice, on issues ranging from the Middle East to the salvation of souls. At a Good Friday service in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope’s official “preacher of the pontifical household,” Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin father, took on the hot topic of religious pluralism. Among other things, he said that every religion has a right to “consider itself the true one,” and that non-Christian religions were not just tolerated by God but “positively willed by him” as expressions of the depth of his grace.

According to John Thavis of CNS, that is quite a contrast with the tone of Dominus Iesus, the controversial Vatican document that reasserted the church’s duty to announce to all people “the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ.” Issued in 2000, Dominus Iesus said non-Christians can be saved, but warned against attributing a divine origin or saving quality to other religions. What made Father Cantalamessa’s homily all the more remarkable was that seated at the front of the basilica were Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal official and author of Dominus Iesus.

The next day, St. Peter’s Basilica was the site of the Easter Vigil, celebrated by the pope on an altar decorated with flowers. It may seem a small detail, but the recent General Instruction of the Roman Missal says flowers should not be placed on top of the altar. Five days earlier, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, had presented the text of the new Missal and General Instruction, saying they now represented church law.

This is not the first time that subtle liturgical issues have surfaced in the pope’s basilica. For years, Bishop Piero Marini, the pope’s liturgist, has arranged for colorful Masses that featured dances by Catholic communities from around the world. And for years, Cardinal Medina and his congregation have been discouraging dance as a part of the liturgy.

“Who speaks for the Vatican?” is a question that was asked repeatedly in March and April as ambassadors tried to discern Vatican reaction to the widening Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the top of the hierarchy, the pope made several impassioned appeals that were careful not to place blame on one side or the other. But at lower levels, the language was not so evenhanded.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, for example, spoke of Israeli incursions as an attempt to “destroy” the Palestinian people. In April, it upped the rhetoric, calling the military operations “an aggression that is turning into extermination.” An Israeli diplomat who reads L’Osservatore Romano every day said he arrived at the conclusion that the newspaper and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State are “two separate things altogether—the differences are not in nuances but in substance.”

When Israeli troops surrounded Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Vatican’s missionary news service, Fides—which has had several past run-ins with the Vatican’s press office—appealed publicly for a temporary withdrawal of Israeli troops. Whether this appeal had prior approval from Vatican higher-ups is anybody’s guess, writes Mr. Thavis.

Catholics See Abuse as Major Problem for Church

A recent survey found that 71 percent of Catholics in the United States said the sex abuse issue is a “major problem that demands immediate attention,” up from 48 percent the month before who said they felt the same way. Also, 71 percent termed the ongoing sex abuse scandals a “crisis” for the church, while 66 percent disapproved of how the church had handled the clergy sex abuse problem. In the poll, conducted jointly by ABC News, the Washington Post and, 70 percent said they were either angry or dissatisfied with how the church was handling the situation; 36 percent said they were “angry” and 34 percent said they were “dissatisfied but not angry.”

But the survey indicated that Catholics’ faith has not been shaken by the unfolding scandals. Among those who attend Mass weekly, 95 percent said it had not caused them to re-examine their own personal faith. Among other Catholics, 77 percent said the scandals had not prompted them to rethink their faith. Fewer than 10 percent of Catholics said they had cut back on contributions to the church, and only 3 percent said the scandal could cause them to leave the church. Although 60 percent oppose the discipline of priestly celibacy, only 38 percent thought not allowing priests to marry was a cause of abuse.

Boston Priest Advocated Sex With Boys

At a press conference on April 8, lawyers for an alleged victim of sexual abuse by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley released documents indicating that church authorities allowed the priest to continue in ministry despite receiving allegations that he molested minors and evidence that he supported sexual relations between men and boys. Famed in the 1960’s and 1970’s for his work with Boston street kids, Father Shanley is now becoming notorious for the numerous allegations that he sexually molested dozens of boys over the years.

At a meeting in Milwaukee in 1978, he said the church’s call for homosexuals to live celibate lives is unrealistic. In 1979 Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, then archbishop of Boston, transferred Father Shanley to parish ministry after receiving complaints about the priest’s appearance as a speaker at a Boston conference on man-boy love that has been described as the founding conference of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (Nambla). In that talk Father Shanley reportedly spoke approvingly of a sexual relationship between a man and a boy and criticized society for treating such relationships as crimes. “We have our convictions upside down if we are truly concerned with boys,” a local gay newspaper quoted him as saying.

Among the letters released was a 1990 letter from Bishop Robert J. Banks, then Cardinal Bernard Law’s archdiocesan vicar for administration, informing Msgr. Philip A. Behan, then vicar general of San Bernardino, that Father Shanley was planning to stay in the California diocese for a year on medical leave and hoped to find housing there “in a religious house or parish rectory.” The letter called Father Shanley “a priest in good standing” and said, “I can assure you that Father Shanley has no problem that would be a concern to your diocese.” Bishop Banks, now bishop of Green Bay, Wis., said on April 8, “Obviously, I was not aware of any allegations against Father Shanley before I sent the letter.”

News Briefs

• Pope John Paul II met with leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference on April 9, their first opportunity to discuss the scandal over recent revelations of clerical sex abuse in several U.S. dioceses.

• William A. Donohue, president and C.E.O. of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said that “The media did not cause this problem [the sex-abuse scandal]. The Catholic Church brought it on herself. Most of the hard-news reporting on TV and in newspapers has been fair, as have the editorials. But too many columnists and cartoonists are literally out of control with their raging bigotry.”

• Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding, in northern China’s Hebei Province, was released after being detained for three days before the start of Holy Week. Bishop Jia reportedly refused to yield to the government’s demand to join the government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association.

• Political violence in Colombia over the past 18 years has taken the lives of two bishops, 36 priests, two male religious and two missionaries, according to a report by the Colombian bishops’ Secretariat for Social Ministry.

• For the first time in a decade, Catholic school enrollment in the United States declined by 31,000, or roughly 1 percent of students last year, and 93 schools were consolidated or closed. But 49 new schools opened and 43 percent of all Catholic schools currently have waiting lists.

• France’s Socialist-led government has agreed to introduce “religious knowledge” classes in state schools for the first time in a century.

• Pope John Paul II has accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Poznan, Poland, who has been accused of sexually molesting seminarians, although the archbishop continued to deny the allegations.

• Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha has apologized for his response to two Catholics who wrote letters to the local daily newspaper criticizing his handling of a case involving a priest accused of viewing child pornography.

• The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments intends to establish a commission of English-speaking bishops to advise the congregation on English liturgical translations.

• The Vatican told a U.N. committee on April 9 that it found the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament alarming.

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