Fully Formed: A customized approach to seminary education

Currently, the Society of Jesus in the United States is reviewing its program for training young Jesuits. This provides an occasion for some questions and reflections on ministerial education in general. After being involved in theological education and after listening to the comments of young Jesuits and other candidates for ordination, both Catholic and Protestant, for over 30 years at the Jesuit School of Theology and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, I offer here some reflections on that training that may help answer the following question: Are we in fact preparing our priestly candidates for the globalized world of the 21st-century?

My basic assumption is that all priests are in service to the church and that the church, in turn, is in service to all humanity (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” No. 3). Since the Second Vatican Council, however, the role of the ordained among the people of God has been changing. In recent years, the Holy Spirit has inspired many lay men and women to take up leadership roles in the church. Some interpret this as the “declericalizing” of the church. The church is not the clergy nor the hierarchy; it is the whole people of God. Today’s priests need to understand themselves to be in service to the laity, not the laity in service to the clergy. Furthermore, as Pope Francis has been reminding us, the church is a church that “goes forth,” a church with “open doors”—open to all those outside its confines, the poor, the marginalized, the neglected, those without faith, the seekers amongst the young and the “nobodies” of this world (“The Joy of the Gospel,” Nos. 20-24). Are we preparing them to serve those on the periphery?

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The document from the Jesuit curia in Rome that initiated the review of the Jesuit course of studies suggests that there are four fundamental elements involved: context, content, competencies and charism. (The Ignatian charism is appropriated intensely in the first two years of training, a time called the novitiate, but then continuously throughout all stages of Jesuit life.) My concern here is with the changing context and its implications for the content and competencies. My fear is that too much of the intellectual training still takes place in the abstract, prescinding from the context, both local and global. Although I am primarily concerned with our present context, I also think we need to attend more to the context of previous church teaching and theology. For some time now, biblical scholars have taken the context of both testaments quite seriously in the interpretation of their texts. But how seriously do we take the historical, social and cultural context in which much of our theology of the family, marriage and children was formed? For example, much of that teaching was developed in an agricultural world in which children were an economic asset and necessity, when the majority of children died before the age of 5 and when the average life expectancy was less than 45 years. And much of the doctrine on authority in the church was developed in a world that took monarchy, hierarchy and patriarchy for granted.

The ‘Other’ in Our Midst

If we focus on our present context, we can see that our knowledge and understanding of the world has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. The accelerated rate of change and the processes of globalization—variously understood as “the compression of the world in time and space,” or “complex connectivity,” or “the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa”—have changed the horizon against which priestly formation takes place. Ours is a context of radical pluralism. People of another culture or religious tradition who once were thousands of miles and an ocean away are now right down the street. This has made us acutely conscious of the “other” in our midst—people of other ethnicities, other cultures and other religious traditions. This is the lived experience not only of the global elite but of the average person in the pew. Are we preparing our Christian ministers to deal with this new reality?

Further, the new, post-Hubble cosmology has changed our understanding of the age (13.8 billion years) and size (100 billion galaxies) of the universe. Yet much of the imagery depicting the power of the creator God in Scripture and tradition is drawn from the atmosphere and environment of our own tiny planet (for example, Ps. 18 and 104). Evolution is part of our mental furniture, and we are seriously expecting to find intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, yet much of our theology is still very geocentric and anthropocentric. We are much more conscious now than even 15 years ago of the ecological or environmental crisis, as Pope Francis’ latest encyclical exemplifies. As the philosopher Charles Taylor has pointed out, our “social imaginary” has changed dramatically. Has the content training of our young priests changed accordingly?

All this raises questions about what the candidates study, what tools they are given to understand our context, what competencies they need and how well they are prepared to deal with diversity, pluralism and continuing change. But first I want to question the assumption that there should be one program for all students. Smaller numbers of candidates as well as the wide diversity in age and backgrounds call for much more individualized programs, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The Society of Jesus in the United States, for example, has had an average of 35 men entering the novitiate each year (45 last year) for the last several years. So it should not be difficult to design an individual program for each man.

There are some things, however, that every candidate for ordination needs to possess—a firm grounding in Scripture for preaching; a knowledge of tradition, how Christianity has developed and changed over the centuries as background for the present practices in liturgy, sacraments, prayer; sensitivity to the moral challenges people face today and the knowledge to help them discern their choices. Each candidate may come with some background in one of these disciplines and not in others. Some come with a background in engineering or law or business but not in the humanities or the social sciences. In addition, every priest is expected to have certain competencies—be a good preacher or homilist, a leader and presider at prayer and liturgies, a compassionate listener and spiritual guide and a servant-leader who can evoke the gifts of all the members of the community. This is a tall order for even the best-intentioned candidate.

If we take the historical, social and cultural context seriously, how would this affect what ministerial candidates study and what competencies they need to relate to our rapidly changing situation? First, it is not necessary to spend so much time studying academic philosophy, which has become highly specialized and no longer gives a broad understanding of the human condition.

They should have an understanding of the whole humanistic tradition, not only the Western tradition but also the wisdom traditions of Asia and Africa. Depending on the background with which they enter, one year of study of the Western tradition and one year of study of a non-Western tradition should be sufficient.

They should prepare for inculturating Christianity in the United States by studying the history and culture of this country. Given the religious pluralism of our time, they should be prepared for dialogue with other Christian and non-Christian traditions. An open, ecumenical and collaborative approach to pastoral situations is expected today. Are we preparing them for this? Further, given that our social imaginary is highly scientific and technological, some study of contemporary cosmology and the biological sciences should be included. And the ability to do social and cultural analysis requires some study of sociology and cultural anthropology.

What Every Priest Needs to Know

All of the above recommendations are designed to help ministerial candidates communicate the Gospel in our current context. But what of the more specifically theological disciplines? We need to continue to emphasize the study of Scripture, which is the soul of theology and homiletics. More time and emphasis should be given to Catholic social teaching. Globalization and technological advances mentioned earlier have made the issues of poverty and inequality both within and between nations more urgent, as Pope Francis in “Laudato Si’” has made clear. Students also need to be better prepared to confront the moral aspects of environmental degradation and the problems posed by advances in communication technologies. Less time could be spent on some doctrinal questions that were once urgent but no longer are (the relationship between grace and free will, for example, or eucharistic controversies of the 11th century), and the historical context of all theology should be stressed. Issues about globalization and inculturation are more pertinent now than even 40 years ago, especially regarding liturgy and spirituality. In the area of ecclesiology, collegiality and synodal governance remain the unfinished agenda of Vatican II.

Finally, two recommendations more specific to Jesuit formation, concerning sequence and place. Regency, the time young Jesuits spend in full-time apostolic work, should come right after novitiate. Although it is true that some will need more academic preparation for teaching in regency, that is increasingly less the case. I have heard some say that they left novitiate full of energy and enthusiasm to set the world on fire only to find themselves studying something whose point or purpose they did not see. Nothing is worse than dampening zeal and studying something for which you see no point. A regency experience can teach a candidate what he does and does not know and what questions he needs to pursue. And after hearing continuing complaints about the lack of coordination between first studies and theology, I would suggest that first studies should take place at the same physical location as theology to better integrate the two, and together they should not take more than five years. Again, these suggestions are made on the assumption that the program will be tailored to each individual.

All of the above recommendations can apply, mutatis mutandis, to ministerial candidates other than Jesuits. Finally, one of the motivations for publishing this article is the hope that it will evoke some comments and input from the people of God, the people we serve in our parishes, schools and other apostolic works. They certainly should play a role in shaping what they expect and would like to see in the future ministers in the church.

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Patrick Murtha
1 year 2 months ago
Perhaps the seminarians should return to Christ's principal command to His first priests, His apostles--which was not a command concerning this so-called "social justice" but rather justice of the soul; perhaps the seminarian should be taught to do the very simple thing and the most important thing: "Go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Perhaps the seminarian ought to be taught that all "social" work is secondary to the work of the salvation of the soul. What is more important, overcoming poverty or overcoming sin? "What does it profit a man if he win the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?" (Matt. 16:26) It would also do the Jesuits well to return to the teachings of St. Ignatius the Father. They have wandered far from his words and farther from their meanings--for they often use his words but out of context and out of the original sense of the speaker. It surprises me that a Jesuit, who takes an additional and a special vow of obedience, should not accept the commands, even and especially those he does not understand, as a command of God. Are not even the apostles called to do things that they do not fully comprehend? ("It is not for you to know the times and the moments which the Father has put into his own power." (Acts 1:7)) Was it not the early Jesuits, obeying the commands of their superiors without understand the rhyme or the reasons of them, who simply obeyed because they say in those commands the command of Christ? Were not the Jesuits trained as spiritual soldiers? And yet, every soldier knows that he ought not question the command of a superior officer for lives may depend on his immediate obedience. And what is greater the material battle and battlefield for the safety of a nation or the spiritual battle for the salvation of a soul? O Jesuits! Return to your previous glory, to principles of your founder, the great spiritual warrior from Loyola! Souls cry out to you for help, but you have turned your eyes away from their salvation towards mere "social justice" and sociology. You have become concerned with theories and lost the love of true Theology. You have abandoned Aquinas's teachings whom Ignatius love, and have taken up with Lamennais and Loisy whom your founder would have fought like a second Luther.
Mike Evans
1 year 2 months ago
O Patrick! Jesus gave few commands beyond love each other and love God. Or if anyone is hungry, thirsty, naked, abandoned or forgotten, then remember that whatever you do for these, the least of my brethren, you do to Me. When he washed the feet of his disciples, he did not preach a catechism of any sort, only for us to do likewise. When he fed 5,000+ he didn't check to see if they were Jews, Samaritans, or pagans. Then he went to Jerusalem to complete his mission and got hung on a cross and died for us all. And no, I don't think those early Jesuits were "soldiers" for the kingdom. Most were simple men living the same complex lives we all live to the best of our faith and abilities.
Patrick Murtha
1 year 2 months ago
Christ did these things because the God Who cares for the souls will also care for the health of His children. "Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather in barns, and our heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?...Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat...Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matt. 6: 26-33) His principle and his principal care was for the salvation of the soul and for the honor of God. Remember when Judas rebuked Mary Magdelan about the expense of the perfume. Did not Christ show that Mary did well? "Let her alone, why do you molest her? She hath wrought a good work upon me. For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good: but me you have not always." (Mark 14:6-7) And yet, I return to my point. Christ's principal command to His priests is to teach the path to Heaven, the path to Love of God, and then to administer the sacraments. These is the first great act of Charity of any priest. For such things are truly done out of Love of God. Secondly, the Jesuits, by St. Ignatius himself, were considered soldiers. Read the works of St. Ignatius. St. Ignatius wrote this to his Jesuits: "But more than anything else I should wish to awaken in you the pure love of Jesus Christ, the desire for His honor and for the salvation of souls whom He has redeemed. For you are His soldiers in this Society with a special title and a special wage." Pope Paul III, like many popes after him, understood this spiritual military, for he begins his papal bull, which was first to approve the Jesuits, with "Regimini militantis Ecclesiae."
Mike Evans
1 year 2 months ago
Number one: take off the Roman collar until you are ordained. Do not presume or allow people to presume you are someone you are not. Second: nothing more disheartening than to see a newly ordained priest holding rigidly to only the red rubrics and losing sight of the spirit of the liturgy. Following that, nothing is more boring than a typecast (or borrowed from the internet) homily that has no energy and no real message besides safe, pious sayings. And lastly, while researching social justice teachings, how about investigating how parishes and institutions today are themselves examples of social justice? How do you pay your parish secretary, custodian, music leader(s), catechists?
C Gregory Jones
1 year 2 months ago
YES! Please put away the collars until ordained. Yes! Rigid, pious, lifeless homilies fail to show the truth...the joy..of the Gospel. They lead me to wonder about the personal happiness of the priest/deacon. And YES! Social justice isn't for those other folks... It's for all. It is the duty of the pastor and parish to model justice in all business. We have to walk the walk before we talk.
Mary Flynn
1 year 2 months ago
Alfred Firmin Loisy was a prophetic 19th century priest-theologian who was excommunicated because he wanted to initiate modern Biblical studies as our Protestant friends were already doing. The 19th Century in Roman Catholic church was fearful of modernism, absolutely reactionary and afraid and still in shock from the French revolution and Napoleon. (By analogy an institution suffering with PTSD) There we a lot of great theologians (ie George Tyrell, a Jesuit) who were excommunicated by the anti-modernists. Finally in twentieth century Vatican Two came along and validated so many of their insights----eg modern Biblical Scholarship is no threat to to "the Faith". What a terrible reactionary time that was in "THe Church Triumphant" . My nineteenth century Catholic formation was finally healed by great Jesuit pastoral interactions and theology and of course the the Spiritual Exercises. Good luck to the Jesuits in continuing to be open to the Sign of the Times in your decisions about the life of forming "our" future Jesuits.
Patrick Murtha
1 year 2 months ago
Loisy and Tyrell were excommunicated for heresy. Yes, that heresy called Modernism, which was wisely called the synthesis of all heresy. How is it reactionary to protect the purity of the Faith against publishing of falsehoods that would work to destroy it? How is it reactionary to call out and to challenge those who promote erroneous notions that will damn souls? How is it reactionary to counter a world that has lost the path to Christ and to salvation? If this is reactionary, then all the Church ought to be reactionary. If it is reactionary to care more for souls than for the green of the globe, then let us all be reactionary. If it is reactionary to admit that it makes no sense to believe one thing as a Catholic and another completely opposite thing as an academic or as a secularist, then let us all be reactionary. It serves no purpose to toss around these merely academic terms, such as reactionary. For the term itself, in these cases, is mute and meaningless. For the Church was truly progressive to excommunicate these men, for She saw the path of truth and she progressed on that path, like a woman unafraid to combat the whole world for the sake of her one beloved, like a woman who will scorn all the world, even if all the world were Modernist, for the love her beloved. Let Vatican II be our proof of the errors of Loisy and the errors of Lamennais and the errors of Tyrell. If Vatican II has let in Modernism, if Vatican II is the measuring line for the success of the Church, if Vatican II is the rule of Nova Fides, then in Vatican II I shall rest my case. Since Vatican II, the Church fallen into even harder times. Since Vatican II, the clergy have become focused on social revolutions than spiritual reforms. Since Vatican II, much of the laity have lost the Faith to materialism and secularism. Since Vatican II, churches have become emptied and even church have been turned into mosques. Since Vatican II, the number of clergy, the number of religious vocations, the numbers of priests, of Brothers, of Sisters have fallen so drastically low that many parishes throughout the world have no priests to care for them, no Sisters or Brothers to aid them. Is Vatican II such a real success for the Church? As Christ says, "By their fruits you shall know them." And what is the fruits of Vatican II? Let the fruits of Vatican II be seen as the "sign of the times." And while the Modernist might sign himself with the Sign of the Times, let the Church sign herself with the Sign of the Cross and dare the ire of the modern world and modern thinking to keep the thoughts of Christ as Hers. St. Pius X, pray for us!
Henry George
1 year 2 months ago
Thank you Patrick, Thank you for keeping the Faith and helping others keep theirs.
Henry George
1 year 2 months ago
Mary, You are aware that Loisy gave up the faith and wished to lead others from the faith and so the Church was wise to not accept with alacrity what he proposed. Given I have never met anyone who came to Jesus through the various schools of "Modern Biblical Studies" I still have qualms about their claims - who besides the Apostle John and a follower we are told also named John was in the Johanine Community ? Do we know for sure that Luke had to have written his Gospel and Acts after 70 AD ? Just because the Gospel of Luke has Jesus' prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans ? These are just claims by Scholars - and if you read the scholarly commentaries and their footnotes you see that they all have different theories that contradict one another and if you dig deep enough you find out it is often, actually more than often, the case that the scholar purports such theories because they are his own theories about how Scripture should go and how God should act toward humans. Why should these mere humans tell me how I should read the Scriptures and how I should believe in Jesus as my Saviour when there is no sign that they have lived "Holy Lives" They were not sent by God, like Saint Paul to the Gentiles and they are nowhere near, not one single one of them ,the Biblical Scholar that Origen was and certainly not the spiritual genius that Augustine was. George Tyrell by his own admission pushed the issue so that he would be asked to leave the Jesuits, even though he could have stayed, and he sought separation from Rome. He admitted in last year that his pride drove him where he should not have gone. You rail against a Church that never did what you claimed and your scars are of your own making when you refuse to read the history of the Church via the light of the Holy Spirit.
Paula Lorraine Pavanis
1 year 2 months ago
I am impressed with the formation Jesuits go through. But in this article, the primary focus is on head knowledge. I find that curious for an order whose primary task is to "help souls." Like almost all seminaries and formation programs, the article focuses on content driven accomplishments. I am of the opinion that most souls are primarily helped by other souls that are highly skilled in listening non-judgementally. It's a skill one acquires in a 4unit CPE for example. If I could have a say, it would be required for all those appointed to pastoral ministry. Too many heady pastors out there already.
Henry George
1 year 2 months ago
Paula, Having endured CPE as led by a doctrinaire and incompetent leader, I do not see its inherent universal value. Any sort of ministry where you lead with your heart instead of your intellect can accomplish what you seek.
William Rydberg
1 year 2 months ago
In my opinion Professor Sanks is about 50 years behind the (Secular) times. He appears to advocate for "generalists" possessing a little bit about everything. This was tried and found wanting in the Corporate World years ago. Because these "generalists" were overcome by the "specialist" work they were called to attend. What's required for the new Millenia is Specialization. That means the more structured curriculum that the Society of Jesus traditionally had run is what's needed. One suspects, based upon the comments of the Professor that he was an unfortunate casualty of ad-hoc experimentation inflicted upon many men of the Society of Jesus during the past 4 decades. The Society needs Specialists in Catholicism. Because in the final analysis, being a Jesuit is all about the Work. in Christ, Blessed be the Holy Trinity
William Atkinson
1 year 2 months ago
From all the discussions going on about this subject (Jesuit Formation, Training and Life) in and outside of The Society I believe a cord has been struck that should bring about a real good look at all phases from early emphasis on the life and spirituality, to experience and eventual final vows. I was so glad that the combining Provinces took place with the exception that the lines should of been drawn about peoples and communities instead of geographical. It is my hope and prayer that the same divisional process won't take place in the effort to redesign the process of becoming a Jesuit in an ever changing world.
Henry George
1 year 2 months ago
If you think not understanding how Grace and Free Will co-exist is of vital importance, I really wonder what your Jesuit Training was like. Our secular society wishes to say that all desires are natural and should be fulfilled. We should celebrate our differences no matter what they are and let each do as he wishes. But Howard, there are victims who are taken advantage of by people misusing their Free Will. Yet, God offers us Grace all the time and sometimes we accept it and sometimes we reject it. That mystery is far, far, far more important to meditate upon than any work of Sociology. I do agree that Jesuit Formation should be restructured. The first year of Novitiate should be in the countryside and a time of deep prayer and mortification. The second year should be spent with Jesuits doing all the various works that Jesuits do. Then the Jesuits should study in what ever areas they are lacking in - while working part-time in an apostolate unless they are called to the Scholarly life - So Philosophy/Literature/Science/Theology... Then either further studies or Regency with some studies. There should be one Theology Center for the US. 3 years of study is sufficient. Every Jesuit should study two years of Latin/Greek/Hebrew and have a thorough understanding of the History of the Church and of the Sacraments. Those who have a gift for languages should be encouraged to learn Chinese or Arabic. What Jesuit don't need is a training in "intellectual lite", which unfortunately is what you were given Fr. Sanks S.J.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 2 months ago
It seems to me that Fr. Sanks's recommendations, if implemented, would only continue the decline of the Jesuits as an influence in the world and as a relevant force in the New Evangelization (the order is half what it was in the 1960s and is still declining in Europe & the Americas, only growing in Africa and parts of Asia). There are lots of organizations interested in improving the lives of others and in seeking social justice, but, without Jesus Christ at the very center of one’s motivation, so many of these efforts will fail to bring true reform and indeed will be counterproductive if not outright destructive (just think of the excesses of the historical-critical method or liberation theology). Surely, the most important aspect of a Jesuit novitiate's education is to form a profound and intimate loving relationship with Jesus, in a personally transformative way, so that any subsequent service to others comes only because of, and through, that love. I agree with Fr. Sank’s emphasis on Holy Scripture, but not with his relativizing of its doctrinal and moral continuity, which is for all peoples everywhere and at all times (“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever.” Heb 13:8). This includes all peoples and all societies, whether agrarian, industrial or post-industrial, and all cultures, pagan or secular, Mormon or Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. Its message of Salvation is for all peoples and nobody can be saved but by Jesus – the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6). I also think a de-emphasis on philosophy would be a major step backwards. Without a secure foundation in Aristotelian-Thomistic Realism, one can get very confused about the world, and seduced by the latest fad in theology or be vulnerable to adopting pseudoscientific theories like an absolutist evolutionism, multiverses, string theory, and all gender confusions. With a defective philosophical foundation, one can go very fast and very far, but in the wrong direction. And that helps no one and hurts many, in body and soul. Finally, I think a re-commitment to the fourth vow of the Society of Jesus – obedience to the papal Magisterium (with regard to missionary evangelization at home and abroad) – will be essential to re-capture the original charism of St. Ignatius. This should be particularly easy with Pope Francis at the helm, but it needs to be for whoever succeeds him. "Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me - to you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will.”
Nancy Brousseau
1 year 2 months ago
I am so, so sorry to read this and find it to be so true to the past way of seminary formation. I have an MDiv. from a major seminary in Michigan and find the proposal by Sanks to fit the past very well. My first question upon reading the article is: where is life in Christ? Do you not believe that formation in the spiritual life is the core reality that is lacking in a great majority of clergy? I continue to be dismayed by the clericalism that drives our Church. Where is God in all this?
Patrick Murtha
1 year 2 months ago
Nancy, Your questions ring with much truth about the training of modern priests: where is God in all this? Where is the formation of the spiritual life? where is the life of Christ? A further question might be added: why is such focus put on mere social activism and not on spiritual activity? For the priest is to be the first man in the spiritual battle-line. He is to be the example to the laity. He alone, through his ability to bring God down upon the Church's altars, can build the sturdiest bridge between fallen man and the risen Christ. To catch a glimpse of the the gift of the priesthood is to catch a glimpse of the mercy of God who has given such power to man. Such a priest to be the other-Christ that the Church has long upheld must be a living sacrifice for the salvation of souls, a spiritual victim for mankind. But I wonder at the dismay by "clericalism." Such a term is one of those fleeting and somewhat flimsy terms that stand on sandy ground. What exactly are we to understand by clericalism?
William Rydberg
1 year 2 months ago
Have you thought of striking a Comittee. Fathers Fessio and Pacwa S.J. come to mind as being the most prominent American Jesuits in North America. If not the World. in Christ,
J Cosgrove
1 year 2 months ago
I have a preference for Robert Spitzer, SJ. To me he is the most impressive US Jesuit. But then again I don't keep up with all they are doing.
Anne Chapman
1 year 2 months ago
But how seriously do we take the historical, social and cultural context in which much of our theology of the family, marriage and children was formed? This type of common sense proposal recognizes the real world, and its continued discoveries of new knowledge and understanding, unfolding as history continues. Unfortunately, the forces against its adoption are still strong and powerful, as revealed in many of the comments on this article. Sadly, too many prefer to try to live in the past, to ignore the realities of context of different cultures in different eras of history and how they impacted the initial development of doctrine. We no longer use leeches to try to cure illness. The "real" world eventually comes to terms with mistakes in understanding of the past and eventually tries to correct them. The Catholic church is among those who refuse to deal with changes in the body of knowledge, what we know now that was not known centuries ago. It refuses to understand that maintaining some of their old beliefs is the equivalent of trying to cure someone with leeches. The patient may very well die, which is what is happening to the Catholic church in the parts of the world where people have access to reasonaby high levels of education. The ignorance, lack of literacy, lack of education, and superstition that allowed the imperial church to control the thoughts and beliefs of Catholics in earlier eras have mostly disappeared, thanks be to God. There are still parts of the world, economically underdeveloped, with lower levels of literacy and education, where the church is growing. But those countries too are developing. As they do , more people will become literate, more will have access to secondary and university level educations. They are behind the west, but catching up. If the church can't teach in ways that make sense, that reflect reality, the rise in the "nones" will simply continue to accelerate. It is decades, even centuries, past time for the celibate men who run this church to admit that insisting that so many doctrines, rooted in the lack of knowledge and the cultural distortions of the past, cannot be changed simply because they were followed for a long time, although wrong, is sinful. Their failure to humbly admit that the church has been wrong in the past, is wrong about some things now, and most likely will be wrong in the future, due to imperfect knowledge and understanding of any era of history, will simply support the forces that have led to the massive hemorrages of educated Catholics from the church throughout Europe, the Americas, and much of Asia, the greatest loss of Catholics since the reformation began. Their failure to do so is hubris. It reveals that there is a strong element of pride (a capital sin) underlying these institutional sins. Men who fear losing face, who fear admitting that sometimes even greats of the past were wrong. Admitting this would go a long way towards opening the doors to remove the distortions that have led to corporate sin on the part of the institution. But the men fear admitting that the church is not infallible, that popes are not infallible, that there is no such thing as an infallible magisterium. Too much love of power, too much pride.
Patrick Murtha
1 year 2 months ago
And yet, while the foolish world around us is changing day by day, so much so that todays conservative is tomorrows liberal, there are definite things that do not change. Human nature, like human breathing, does not change. God does not change. His truth does not change, and stands immutable against the mere fashions of a month or the fancies of a man. The Church has not erred, nor can it err as through the promise of Christ. Churchmen and women may err, but the Church herself, as an institution whose task it is to save souls, will not err. And it is the promise of Christ, as newly defined but not new in doctrine by the First Vatican Council, that the pope is the only churchman who, when speaking on matters of Faith and Morals, matters that are the immediate concern of the Church, and when speaking as the successor of St. Peter with the authority of Peter as given by Christ, will speak infallibly. Perhaps it is modern man who needs to learn a little humility. Perhaps modern man needs to realize that for all our technology, for all our supposed learning, we have really learned very little. And how can modern man learn anything? He has rashly and wildly abandoned without any real or rational reason the thinking of the great thinkers of the past. Without realizing what Aristotle or Aquinas truly said, they are rejected as old-fashioned and fools for the sake of bombastic neo-philosophers and socialists. No, the failure is not from the Church. The failure may be from churchman. The problem is not the Church. The problem is blind-love of fashion, the craving for novelties, the disrespect and irrational resentment towards the ancients and antiquity. The problem is the failure of modern man to step out of his own self and to view with a little curiosity and a lot of admiration for the ancient wisdom.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 2 months ago
Excellent retort, Patrick. Chronological chauvinism is just as susceptible to the sin of pride as a false traditionalism. Anne's argument logically lead to discarding Jesus, and all His teachings. But, His claims to divinity, and to being the only way to the Father (John 14:6) and His promise to protect the Church from doctrinal error, cannot change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb 13:8). To cease to believe that is to cease to be Catholic.
DANIEL ARNOLD MSGR
1 year 2 months ago
Even when I was ordained in 1975, my classmates and I felt that our training, good as it was, was insufficient and required much OJT. For example, my first experience as a pastor required the oversight of a budget that was about $2 million. Some business training would have been helpful then. Fortunately we now have canonically mandated parish finance boards and continuous updating. Alleluia. Howland Sanks' comments are right on target. While seminarians will not ever be trained completely, his recommendations will go a long way to help seminarians be ready for effective ministry in the 21st century. Respectfully, Thanks Sanks. Fr. Dan Arnold Erie, PA
Jean Miller
1 year 2 months ago
I think this is an excellent article. Finally expanding the awareness that Vatican II started. For some of us who were enlivened by Vatican II we have felt caged in by a system that is blinded to evolution and the fast changing global conditions. Two things that I believe need attention in formation are the damage that clericalism causes and the lack of a feminine presence, both in teaching positions and in student body.

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