The Visitation


Last fall the seminary where I teach was visited by a team of examiners sent by the Vatican. Interviews were conducted with faculty members and with students studying for the priesthood. Initially, I was hopeful that the visit would lead to a fruitful discussion on the education and formation of priests. I was disappointed. Instead of taking a broad look at our curriculum, the interviewers focused almost exclusively on our “fidelity” to the church’s sexual teaching. Other aspects of priestly formation did not seem to interest them.

The visit to my school-the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB)-was part of an investigation of U.S. seminaries begun in September 2005 in response to the sexual-abuse scandal. (Most concluded last spring, although a few small houses of formation were visited over the summer.) The mandate was to investigate how seminaries evaluate candidates for the priesthood, and to gauge each school’s faithfulness to magisterial teaching, especially in the area of moral theology. These aims reflected the tendentious assessment of the sexual-abuse crisis put forward by some conservative Catholic commentators-that the abuse of children was rooted in lax teaching and loose observance of sexual norms, especially with regard to homosexuality.

I was skeptical about the presuppositions underlying the visitation. Is visiting seminaries and questioning moral theologians an appropriate...

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About the Author

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).