In J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” protagonist
Frodo Baggins shares his worry with Gandalf of the evil that follows him
as he continues on the destined path with the coveted ring:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” Frodo said.
do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But
that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with
the time that is given us.”
In the scene, Gandalf reminds
Frodo that even with the pain that comes in tumultuous times, it’s
important to remain focused on the choices we have.
recent revelations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, seminarians
discerning the priesthood must similarly remain focused on how Christ
is calling them to this vocation, amid the anger and sorrow that the
faithful might be feeling in the Church right now.
“We are placed
in a particular time and we are called by our Lord Jesus Christ to serve
Him at a particular time and in a certain way,” said Kenrick-Glennon
seminarian Charlie Archer, as he reflected on the quote from Tolkien’s
Sparked by a grand jury report released in Pennsylvania in
August, the news of sexual abuse by clergy and how it was handled by
Church leaders has led to a response locally from Archbishop Robert J.
Carlson, including an invitation to Missouri Attorney General Josh
Hawley to investigate archdiocesan files on allegations of clergy abuse.
A Mass of Reparation also was offered Sept. 7 to pray for victims of
abuse and forgiveness for the sins of clergy who have committed sins of
A second-year theologian from the Archdiocese of St. Louis,
Archer was joined by theologians Chad Thurman (Theology II, Oklahoma
City, Okla.) and Michael Trummer (Theology III, Springfield, Ill.); and
Dan Mauro (Cardinal Glennon College junior, Kansas City, Kan.), all of
whom shared their experiences of formation for the priesthood right now.
seminarians were ages 4, 9, 10 and 10 in 2002 when an investigation by
The Boston Globe led to widespread media coverage of the issue in the
United States. So, for them, the recent revelations have been the first
time they’ve contemplated this as adults. While each had their own
feelings about the abuse scandal, they agreed that their focus remains
on moving forward in their formation to become priests and through that,
bringing healing to the Church.
“Seeing first-hand how damaging
it is when shepherds are not good shepherds, it makes it clear how
important the role (of clergy) is and how destructive it is when (the
vocation) is not lived well,” Mauro said.
In his “Before the Cross”
column in the Sept. 3-9 issue, Archbishop Carlson noted that
seminarians today “will spend their entire priesthood helping the Church
to recover from sins that they did not commit.”
who has one more year before he is ordained a transitional deacon, said
he anticipates he will spend a lot of his priesthood working toward
restoring the reputation of the priesthood, as well as the Church. He’s
reminded of his call to model Christ, who took on the sins of humanity
when He died on the cross.
“He took on the punishment and dealt with the consequences of sins that He did not commit,” Trummer said.
president-rector Father James Mason said the Church is going through a
time of purification, and within that, seminarians must respond with a
call to holiness. “They’re being called to the priesthood at a time that
it’s not popular,” said Father Mason, who was appointed to lead the
seminary in 2015. “In that, there’s a grace — they’re doing it to care
for souls and because they’re called by Jesus Christ.”
the call to holiness means fostering a healthy seminary environment in
which men undergo a proper formation in response to their vocational
calling. The news of retired Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick,
who renounced his position in the College of Cardinals after allegations
he harassed and abused seminarians, has raised questions about seminary
life, including unchaste situations among ordained clergy and
seminarians, protections for young men studying for the priesthood
against abuse of power and how they are being prepared to minister to
the people of God.
Father Mason in 2006 published a paper in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review
about the vice of a “culture of effeminacy.” At the time it was
published, it was received as controversial, he said, but it’s a
necessary topic that needs addressing within seminary life. “It’s about
fostering a healthy masculinity,” he said. “It’s not a machismo or
hardness, but also not an effeminacy or softness. We want to instill a
healthy masculinity, which is being attacked in our society today, and
it’s something that we have to address.”
Prior to a seminarian’s
admittance into Kenrick-Glennon, he undergoes a psychological
evaluation, which includes details of his mental and psychological
health. The seminary has two full-time lay psychologists to assist in
human development, and each man meets regularly with an in-house
spiritual director and formation advisor. Additionally, the faculty,
administration, formation advisors and psychologists meet several times a
year to discuss the progress of each seminarian in every dimension of
his formation, so that potential challenges can be identified and
Seminarians said that they have several ways to report
to seminary leadership if they see something that doesn’t foster a
healthy learning environment. Formation advisors, psychological and
counseling services director Susanne Harvath, Father Mason and
vice-rector Msgr. Gregory Mikesch were several people they cited to whom
they could “bring any concerns if they existed,” Thurman said. “I see
this as an environment of transparency, and know that our concerns would
be dealt with.”
Building alliances with the people of God
a regular part of their formation, seminarians take specific classes to
develop pastoral skills. In a recent pastoral counseling class,
Theology I and II students learned from Harvath about “building
alliances” with the people of God by developing an environment in which
safety and confidentiality of the priest and those to whom he is
ministering are both respected.
“The good thing in your work is
that you’re never alone,” Harvath told them. “You have many advisors.
Look at the parameters and discern.”
Harvath, who has been at the
seminary for almost 29 years, said “there are many people involved in
their formation, so they have the opportunity to seek out someone who is
helpful to them. We have a really trusting environment there where they
feel safe and can bring up things like these.
delivering ministerial services, they have to be assertive about setting
appropriate boundaries, to keep the people of God safe but also to keep
their own ministry safe,” she said. “We are trying to train them to
think first of the people of God and realize that doing so must provide
mutually safe environments for those ministered to and those