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Some good news
It started this fall. Many American dioceses voluntarily are providing news media with lists of priests who have been credibly accused, or admitted to, or convicted of sexually abusing youth.
I almost always at least glance at the names. It is sad reading, about priests who outrageously betrayed all that they should be. As I have looked at each list, without exception, I have asked: Where are the young priests?
New accusations come to light, but they reveal crimes committed long ago. For example, my own Diocese of Nashville recently sent its list to the media. Only a few priests on the list are alive. Several have been dead for decades. None of this diminishes the harm that these accusations represent, but, once again, where are the young priests?
Young priests are not slipping through the net, abusing children without being accused or sanctioned. Seminaries today are doing a far more effective job in preparing candidates for the priesthood.
Several weeks ago I had lunch with three seminarians, and we were all amazed. I was amazed at how they are being trained. They were amazed at how I was trained.
Today, every seminarian undergoes a rigorous, professionally conducted psychological examination even before entering the seminary. Authorities take these examinations very seriously. They would be crazy, and very poor servants of the Church and the Gospel, if they did not. If any problems present themselves, then the candidate goes no farther.
Once in the seminary, each student, formally or informally, is observed for any indication of psychological concern.
Here it must be stated that no medical test, or psychological examination, yet developed by science can predict sexually abusive behavior.
So, what can be done? Modern seminarians day after day are taught about, confronted with and challenged regarding celibacy. None is allowed simply to ignore what celibacy means, or what abstaining from sex, or living without intimate companionship, or living alone means.
Seminarians are assisted in thinking profoundly about what virginity entails. If they cannot commit themselves to lifelong virginity, then they are told to leave the seminary, because if they are ordained — even if they are faithful to the Church’s expectations for priests — life will be hell on earth.
Abusing anyone sexually is a grave sin but also a serious illness, they are told directly.
I was amazed when they told me about their training in this regard. They were amazed when I told them that in my day I experienced none of this. Pedophilia? Never mentioned. Psychological examinations? It was beginning, but many bishops did not trust it. Why? They had been taught back in their day that modern psychology denied free will and morality.
Seminary education changed beginning several generations ago. Pope St. John Paul II was an inspiring figure. Whatever they did wrongly, or failed to do, the bishops of the United States got seminary formation right. No American seminary enjoying any respect does not follow, letter and spirit, what John Paul II and the experts who advised him proposed.
If you see a list of accused or convicted priests, read it. Carefully check the dates of birth and priestly ordination. Then ask, “Where are the young priests?”
As throughout history, young priests still find the priesthood not what they wanted it to be. They might want to be married, or they even may decide that Catholicism itself makes no sense, but they are not sexually molesting youth right and left.
This is good news.
Msgr. Owen Campion is OSV’s chaplain.