BY LUKE COPPEN
THE FUTURE of the seven seminaries preparing priests for England and Wales remained in doubt this week, after the bishops failed to reach a decision on seminary provision at their annual Low Week meeting.
The colleges will now have to wait until November before they learn whether they will be closed as pan of a radical overhaul of the seminary system.
The bishops decided to postpone the decision after an intense, but inconclusive discussion of priestly training at a plenary meting at St Mary's College, ()scoff.
Speaking after the meeting, Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said the bishops needed more time before they decided the fate of the colleges in England, Italy and Spain.
He said: "We haven't come to any conclusion yet. We've agreed to meet at the end of the May and to devote a whole day to discussing a report we've been given by a committee we set up."
The report was written by a high-powered review committee led by Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham. Committee members spent the past few months touting the seminaries and questioning students and staff about seminary provi
sion. Cardinal MurphyO'Connor said that following the May meeting of the bishops, an interim report would be written, which would be presented to the bishops' conference for approval in November. It was important to take time over the decision, he said, because it was a "very important subject" that touched the life of whole Church.
The bishops are said to be considering a variety of proposals on the future of seminary training in England and Wales. In one scenario, two of the English seminaries would be closed, leaving one college for the north and one for the south. According to another more radical proposal, all of the seminaries would be closed, and a new, national seminary built for the whole of England and Wales. It seems likely that the bishops will allow the historic colleges in Italy and Spain to remain open.
There are currently fewer than 200 candidates studying for the priesthood at the seminaries of England and Wales. The majority are based at the four seminaries in England — St Cuthbert's in Ushaw, Durham, Allen Hall in London, St Mary's College in Birmingham, and St John's Seminary in Wonersh, Suney..
The remaining students are in Rome — at the Venerable English College or the Bede or at St Alban's in Valladolid.