death knell is sounding over England's seven seminaries. Last week, the Bishops announced plans to close two of the four in England, and, pending Vatican permission, revise the use of two out of the three abroad.
St Mary's, Oscott and St Cuthbert's, Ushaw will merge to form a regional seminary for future priests in the North and Midlands, and Allen Hall and St John's, Wonersh will do likewise for the South. In Spain, the Royal English College of St Albans, the richest of all the colleges, will only provide pre-seminary training, and the future of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome is also under consideration. The news emerged after the bishops met last week with the Seminary Commission, the task-force they appointed last year under the leadership of Bishop McMahon of Nottingham. The next step is the nuts and bolts. Before the November conference, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor and Archbishop Bowen of Southwark will thrash out how to merge the two seminaries in the South, while Archbishop Nichols of Birmingham will discuss which seminary to save in the North, with Archbishop Kelly of Liverpool, a former rector of Oscott. Until November, we will not know which seminaries will be closed. But there were clear indications the MacMahon report which described the premises of Allen Hall as unsuited to priestly formation, and was critical of Ushaw. The fact that Allen Hall is worth an estimated £20 million and that Ushaw is a sizeable property which recently opened a halfmillion pound residential wing, cannot be ignored.
Numerically it makes sense to shut and merge: there is accommodation for 500 seminarians at present, but barely 230 in training, and the latest vocations statistics show that some dioceses produced no vocations at all last year. There were 169 vocations in 2001 compared to 171 in 1999. Such figures may provoke despair, but they mask a complex shift in the sociological make-up of the English Church.
uite simply, the profile of seminarians has altered radically in the past 30 year Catholic "ghetto" of close-knit Church-going families whose children attended Catholic schools has 1960s, it was the source of most vocations; today aspiring priests reflect a global rather than a local vision of the Church. "Many of my students have come from prayer groups like Youth 2000 or the Neo-Catechumenate," explained Canon Paul McGinn, the Rector of Allen Hall recently. "A lot have been
on the Pope's World Youth Days — a number would locate that as the moment where they heard the call." Although the movements are increasingly represented in the seminaries Allen Hall has seven students belonging to the Neo-Catechumenate
significant numbers of men influenced by te NfwMovements are pursuing vocations abroad, in dynamic orthodox communities such as the Community of St John in France, or the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York, an order so popular with British men that it was asked to set up a friary in London. Another growing source of new priests is the traditionalist wing of the Church. Eightyone men applied last Septem of Guadelupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, one of the two seminaries worldwide run by the Fraternal Society of St Peter, the order founded by the Holy See in 1988 to provide priests who celebrate exclusively the Old-Rite Mass. This shift towards orthodoxy and tradition is not universally welcome. As our recent feature on the misuse of psychological counselling in the seminaries outlined, an elite of theologically liberal seminary staff are determined to stamp out the new ortho dox generation of student priests.
Many are driven out of seminary by the dual pressures of a rampant homosexual subculture and a Stalinist purge of Orthodox theology and practice, according to a new book analysing seminaries in the United States.
"If you wore a cassock you were a reactionary daughter underwear, they'd make you seminarian of the year," recalls one priest quoted in Goodbye! Good Men: How Liberals Corrupted the Church, by Michael S. Rose*.The 125 priests, seminarians and exseminarians interviewed by Rose represent 50 dioceses but all tell a remarkably similar story, describing seminaries where homosexuality, pornographic textbooks and films, feminist and liberation theology, Native American liturgies were normal.They report that the rosary was deemed "divisive," the Real Presence "a pre-Vatican II myth" the Bible "culture bound", the Magisterium "authoratively abusive" and wearing vestments for Mass a sign of endorsing the oppression of women. One former seminarian attempted to sue his seminary for consumer fraud, alleging that it falsely claimed to be imparting Catholic doctrine. Though dealing principally with America, Rose quotes an English Catholic at a pre-seminary formation house near London to which he had been invited _111111■11 Asked by a nun to paint pictures of trees representing himself and God, and to participate in a Mass celebrated on a coffee table, he finally left when at night prayer, the seminarians played songs by George Harrison and John Lennon. He did not make it as far as the vocations interview, a process Rose calls the Gatekeeper phenemenon because it is often used by liberal clergy to block orthodox candidates from seminary. A common technique, his interviewees report, is for a nun to interrupt the interview with a telephone call in the course of which she expresses delight at the prospect of becoming a priest in the near future. It is a way of testing how open these future priests will be to challenging Magisterial authority. Increasingly, anecdotal evidence suggests a similar philosophy prevails in the British Isles. Last year, for instance. a Catholic in the North of England volunteered for the priesthood. It was his second attempt: at the first, twenty years previously, his bishop had quizzed him on his spiritual life — was he, for example, reading the Lives of the Saints? This time, he was asked whether he had experienced racism in the workplace, whether he had "a problem with homosexuality" and what he would do in a parish where believers challenged Church teaching on divorce. Another young man (judged by experienced clergy who know him to be an excellent candidate) who was rejected by a prominent Southern diocese this year, listed an affiliation to a Latin Mass group on his application form. He naively answered "yes" when the diocesan Vocations panel asked if he would like to promote Latin Masses in his parish. A letter told him shortly afterwards that he did not have a vocation to the diocesan priesthood.'
However, despite this widespread malaise, there is a ray of light. Next September, the English church will open a Vocations Office, inspired by In Verbo Tuo, a papal document analysing the vocations slump in Europe (worldwide they have shot up 72 per cent during John Paul II's pontificate). It suggests priestly vocations will flourish if the Church creates a climate of vocations where each Catholic strives to define how they can best fulfil God's will, regardless of whether they are lay, religious, priests, single or married. Fr Kevin Dring, director of the new office said " 'vocations promotion', should be clearly aimed at leading all people to a true 'sense' of being called to service in the community of the Church. Particular calls to ordained ministry and consecrated life and marriage will more arrthtnrtieally from this context than if they were simply promoted in isolation."
It is to be hoped this shining vision is not obscured by an obsession with money and management-speak.
*Available at f20 (+f2 p& p)from Family Publications, 6a King Snee4 afotrIOX26DF b3101865 558336