Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.
The Nov. 10 release by the Holy See of the Theodore McCarrick report was a necessary step in understanding the years of sexual abuse perpetrated by the former cardinal. Because McCarrick often abused seminarians, formation has come under more scrutiny in recent years.
As men have entered the seminary since the abuse scandal was brought to light in the early 2000s, seminaries have addressed the abuse topic directly with the men as the story highlighted the fact that seminarians are in a vulnerable position.
At Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, Rector Fr. John Hemsing and Vice Rector Fr. Luke Strand explained that the seminary is a very safe place for a young man to discern his vocation.
“The seminary has policies to safeguard our seminarians and we have a thorough screening process for them,” said Fr. Hemsing. “So often people think that men just show up at our door and tell us they want to be a priest. It isn’t like that. We have a rigorous screening process before entering in, and once in, they are evaluated throughout the years. They are given Safe Environment training to ensure they are fit for ministry and, of course, the seminary wants to safeguard our seminarians from any misconduct.”
Before acceptance, seminarians undergo a psychological exam to ensure they have the necessary “psychological well-being and healthy sexual integration, which are foundations for freely and joyfully embracing a life of chaste celibacy.” Additionally, the men attend formation sessions, advising, spiritual direction and counseling, if needed. These sessions focus on ensuring each man displays several qualities, including but not limited to personal maturity, prudential judgment and personal initiative and generosity.
Seminarians also receive comprehensive training in human sexuality and celibacy, and learn the skills and means for living a chaste celibate life as well as developing a physiological and psychological understanding of human sexuality. They also receive formation in the fullness of the Christian vision and the virtue of chastity.
The Saint Francis de Sales Seminary website has a thorough description of their policies for safeguarding, training and protecting seminarians at https://www.sfs.edu/Formation/Abuse-Response-Policies, and Fr. Hemsing added that the policies are much different than they were 30 years ago.
“If there is an issue, the seminarian can go to their spiritual director, their formation advisor, the rector, the vicar for clergy, and externally, we have third-party reporting for them,” said Fr. Strand.
Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology has similar requirements for men desiring to become priests, as well as proof of participation in Safe Environment training, which is an archdiocesan program to certify volunteers and staff to protect children and all in the Church family from abuse and related dangers.
According to Dr. Jeremy W. Blackwood, assistant professor of systematic theology and director of admissions, applicants are required to provide a letter from the diocese or religious community by whom they will be sponsored.
“Either in that letter or in another document(s), there must also be a criminal background check and a canonical impediments check,” he said. “Per Code of Canon Law 1040-1049, the latter indicates that the individual is a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church who has no past incidents or canonical issues that would prevent him from being ordained to the priesthood once seminary formation is completed.”
Applicants must also disclose whether they have ever applied to any sort of seminary, formation program or consecrated life or taken any solemn vows in a religious community.
“If so, the applicant is required to list any relevant seminaries, dioceses, programs or religious communities, and to provide letters from the current rector and/or current major superior of the previous organization,” said Blackwood. “Such letters should include the reasons for the rejection of the applicant and/or the reason(s) the applicant left formation or the community.”
Additionally, applicants must undergo an extensive psychological examination, including a clinical interview that has taken place no more than two years prior to the application.
Other testing or screening may include sexual addiction screening, personality disorders, substance addiction or any issues in family or social history that are connected to sexual or other abuse, as well as any indications in the applicant that he manifests any psychosexual tendencies that could result in abusive behavior of any kind.