By FATHER SHANE DEMAN
In early August, Bishop Walker Nickless and I gathered with the seminarians for a few days of fraternity prior to the start of a new academic year. We had just concluded the Quo Vadis Discernment Retreat for high school students, and our days together were designed for rest, prayer and fraternal support.
Yet we were all too aware of the painful reality before us, as the seminarians knew about the scandalous and criminal behavior of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, followed then by the 70-year history of clerical abuse documented in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.
Bishop Nickless and I addressed the topic openly and honestly with the seminarians, and they were eager to discuss it. I encouraged them to share freely how the scandal was impacting their own vocational discernment and their willingness to serve in a church that had criminal members.
Some of the seminarians were concerned about entering into priestly service in such a volatile time, knowing that they would be under heightened scrutiny and that the potential for false accusations against them was possible. Others questioned if they were doing all that they could in seminary formation to prepare for a healthy and holy future, wanting a secure foundation so that they would never fall into grave sin or cause scandal in the church.
To their credit, not a single man admitted that he was thinking of leaving seminary. In fact, all our seminarians renewed their desire to become holy priests, firmly committed to the truths of the church with a radical commitment of fidelity.
On one level, the impressive response by our seminarians should not be surprising. They entered seminary knowing the many challenges before them with the increasing secularization of our culture and the declining number of clergy and religious. These men also have had to give strong witness to the faith throughout high school and college, in environments that have not always been supportive of Christian belief.
Thus, in the age of our present scandal, we can take comfort in the fact that our seminarians want to be firmly rooted in Christ and are not easily defeated by the sin of others.
As the vocation director, I am confident that the seminaries we currently use have healthy and holy environments for our men to study. I am not aware of any homosexual subcultures in these respective seminaries, and I remind our men of the need to not let any spirit of clericalism or entitlement seep into their expectations as future priests.
Our seminarians are committed to move forward in Christ, wanting to accomplish his will in their lives. Yet, I sincerely ask you to keep them in prayer. These are challenging times and I want them to know the support of the local church back home.
We also want them to lead a balanced lifestyle that maturely acknowledges their own vulnerabilities and strives for a healthy integration of their own psychosexual development. Lastly, we want them to nurture a healthy trust in the leadership of the Church, into whose hands they commit their lives and pledge their future service.
Please pray for our seminarians. They are our hope for the future as we look for zealous and committed leaders. May their generation bring forth the standard of priestly holiness that has not always been present in previous generations.