I thought it was almost perfect.
Seriously, I did. Then I came across this from Fr. James Martin, S.J. - with caveats that this is one former seminarian's experience and not all formation programs are like this, so on and so on. Fr. Martin's post led me to the Commonweal article by the former seminarian, Paul Blaschko. To be sure, there is no scandal involved, but perhaps an odd response to all the scandals has made for an unusual approach in formation?
I don't know - I assumed, along with many others in the archdiocese that we had the best seminary in the country. I know what my own reactions have been in leaving novitiate for religious life, as well as some jobs: I sometimes focused upon the negative culture of the place I was quitting in order to justify my decision to move on. An unconscious attempt for self-affirmation can incline one to view everything as negative and even creepy, and to judge problems as being far worse than they were. Oftentimes that attitude describes 'disgruntled'. If that is the case with Blaschko's account, that's too bad. But I wonder?
What he writes about sounds believable enough - and it doesn't come off as having been written by a disgruntled former seminarian. As Fr. Martin wrote on his Facebook page:
But I also want to say that I have heard stories from several seminarians around the country who describe their own formation around sexuality in the way that the author describes--closed, fearful, and, frankly, unhealthy. Yes, celibacy is not the cause of sexual abuse. (More abuse happens in families.) But poor and even twisted education and formation around sexuality will inevitably lead to serious problems for the priest or religious, for his community and for those with whom he ministers. So even if this kind of formation is happening in one seminary, it is a big problem. - Fr. MartinAfter recent scandals in the archdiocese, things are still far from normal. At least everything 'feels' fairly dysfunctional at the moment, albeit under autocratic leadership. I've never heard concerns voiced over formation at the seminary.
Inside the Seminary: Is there reason to be worried about formation?
From 2008 through 2010, I was a seminarian in St. Paul, Minneapolis, an archdiocese now entrenched in its own abuse scandal. My experience there led me to believe that the problem of priestly sexual abuse is due, at least in part, to the failure of seminaries to provide adequate human and sexual formation to men studying for the priesthood. More specifically, my seminary formation failed to confront the questions surrounding sexual abuse in a candid and psychologically sophisticated way. I realize that my experience is limited, and that it would be unwise to generalize about seminary education from the the operations and culture of one institution. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to tell my story in the hope of calling attention to what might very well be more widespread problems.[...]
But just a few weeks into my time at the seminary, my confidence began to waver. I recall the day when the first-year seminarians, or “new men” as we were called, gathered in the seminary’s spacious basement to attend a workshop on sexual ethics titled “Freedom and Victory.” The workshop was run by a psychologist from something called the Theology of the Body Training and Healing Center, together with a blind priest who, we were told during his introduction, had witnessed at least one Eucharistic miracle and had had extensive experience with exorcisms. The breakout sessions had titles like “Masturbation: Is it Healthy? Is it Holy?” (you can guess the answer to both questions); and at various points throughout the workshop we were invited to approach the microphone and share stories of sexual pain and healing—“if you feel called by the spirit to do so”—with the sixty or so priests and other seminarians in the room.The whole thing felt more than a little strange to me, and for the most part I kept my head down, pretending to take notes in the workbook that had been provided. The strangeness culminated with a workshop session devoted to reenacting the “spiritual warfare” that goes on when a young man watches pornography. Each of us was given a nametag with the name of a demon on it. These demons, we were told, were the principalities most closely associated with sexual temptation. We were then gathered around the chosen man and told to hiss and curse at him, trying to entice him to “watch pornography” and “masturbate.” Afterwards, the priest came around with a coffee tin, collecting the nametags—he had to burn them, he told us, while reciting prayers of exorcism. Demonic influence wasn’t something to take lightly.After the session, I caught up with one of the priests on staff and hesitantly expressed my doubts about the workshop. He reassured me that the formation staff knew exactly what they were doing, and encouraged me to defer to the authority of the workshop leader. - Finish reading at Commonweal
It sounds weird, doesn't it? But maybe it's because we weren't there or don't know the program used, or ... as one commenter asked:
I wonder how much the overworked directors of the seminary were drawn in by the credentials of the experts from the Theology of the Body Training and Healing Center, who offered to solve their problem even though their methods and agenda undermined the mission of the seminary.
As a related question, I wonder how much overworked pastors are being drawn into pre packaged programs for youth, for couples, for men… that may not fit the parish's mission. - Steve McCluskey February 19, 2015 - 10:30pm
Discernment is a difficult process for all concerned - I doubt there is such a thing as a perfect system.