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The McCarrick Report: a call to reform Catholic priest selection | COMMENTARY

By PHILLIP J. BROWNFOR THE BALTIMORE SUN | NOV 18, 2020 AT 11:29 AM

In this Nov. 10, 2003 file photo, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., center, joins fellow clergy in prayer at the end of the opening session of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Washington. McCarrick – who was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 – served as head of Catholic dioceses in Metuchen and Newark, New Jersey, and in Washington. A report released by the Vatican on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, found that three decades of bishops, cardinals and popes dismissed or downplayed reports of McCarrick’s misconduct with young men. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The McCarrick Report investigating sexual abuse by disgraced former Washington, D.C., cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, released this month by the Vatican, catalogs facts that cannot be ignored, denied or explained away. The harm inflicted by Mr. McCarrick over decades is a source of deep remorse and shame for the Catholic Church. Like most, I am bewildered that he was able to advance in the ranks while preying on victims even while serious accusations about him were known or credibly rumored.

Before priesthood, I served as assistant attorney general for Pardons, Parole and Probation in North Dakota. I reviewed the files of every inmate in the corrections system, which included every kind of sex crime. Later I served as guardian ad litem for the juvenile court, representing the interests of children, including those who had been sexually abused. As a priest and canon lawyer, I have been deeply involved in cases of clerical sexual abuse of children and young people. I have had a life-long commitment to the welfare and well-being of children and young adults — that they be protected from sexual predators especially. That life experience has informed my work as a canonist and now as a seminary official.

The greatest value of the McCarrick Report will be what we learn from it to ensure that nothing like this is able to happen again.

We know so much more than ever before about how to cultivate human maturity, psychological and emotional well-being, and the qualities necessary to be a well-integrated, virtuous person. We need to be guided by scientific data and well-articulated criteria in judging whether a man is suitable to be ordained a priest, given the tremendous responsibility to care for others and everything else this vocation entails. There can be no room for wishful thinking or a misguided trust that sacramental grace will compensate for deficits in the human qualities needed to be a good pastor; no one should ever again simply ordain a man and hope for the best.

There must be a willingness to exclude anyone who does not fulfill objective criteria of maturity, self-possession, self-control, self-discipline and goodwill toward all others; to exclude anyone who presents any identifiable risk of the capacity to do harm to others. A “pastoral heart” full of good intentions is not enough; there must be a demonstrated capacity to behave in every circumstance as a good pastor and to function as a mature, psycho-sexually healthy person. The criteria have to be applied rigorously. Everyone must agree that “looking the other way,” waiting for someone else to make the hard calls, claiming “plausible deniability,” or naive credulity — all features of the institutional culture revealed in the McCarrick Report — are wholly unacceptable.

Seminaries must shed the veneer of being sacred enclaves that non-clerics are just not able, or qualified, to understand or critique — clerics forming future clerics with no input from others. Laypersons, and especially women, must be an integral part of seminary faculties with prominent roles in the formation and evaluation process. They bring an essential perspective to the closed clerical world with its inevitable blind spots that led to tragedies like the depredations of Theodore McCarrick.

Seminary officials have often had good instincts about suitability without the technical knowledge and other tools we have today for making sound judgments (sophisticated psychological evaluations, holistic developmental models based on sound science, etc.). Those in positions of authority and officials who serve them need to listen to the people charged with the responsibility of formation and evaluation and follow their recommendations, regardless of pressures to get men ordained and get them into service — service that has too often been marred, if not contradicted, by human immaturity and a lack of virtue in men who should never have been ordained in the first place.

Better to lose one priest than gain even one more victim of a morally depraved cleric. And those in authority have to want to know and be willing to turn those away who, however well-intentioned, are ill-suited to the rigors of ministry and a lifetime of service. That is what the seminary I serve is committed to. All schools of formation must be committed to these standards. Future failure is not an option. “Many are called, but few are chosen” must be a constant reminder for all those who dare to pursue the Catholic priesthood.

Rev. Phillip J. Brown (brownpj@stmarys.edu) is president-rector of Saint Mary’s Seminary & University, the United States’ first and oldest Catholic seminary, in Baltimore, Maryland.

The article can be found here in the Baltimore Sun.



Inaugural Episode of the “McGivney Series”

The nation’s first Roman Catholic seminary launched a new virtual discussion series on Thursday, November 12, 2020 to highlight the timeless pastoral qualities of St. Mary’s Seminary and University alumnus and founder of the Knights of Columbus Venerable Michael J. McGivney – who was beatified on October 31, 2020 in New Haven, Connecticut. Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Michael McGivney this past May, clearing the way for his beatification which is the final step before canonization.

This first segment of the “The McGivney Series,” aimed at exploring the essential qualifications and qualities of effective priestly ministry in the 21st century, and included a panel discussion featuring Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, Mr. Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and moderator, the Reverend Phillip J. Brown, P.S.S., President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary & University.

During his lifetime, Fr. McGivney demonstrated uncommon pastoral zeal, Christ-like humility, care and compassion for others, and an uncompromising commitment to the largely immigrant community he served as a parish priest in New Haven, CT, exemplifying the kind of priestly formation that the Sulpician tradition makes possible and which he received at St. Mary’s during the four years he attended as a member of the Class of 1877.

“Though serving in the nineteenth century, Father McGivney demonstrated the same essential qualities needed for effective priestly ministry in the 21st century: faithfulness, Christ-like humility, zeal for the well-being, and especially the spiritual welfare of his parishioners and others, in particular those who are most vulnerable, and dedicated service,” said Fr. Phillip Brown, P.S.S. “We take great pride in Fr. McGivney’s acknowledgement that his years of formation at St. Mary’s in the Sulpician tradition served as a defining influence in nurturing his vocation and in his life-long commitment to serve others as a parish priest.”

The focus of his first segment of the McGivney Series was “Who Was Michael McGivney and What Does He Have to Say to Us Today?”  

 


Lector & Acolyte / Candidacy 2020

Most Rev. Bruce Lewandowski, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, celebrated the Rite of Institution to the Ministries of Lector & Acolyte and the Rite of Candidacy on October 27, 2020. The Lector & Acolyte Ministries were originally scheduled for March 2020 but had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Nine men received the Ministry of Lector, seven men received the ministry of Acolyte, and nine men received the Rite of Candidacy. The ceremony was recorded and live-streamed since we were not able to have any guests due to COVID protocols. The Mass can be viewed here.



This fall, St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute is holding monthly Theology Town Hall meetings. You can view recordings of past town halls on the EI’s YouTube channel. For more information on upcoming Theology Town Halls, please contact Dr. Rebecca Hancock

UPCOMING THEOLOGY TOWN HALLS

Vanessa LovelaceOutsider Within: A Womanist Reading of Hebrew Bible Narratives as the Politics of Belonging
Wednesday, November 18
12:30 p.m.

Rev. Vanessa Lovelace, Ph.D.
Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean
Lancaster Theological Seminary

Dr. Lovelace is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and Dean and Vice President of Lancaster Theological Seminary, a school with which the EI has a partnership providing a pathway to the MDiv. Her teaching and research interests include interpreting biblical texts using literary criticism and theory of gender and nation through a womanist lens. The November Theology Town Hall will focus on her current research project, a monograph titled Outsider Within: A Womanist Reading of Hebrew Bible Narratives as the Politics of Belonging

Join the Town Hall


PREVIOUS THEOLOGY TOWN HALLS

Leading Leaders in a Time of Pandemic
The Rt. Rev. Carl Walter Wright
Bishop Suffragan for Armed Forces & Federal Ministries of the Episcopal Church

Carl Walter WrightThe Rt. Rev. Carl Wright is Bishop Suffragan for Armed Forces and Federal Ministry for the Episcopal Church. Next semester, he will be one of the presenters for the EI’s Leading Leaders course in the DMin program. His theology town hall focuses on the topic, “Leading Leaders in a Time of Pandemic.” 


Might from the Margins
Rev. Dennis R. Edwards, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of New Testament, North Park Theological Seminary


Dr. Edwards is professor of New Testament and Biblical Greek at North Park Theological Seminary and also teaches in the EI’s DMin program. He holds an MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a PhD in Biblical Studies from The Catholic University of America. He has been in urban ministry for three decades, and has started churches in Brooklyn, NY and Washington DC. In the September Theology Town Hall, Dr. Edwards discusses one of his newest books, Might from the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice



 

 

 

President-Rector’s Statement on Gov. Hogan’s Consolidated Transportation Program

St. Mary’s Seminary & University Statement on
Governor Larry Hogan’s Draft Consolidated Transportation Program

September 28, 2020

 

Rev. Phillip J. Brown, P.S.S., President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary & University, released this statement in response to Governor Larry Hogan’s draft Consolidated Transportation Program:

“As the President Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary & University, the oldest Roman Catholic Seminary in the United States, and an anchor institution in Baltimore City, I ask Gov. Hogan to reconsider the recently proposed cuts to operating and capital funding for the Maryland Transit Administration. These cuts, which include cuts in routes and services, would have a negative impact on the residents of the Greater Baltimore region who are dependent on public transportation. St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute has been educating men and women of the greater Baltimore region since 1968. Many of these students as well as some of our staff members rely on public transportation to get safely to both school and work.”

Read the full letter HERE


Welcome New Seminarians!

Fr. Phillip Brown, P.S.S., President-Rector, the Faculty and St. Mary’s Seminary & University Seminarians welcomed 30 men to formation at America’s first Roman Catholic Seminary on August 21st.  This year’s incoming class is the largest in over a decade. The Introduction to Seminary Life program concluded with a retreat for the entire community and Opening Covenant Liturgy, which was celebrated by Most Rev. William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore.   

The Mass was live-streamed and can be here.

View the gallery:


Blessing of New Seminarian Life Wing

Fr. Phillip Brown, P.S.S. blessed the new seminarian life wing on Monday, August 31st.  Fr. Brown thanked the team from EwingCole Architects and Lewis Contractors who completed the project this summer in time for the return of all the seminarians.   The Blessing was videoed and can be seen here:


Lament: Prayer of Pain and Hope – Resources from Dr. Rebekah Eklund

The July 1 Theology Town Hall featured Dr. Rebekah Eklund, who teaches in the Ecumenical Institute’s DMin program. A theologian and New Testament scholar with expertise in Christian lament, she is the author of Jesus Wept: the Significance of Jesus’ Laments in the New Testament (T & T Clark). Responding to her presentation was DMin student Sarah Batley, whose ministry context is the Araminta Freedom Initiative, which works to end human trafficking and bring healing to its victims.

Dr. Eklund offered this bibliography for persons who want to know more:

Billman, Kathleen D., and Daniel L. Migliore. Rachel’s Cry: Prayer of Lament and Rebirth of Hope. Cleveland, OH: United Church, 1999.   Focus on pastoral theology and the practice of ministry.

Brown, Sally A., and Patrick D. Millers, editors. Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2005.  Several good essays in here from different perspectives – NT, Theology, etc.

Ellington, Scott A. Risking Truth: Reshaping the World through Prayers of Lament. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2008.  Great study of lament, especially as it relates to the church today.

Rah, Soong-Chan. Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015.  Reads Lamentations through the lens of modern-day injustices.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Lament for a Son. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.  Thoughts on grief and faith after the loss of a son to a climbing accident.