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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Bishops issue review of seminaries
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¬†The Catholic Bishops ' Conference Commission on Seminaries released their review at a briefing in Eccleston Square this morning. The 21-page document 'The Pastoral Care of Vocations' examines current training for the priesthood at the four seminaries in the UK and three abroad, and puts forward a number of proposals for consolidating seminary provision and reorganising training courses. The report rejects the idea of a national seminary on one site, as it would be "too large to be an effective community for formation." Instead it proposes the development of two regional English seminaries: one in the north of England, bringing together Oscott and Ushaw; and one in the south, comprising Wonersh and Allen Hall; with preliminary formation (a 'propaedeutic' year) based at Valladolid in Spain, and post graduate studies based at the English College in Rome. While there has been much speculation regarding the future of some seminaries, Mgr Andrew Summersgill, general secretary of the Bishops' Conference, stressed that no decisions had been made, and that any changes "would take time". He explained that each seminary had its own trustees and governing structure and the bishops "could not tell them what to do with their buildings." He said: "We have to find the best way to form seminarians for celibacy and the priesthood. Their spiritual, academic and pastoral training, the involvement of lay people in their formation is an important part of the picture. The issue of how priests are formed is too important a topic to be rushed." The conclusions of the report 'profiles' of the seven seminaries, however, do give an indication of the bishops' preliminary views. Oscott is praised for its location, heritage, financial stability and proximity to Birmingham university's faculty of theology, while the commission says 'work needs to be done towards drawing the staff together towards a more concerted view on the implementation of Pastoris Dabo Vobis.' Wonersh is commended for its coherent vision and the enthusiasm of staff, while concerns are expressed about its dependence on student fees. The English College in Rome wins overall praise - for its 'unique experience at the centre of the church', for the opportunity to study at the great Pontifical universities in Rome and the asset of the college's villa at Pallazola. The only drawback cited is the cost. (fees at most colleges are about £10,000 a year while the English College is £11,000). While acknowledging the past achievements of the Beda College and pointing to its financial viability and 'international potential' the report says the college 'no longer corresponds with contemporary requirements of priestly formation in England and Wales and questions whether the present programme meets the needs of international seminarians. Ushaw, in Durham, is praised for its rich heritage - however the report notes that its redevelopment has shifted away from priestly formation to wider service to the local church. 'At the same time we do not believe that the overall developments would be successful without the presence of the seminary at Ushaw,' it says. On Allen Hall, while praising the seminary as a 'place of discernment' and encouraging its links with Heythrop College, the report concludes: 'while its location offers many pastoral and academic opportunities, its buildings are unsuited to the life of the community and to the task of priestly formation.' On Valladolid, in Spain, while commending the Propaedeutic year, it says: 'The Commission must note the limited possibilities for academic formation offered in Valladolid itself and the unfavourable image in some places from which the college has suffered.' The Archbishops of Liverpool and Birmingham will now convene meetings with the bishops and those responsible for formation at Oscott and Ushaw, while the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark will hold meetings to discuss the future of Wonersh and Allen Hall. These should take place before November this year, the report says. The president of the conference and implementation group will discuss the Pontifical Colleges in Spain and Rome. There are currently about 230 seminarians in training at the seven colleges. A further 270 places are vacant. However most of the seminaries now also offer courses to lay people. To see the whole report, visit: http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk
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