Catholic Seminarians Face Challenges

ByABC News
March 15, 2002, 12:11 PM

E M M I T S B U R G, Md. -- On a quiet hilltop campus, just a few miles from Camp David in Maryland's Catoctin mountains, the sex scandals rocking the Catholic Church in Boston and other cities seem worlds away.

But at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country, the incidents of sexual misconduct by priests have led to serious soul-searching among those young men preparing to enter the priesthood.

In a roundtable conversation with ABCNEWS, the seminarians insisted the scandals have tested but not shaken their faith and, in fact, they see themselves as vanguards of reform.

"It's a call to us," said seminarian Wesley Schawe. "More than ever, it's a call to us, to our future and the future of the Church to recognize that we have to be solid, holy priests."

"So, we are not discouraged," said fellow seminarian John Caulfield, "disappointed, certainly, in what has happened, but bolstered that much more to give more of ourselves to be good."

Mount St. Mary's is tackling the issue head-on, beginning with psychological screening of candidates and continuing with lectures and workshops addressing sexual misconduct. In a speech to students this week, the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, the seminary rector, told them bluntly they had no choice but to report any instances of sexual misconduct involving minors to legal authorities.

Fear That Priesthood Is Tarnished

At this seminary, which serves dioceses across the country, 151 young men are spending four to six years in rigorous training for the priesthood. The seminarians most in their 20s reject any link between celibacy and sexual misconduct.

"I think it's a real disservice to the church," said Jerome Magat, "to try to associate celibates with men who have deviant sexual paths or who have committed any act of impropriety."

John Cyr compared his promise of celibacy to the vows of marriage. "Is it possible for a man and woman to promise to be together the rest of their life? Almost impossible without the grace of God. There are problems, challenges, and struggles. But that is what the aim is. For the rest of their life, that's what they're promising."