Summary of today’s show: In its new issue that hits the stands today, Boston Magazine offers a profile of St. John’s Seminary, how it has turned around in the decade since the clergy sex-abuse scandal broke, and the story of Fr. Eric Cadin, whose own journey to the priesthood provides a glimpse of the sort of men who are being called to the priesthood today. Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor look at the story by Patrick Doyle and expand on what was written with Fr. Chris providing his own perspective as vice-rector of the seminary.
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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
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Today’s topics: Boston Magazine profiles Fr. Eric Cadin and the turnaround of St. John’s Seminary
1st segment: Scot welcomed everyone to the show. He said today he’s glad Fr. Chris O’Connor is the co-host because one of the main stories in Boston Magazine this month is about the turnaround of St. John’s Seminary and a profile of the kind of men becoming priests today, particularly Fr. Eric Cadin. Fr. Chris said he is quite pleased with the story and the writer captured the sense of the seminary.
Scot said opening up the seminary and themselves to a reporter they don’t know well is a risk. He spoke to so many people over such a long time, he could have taken many approaches.
Fr. Chris said there had been overtures over time from Boston Magazine to the Archdiocese. The writer, Patrick Boyle, contacted Fr. Chris after hearing him on The Good Catholic Life. Fr. Chris discussed it with Bishop Arthur Kennedy and some of the faculty. Fr. Chris said they know they have a good story and they are proud of their seminarians and if they know that why not let him come in and see where it’s going to go. If the story came out otherwise, they knew it wouldn’t be the truth.
Fr. Chris said Patrick told Fr. Chris that he’s Catholic, attended Catholic college, and loves to write. All we hear about is the decline of priestly numbers and to hear that St. John’s is full to capacity and so he wanted to come to see what it’s all about.
Scot asked Fr. Chris how difficult it was to identify a couple of guys to talk to at length. Fr. Chris said he left nothing to chance. They invited Patrick to dinner at the seminary and specified that this would be an off the record conversation to take the measure of each other. They assembled 12 to 15 seminarians, all men from Boston at Patrick’s request, for the dinner. Initially, the focus was on men just coming into the seminary. As Patrick unpacked the story, Fr. Cadin’s story became interesting because he left the seminary to come back later. He was there in the darkest days and then came back when the turnaround had begun, which became the frame for the turnaround of the seminary.
Scot said FR. Eric’s story is a crazy story, including growing up in Weymouth, going to Roxbury Latin, attending Harvard, living on the beach in a few places as a surfer, going to seminary, leaving to start pre-med, coming back to seminary and eventually being ordained. OF all the men he does have a very interesting story. Fr. Chris said Fr. Eric is a very personable guy. Today happens to be Fr. Eric’s birthday.
Fr. Chris said even the clergy sexual abuse scandal details are pretty straightforward and not inflammatory. He said he told Patrick that priests are like airplanes: we never hear about the ones who take off and land safely, only about the ones who crash. Here is a story about a young guy in love with the Lord, very normal and decent. Patrick’s approach is about what makes a successful young man give himself to the Lord.
Fr. Chris said Patrick Doyle comes from Colorado and Fr. Chris saw a story he’d written on capital punishment and how the governor’s Catholic faith was involved as well as another story about a minister. Fr. Chris got the sense of a man who appreciated the role of the church in the world, while not giving the Church a pass. He was going to look at the Church objectively.
Scot said the title of the story is “Resurrection”. It begins, “The clergy sex abuse scandal exploded onto front pages across the country in 2002. A painful decade later, the Archdiocese of Boston has begun to rebuild. But a stubborn question remains: What kind of man wants to become a priest?”
2nd segment: Scot said the idea of the story is what kind of man wants to become a priest when the world thinks the Church is in shambles from the abuse crisis. Scot asked Fr. Chris how the scandal affected the men who were in the seminary in 2002 and 2003. Fr. Chris said when he listens to admissions interviews, he starts to tear up sometimes when he hears them talk about why they want to be priests. Without question, they all get that they are signing up for a life of service to others. Even in the midst of crisis, the response to the crisis is, “If not me, them whom.” They know they aren’t the Messiah, but they feel called. After 9/11, people flocked to Ground Zero with the feeling that they needed to do something. The men coming forward toward have the sense of Boston as the epicenter with a real diesre on the part of these men to make a difference in the Church.
Scot asked if most men think they are called to priesthood is because of the abuse scandal or in spite of it. Fr. Chris said he hears it less 11 years later, but in the early years it was a desire to give their lives to the Church in the time of her need.
Scot said the story talks about the decrease in Mass attendance, in donations, in the number of seminarians, and in the number of priests ten years ago. Scot said St. John’s Seminary has been described as the heart of the Church and as the womb of the Church, giving birth to new priests. Fr. Chris said they were aware that they had a large task in front of them. One of Cardinal Seán’s mandates was that it needed to expand its mission beyond just being an archdiocesan seminary that welcomed seminarians from other dioceses to become a truly regional seminary. They needed to invite the input and interests of the bishops of the region and make it clear that it’s a regional seminary in which all the seminarians are equal.
Scot asked what changed in the seminary to ensure we wouldn’t have a repeat of the abuse scandal. Fr. Chris said the seminary faculty is single-minded in their understanding of the priesthood and what’s important. It doesn’t mean there isn’t disagreement, but they’re on the same side on the issues and just looking at different ways of approaching them. Secondly, transparency has priority. The faculty talks frankly with seminarians about the blessings and struggles of their own priesthood. In the past, the faculty was somewhat removed as formators and educators, but today the faculty is also companions on the journey. Fr. Chris and another faculty member will take some seminarians out to dinner to talk to them about their concern and worries and answer questions. Anytime a priest falls, it’s a public thing and is sad for all of us. The Church mourns and grieves. The seminary takes those opportunities to sit down with the seminarians and look at what causes these things to happen.
Fr. Chris said they’ve also revised the whole human formation program over the last year or two. Once per month, a faculty member gets together with a particular class on a set subject and those meetings build on themselves. Recently, he spoke on affective maturity. Another recent topic was being brutally honest with their spiritual director.
Scot said in many cases, experts have determined that it was the screening process and human formation that failed to weed out or help men who later became abusers. He said many priests today will recall thinking a particular classmate was kind of odd and he turned out to be one of those abusive priests. Fr. Chris said human formation didn’t exist before Vatican II. At the time, there was only spiritual and academic formation. Pastoral formation and human formation only came after. Pope John Paul wrote about priesthood and seminary formation that the other three build on the human formation. the priest must be a bridge and not an obstacle to Christ. They are mediators for Christ.
One of the interesting aspects of the article, Scot said, was when it details that when Fr. Eric decided to go into the seminary, he had a lot of people who weren’t encouraging and got a mixed reaction, which is common among seminarians. Fr. Chris said many people tell seminarians that it’s a perfect fit for them, but there’s often a mom or dad who is discouraging. Sometimes they don’t want their son to be lonely in a tough life. Another reason, like Aristotle said, is that it lessens the chance for grandchildren for their legacy and parents become nervous about that. Fr. Chris encourages potential seminarians to bring their parents to see that these are normal and good men and it alleviates their fears.
Scot outlined the extensive application process that potential seminarians go through as outlined in the magazine story, including a full-day psychological exam. Fr. Chris said it’s a grueling process. There are several meetings with diocesan vocation directors. The man then fills out an autobiography and his understanding of the Church and priesthood. He goes to an all-day psychological test with several psychologists, including family background, mental health, sexual history, why they want to become a priest. There are tests of leadership ability and personality. They then need four or five letter of recommendation, three or four from priests, others from co-workers or parishioners. They sit before a board of faculty members, including the rector, vice-rector, academic dean, and directory of spiritual formation. Sometimes they ask what their family traditions are, which gives a sense of the family background, for example. The questions are geared around the four pillars. They need to assess their academic ability. Fr. Chris looks at the human formation, their strengths and weaknesses. They ask what sort of leadership roles he’s had and experiences working with men and women. They ask about their spiritual formation, their prayer life, their devotions, when they heard God calling. It’s an hourlong conversation and the faculty forget what a grueling experience it is.
Scot said being interviewed by a psychologist is grueling and he related a story about the crazy questions he had to answer before he entered the seminary 20 years ago for a brief time. Being interviewed by five people at once can be similarly grueling. Fr. Chris told a story of taking the Rorshach test.
Scot said in the story it tells of how Fr. Eric left the seminary for about 2 years. He asked Fr. Chris how often it happens that men take time off and how many leave altogether. Fr. Chris said when he was in seminary you saw men coming and going quite regularly, but you don’t see it as much anymore. Perhaps it’s because of the scandal. Men coming now have thought long and hard about this. They’re often older and leaving lucrative careers. There’s more going into the thought process now. Fr. Chris always tell men who tell him that they’re leaving, he asks them 25 times if they’re sure. If they say it 25 times, then he tells him he’ll help them move out because the last thing the Church needs is another unhappy priest. Scot said the formation he received in the seminary made him a better husband because he gave it a chance first.
In the story, it tells of how Fr. Eric walked into the refectory wearing flip-flops and ran into then-seminarian Darin Colarusso, a former Air Force pilot, who told him he had to wear shoes. Almost all guys going to the seminary experience a bit of a culture shock. One of the big tasks of the faculty is to help them adjust. Fr. Chris said it’s a difficult task, especially coming from the culture where independence is celebrated. These men in their mid-twenties now have to ask permission to be excused from an Evening Prayer and a dinner. They do that because living in a parish, they will always be accountable to someone else, whether a pastor or the bishop. Getting in the habit of being accountable is essential.
For many professions, you work Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, but a priest is a priest on vacation, out with friends, or at Mass. Being a priest is something that changes you in essentials. So the seminarians aren’t living in a college dorm, but are living in a seminary for formation.
Fr. Chris said the story doesn’t mention that when Christ called the Twelve, he brought them together and formed them as a group. In Scripture, the Apostles jockeyed with one another. The faculty relies on seminarians forming other seminarians and helping them with positive and negative reinforcement. Scot said it’s like a typical family where the older siblings are expected to help form and guide their younger siblings.
3rd segment: Fr. Chris said he was happy that the writer helped put a human face on the priesthood. Most people only see their priests for an hour on Sunday. the article shows that priests come from families like ours, that they follow long twisty roads. He said the story also picked up on the instrumental moment of the death of Fr. Cadin’s mother and the presence of two priests with him in the hospital. This occurred during the period when he’d left the seminary. He recognized that God was present in that moment.
Patrick Doyle also didn’t paint a rosy picture, talking statistics and the scandal. He caught the anger against the Church, but he also caught what the Church is trying to do to make it better, including normal, healthy priests.
Scot said there’s a lot of good stuff that can’t make the final version of any printed article. He asked Fr. Chris what good things didn’t make the story. Fr. Chris joked that they didn’t publish his full-page photo. But seriously, he thinks each of the men who were interviewed have a unique powerful story about God calling them and each of them would have been just as compelling a story about Fr. Cadin’s. He thinks Patrick did an excellent job of pointing out the mistakes and how the Church is correcting those mistakes.
Scot noted that Boston Magazine will reach a lot of folks who aren’t active Catholics. Fr. Chris said they will now know that St. John’s Seminary is here, not going anywhere, is alive and well, and the priests being formed are good, holy, and indispensable for the new evangelization. With the sale of some of the property to Boston College, there was a false sense that the seminary had closed. The story will reach a large audience of people to tell them that the seminary is here to stay. It also shows that there is a human side to the priests and could be a tool to call people back to the faith.
Fr. Chris said Msgr. Moroney, the rector, found it to be a balanced article. He hasn’t had a chance to check with the seminarians. He thinks Patrick Doyle has done a great job.
Scot said the story has three contexts: Fr. Eric Cadin; St. John’s Seminary’s turnaround; and the role of St. John’s Seminary in turning around the Archdiocese. He thinks that it does a good job of balancing all of these things. He said it gives us all hope and shows how things have changed in the past 10 years.