Minor Seminaries, Clericalism and Clergy Sexual Abuses by Alisonomi

As the debate on sexual abuse in the churches continues, I wish to join my voice to one of those silent voices rising up from Nigeria. During her intervention, in the shortly concluded summit on clergy sexual abuse, which took place in Rome, Sr Veronica Openibo, shcj, made some very important reflections. She examined how repeated sexual abuses by the clergy in the past, has weakened people’s trust in the Church’s authorities. Then she explained how this has made people doubt the willingness of the Church leaders to handle the issue with transparency. But before concluding, she proposed few strategies:  

“Essential, surely, is a clear and balanced education and training about sexuality and boundaries in the seminaries and formation houses; in the ongoing formation of priests, religious men and women, and bishops. It worries me when I see in Rome, and elsewhere, the youngest seminarians being treated as though they are more special than everyone else, thus encouraging them to assume, from the beginning of their training, exalted ideas about their status. The study of human development must give rise to a serious question about the existence of minor seminaries. The formation of young women religious, too, can often lead to a false sense of superiority over their lay sisters and brothers, that their calling is a ‘higher’ one. What damage has that thinking done to the mission of the church?”
Here, though she did not categorically condemn our seminary formation methods, she insisted on the necessity of including a well-balanced sexual education program in the seminary and religious formation houses. According to her, there is a direct link between the seminary formation system and the problems of clericalism in the Church. “It worries me when I see in Rome, and elsewhere, the youngest seminarians being treated as though they are more special than everyone else, thus encouraging them to assume, from the beginning of their training, exalted ideas about their status” And for these reasons, she questions the existence of the minor seminaries in its actual form and concluded that human development studies give us every reason to believe that they are no longer adapted, in their actual forms, to our modern-day society. She also underlined many other interesting points, but I’m more interested in this particular part of her presentation.I passed through the minor seminary but had the opportunity of doing the first three years of my secondary education in a public school. During my public-school years, we were taught human sexual reproduction in the company of girls, and we discussed it openly without feeling ashamed or guilty. This made sexuality and sexual related issues parts of our everyday discussions.
But once in the minor seminary, I discovered that everything about sexuality was treated differently. There was, for example, no female presence in the classes to make the discussion more inclusive. More still, the minor seminarians being prepared for the priesthood had, paradoxically, little or no moment for openly discussing sexual related topics. And because the seminary culture makes sexuality a taboo, the young seminarians dare not ask explicit questions in the class.  However, it has been up to 18 years since I left the minor seminary, but it seems not many changes have been brought to the system. For example, during my last vacations, I was opportune to pass some time with minor seminarians. Some of them were as young as 11 years old. They received evaluation forms for their Christmas break. And in those forms, they were expected to be assessed by their parish priests on their morning mass attendance, their catechism classes, pious society, and work attendance. Why should little lads of eleven years old be subjected to such scrutiny instead of allowing them to follow their normal developmental process?How can they spend all their Christmas holidays moving between morning masses and catechism classes when their age mates are running about in merriment? It is nothing but stealing away their childhood. When are they going to play hide and seek, make mistakes in their lives, learn how to cook and do other normal household chores? Already, they cannot even play with their siblings because they are made to believe they are small priests expected to be perfect boys.The worst is that back to the minor seminary, they are treated as adults and punished severely when they make little boys’ mistakes. And no opportunity is given to them to experiment even on casual friendship with their female counterparts. No sexual education, from my knowledge, is given to them. And not even their parents think of doing so as they are already set apart and even expected to be better than their parents in moral issues. The direct consequence is that many might end up remaining lads in their sexual development. And they are fostered to a very early sexual repression which could backfire later during their adulthood. The problem is that at its backlash, though adults, many have not yet grown beyond that 11-year-old lad who was forced to suppress all his sexual desires.Finally, it is beyond doubt that the false idea of superiority encouraged by the minor seminary system has done a lot of damage not only to the mission of the church but also to these lads whose childhood is being stolen in the name of minor seminary formation. And though, I am not wishing for their closure, I am of the opinion that we have no choice than to have them totally reformed, starting from the structural, through their formational organizations and down to what they are taught to think of themselves.

Ali C. Nnaemeka (mekaalison@gmail.com)
”The truth might be hard to say, painful to bear or even drastic for the truth sayer but still needed to be said”. Alisonomi

Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

Writer & Blogger

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