Seminary cleared of misconduct allegations
A report commissioned by the Archdiocese of Boston has cleared a seminary of allegations of rampant sexual misconduct and excessive drinking, but notes instances of fraternization and before-meal drinking among seminarians and faculty that could fuel further calls to overhaul Roman Catholic seminaries.
The report largely vindicated St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, from the most pointed allegations posted by two former seminarians in Catholic blogs a year ago. They posted stories about sexual misconduct and a bachelor party more akin to a frat house than a seminary.
“Contrary to some of the reporting surrounding the 2018 social media postings, the Seminary is not a den of sexual misconduct fueled by excessive drinking,” wrote former U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern and the Boston law firm Yurko, Salvesen & Remz, who compiled the 90page report that was posted last month to the archdiocese’s website.
In August 2018, former seminarian John Monaco posted a blog entry explaining why he dropped out of the conservative seminary. He said he encountered a “toxic” environment rife with sexting between students and faculty discussing masturbation, as well as witnessing an assistant rector drunkenly falling out of his chair.
The report, based on interviews with more than 80 people, faulted the assistant rector for having too many gin martinis at a bachelor party for a seminary staff member in the commons area in 2015.
The report also called for clearer rules about fraternization, noting an unnamed professor who took athletic and popular seminarians — dubbed the “pretty committee” by others — on hiking and skiing trips to New Hampshire and Maine — and an outing to the chambers of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Overall, the report found a lack of evidence of sexual conduct between faculty and seminarians and found administrative and diocesan officials unresponsive to allegations of misconduct.
“There is a general consensus that while the 2015 ‘bachelor party’ for one of the Seminary’s staff members was not the bacchanalian affair sometimes associated with such events, there was undoubtedly a better way for the seminarians to show their appreciation for the staff member,” the report states.
Investigators recommended that administrators revisit seminary’s status as a “wet” campus and its hiring of an unnamed moral philosophy professor with a penchant for lewd, sexual allusions in and out of his class. An assistant to the rector at St. John’s directed questions about the report to the diocese.
“The seminary review has been a long and arduous process and has brought to light serious deficiencies that needed correcting,” Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley said Nov. 22 in a blog post. “In truth, I believe we have a much stronger seminary as a result of the review and the changes that have already been made.”
A spokesman for the diocese noted that three of the report’s nine recommendations already are being addressed, including issues related to alcohol use, fraternization and development of “human formation,” one of the pillars of seminarian development.
The rector and assistant rector at the time of the allegations were reassigned before the investigation was completed.
The report comes weeks after a committee of Catholic leaders convened by Georgetown University called for ending the “elitism” at some seminaries, among other proposals to improve a church racked with a clerical abuse crisis.
“Seminarians are too often formed in isolation and set apart,” the report states.
Last year, the Vatican produced a document calling for reform at Catholic seminaries.
“Contrary to some of the reporting surrounding the 2018 social media postings, the Seminary is not a den of sexual misconduct fueled by excessive drinking.”
— Archdiocese of Boston’s commissioned report