McGrath Institute invites seminaries to commit to sexual misconduct policy benchmarks

A national study of sexual misconduct in seminaries commissioned by the McGrath Institute revealed a need for seminaries to more effectively promulgate policies regarding misconduct. The McGrath Seminary Study Group developed the below benchmarks, derived from the research, to assist seminaries and houses of formation in formulating and implementing policies.

Among other things, the results show that the most important improvement needed at this time is an improved protocol for reporting abuse and harassment, along with improved education regarding that policy and regarding what sexual harassment is in the first place.

Accordingly, in February, 2020, the McGrath Institute convened a small group of bishops, seminary rectors and faculty, and expert lay consultants, to form the McGrath Seminary Study Group, which, after consultation and discussion, developed a set of “benchmarks” to which seminaries could publicly commit themselves, implementing them in specific policies appropriate to their situation.

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Benchmarks for Seminary and House of Formation Sexual Misconduct Policies

1. Systematic Training - Seminarians, faculty, and staff must be trained consistently and repeatedly (at least annually, and upon starting at the seminary), regarding policies on sexual harassment, especially reporting procedures, definitions, and the investigative process, including possible outcomes and follow up. 

2. Reporting and Investigation - Reporting systems must include both internal reporting procedures as well as the ability to report issues to an agency outside of the seminary structure that is independent of the seminary or any other structure that can affect the reporter in a way that might discourage them from coming forward. Independent investigators should have some knowledge of Catholic seminaries and ecclesial norms. 

3. Victim Support - Must have a sufficiently independent process to support victims/reporters as the process works through issues (e.g. Victim Assistance Coordinator) that is also able to protect the confidentiality of the investigation and guard against retaliation. Appropriate spiritual direction and counseling, etc., should also be available.

4. Proactivity - Policy should create periodic queries to allow seminaries to assess their culture in terms of policy understanding among seminarians, faculty, and staff, as well as to provide direct opportunities to report any issues so that they may be addressed. These internal assessments of seminary culture should include not only sexual misconduct, but a broad range of potentially improper relationships between all seminary students, faculty, and staff.

5. Consistency and Portability - Policies may be implemented in different ways, but they should remain in accord with common principles so that while procedures may differ somewhat based on local resources or conditions, they should be "portable," that is, provide consistent and understandable protection for the variety of assignments and venues in which seminarians may be assigned (for example, parish assignments).

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The McGrath Institute hopes that the benchmarks will be a call to action for seminaries and houses of formation. The McGrath Seminary Study Group invites all seminaries and houses of religious formation to publicly commit to the benchmarks and to revise and update their own policies to reflect them.

The below seminaries and houses of formation have committed that they have existing policies that meet these benchmarks, or will be implementing them within the next year.

St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, Wickliffe, OH
Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI
Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD
Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, OH
Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, IL
St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, Boynton Beach, FL
St. John Paul II Seminary, Washington, DC
St. Joseph Seminary College, Saint Benedict, LA
The Saint Paul Seminary, Saint Paul, MN
St. John Vianney Seminary, Saint Paul, MN
Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis, MO
Moreau Seminary, Notre Dame, IN
Old College Undergraduate Seminary, Notre Dame, IN
Pontifical North American College, Vatican City
Our Lady of Providence Seminary,  Providence, RI
St. Mary's Seminary & University, Baltimore, MD
Holy Trinity Seminary, Irving, TX
Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, PA
Saint Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, PA
St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver, CO
Theological College, The National Seminary of the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.
Conception Seminary College, Conception, MO
Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology, South Orange, NJ
Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, St. Meinrad, IN
Saint John's School of Theology and Seminary, Collegeville, MN

If you are a rector and would like your seminary or house of formation to be added to this list, please contact John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life, at John.C.Cavadini.1@nd.edu.

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We at the McGrath Institute for Church Life, and the undersigned members of the McGrath Seminary Study Group, pledge to work to encourage and assist seminaries to adopt these benchmarks and to encourage all of those in authority over seminaries and religious houses of formation to see to it that those in their jurisdiction conform to what we hope can serve as a “gold standard.”

McGrath Seminary Study Group

John C. Cavadini, Professor of Theology; McGrath-Cavadini Director, McGrath Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame, and the members of the Study Group: 

Katherine Angulo
Program Director, Thriving in Ministry Initiative
McGrath Institute for Church Life

Msgr. Andrew R. Baker
Rector, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD

Rev. Thomas V. Berg
Professor of Moral Theology and Director of Admissions
St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY

Michael Brough
Partner, Leadership Roundtable

Most Rev. Andrew Cozzens
Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Rev. Kenneth G. Davis, O.F.M. Conv.
Prefect for Formation
Province of Our Lady of Consolation

Brian Dean
Director of Finance and Operations
McGrath Institute for Church Life

Rev. Carter Griffin
Rector, St. John Paul II Seminary and Director of Seminarians, Washington, DC

Msgr. Michael Heintz
Academic Dean and Director of Intellectual Formation, 
Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology,
Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD

Rev. John Kartje
Rector, Mundelein Seminary, Archdiocese of Chicago, IL

Msgr. Todd Lajiness
Rector, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI
President, National Association of Catholic Theological Schools

Rev. Mark Latcovich
President-Rector, Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology and Borromeo Seminary, Diocese of Cleveland, OH
President of National Association of College Seminaries 

Most Rev. W. Shawn McKnight
Bishop, Diocese of Jefferson City

Colleen Moore
Director of Formation; Program Director, Echo
McGrath Institute for Church Life

Helen Osman
Director of Communications
Diocese of Jefferson City

Most Rev. Kevin Rhoades
Bishop, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend

Brett Robinson
Director of Communications and Catholic Media Studies
McGrath Institute for Church Life

Rev. Joseph C. Taphorn
Rector, The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, St. Paul, MN

Most Rev. David L. Toups,
Bishop, Diocese of Beaumont
Previously Rector of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, FL