American Catholic Studies

January 14, 2022

As the title of this work indicates, it is a study of the culture of Catholic seminary life viewed through the lens of formation for celibacy. Although primarily a sociological study, Stanosz provides the reader with an historical overview of both the practice of celibacy over the centuries and the development of seminary formation in the United States, particularly in the last several decades. He has mastered the rather extensive bibliography of studies of seminaries and seminarians that has proliferated since the 1980’s. His analysis of these works forms the basis for his sociological analysis of seminary life.

Formation for celibacy as a focused part of seminary training is a rather recent phenomenon, specifically since the Second Vatican Council. Previously taken for granted, it now has assumed a central role in preparation for the priesthood. Stanosz provides an analysis of this process of formation and how it affects many aspects of the culture of American Catholic seminaries.

While he surveyed and interviewed seminarians and formators at a number of seminaries, he focuses on a case study in detail at one diocesan seminary the name of which is not revealed. He found both seminarians and formators to be very open and revelatory regarding their own struggles with celibacy. The wide range of attitudes he uncovered reflects a diversity of approach to and opinion of celibacy among seminarians.

Stanosz’ chief criticism of the seminaries is that they do not provide a forum in which seminarians can discuss their sexual feelings and appropriate to themselves the academic learning from the celibacy curriculum. This, he believes, prevents problematic behaviors from being uncovered. As a partial solution, he advocates seminarians living in parishes for extended periods while taking their courses at the seminary. This reminds the reviewer of many similar suggestions made twenty and thirty years ago that were rejected.

Stanosz admits that one cannot read his study as descriptive of all seminaries. His careful research, however, provides valuable information for seminary administrators and formators in the evaluation of their own programs of formation for celibacy. In particular, he challenges seminary personnel to analyze whethr or not these relative new programs for preparation for celibacy are effective. Such an analysis, addressing the questions Stanosz raises, would be very useful given the importance of this issue.

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