Thursday, August 13, 2015

Lisa Edwards on Early 20th Century Latin American Seminary Reform

[...] [262] Liberals accused the Church of thwarting society's progress and of being stagnant and decadent. They were often vague in defining "progress," but generally believed that their goals could be reached by adopting European habits and education. They also believed that achieving progress and leading their nations to modernity required relegating the Church to a purely spiritual and moral role. Working to make the people's relationship with the Church optional, liberal politicians established secular educational systems; civil registers for recording births, marriages, and deaths; and civil cemeteries to bury those not in communion with the Catholic Church at their deaths. As part of their attempts to secularize education, liberal governments often prohibited religious education, including clerical seminaries, and expropriated seminary buildings. Even where seminaries were not closed, the financial status of the Catholic Church, now rarely supported by national governments as it had been during the colonial period, made their operation practically impossible in many areas. Many seminaries only reopened decades later, in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.[1] [...]

[263] Historians have started only recently to reconsider the nineteenth-century idea that secularization is an inevitable part of modernization.[2] In fact, despite liberals' insistence that an individual needed to choose between modernization and Catholicism, many church leaders at all levels turned to the concept of modernization to strengthen the institution. As Joe Holland points out, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) was the first pope to utilize a modern strategy to address modern problems. In contrast to his predecessors' unconditional rejection of the changes wrought by the Enlightenment and industrial capitalism, Leo XIII "promoted a reforming Catholic engagement with moderate liberalism in order to counter what he saw as the more serious threat of secular socialism."[3] The social and political instability [264] that emerged with industrialization and urbanization also concerned church leaders in Latin America. These officials and the papacy saw the strengthening of the clergy as a way to mediate the changes that threatened religion and society. Archbishop of Santiago (Chile) Mariano Casanova's Pastoral Letter on the Propaganda of Irreligious and Antisocial Doctrines in 1893 maintained that only religion could ensure social and political stability. He reminded the clergy and faithful that priests were necessary to helping those in need, because "without religion there is no charity, and without the priesthood there is no religion."[4]

In Latin America, one of the Catholic Church's most critical problems in the late-nineteenth century was a shortage of clergy; church leaders were convinced that it was intimately related to the poor quality of the priests in the region. For the Church to lead the way to social reform and the general betterment of society, it was necessary to increase the number of priests. However, if the clergy was not respected, the people would be less likely to follow its moral exhortations, and parents would be less likely to encourage their sons to enter the priesthood. [...]

[265] Because society viewed the clergy with contempt, parents did not permit their sons to enter the seminary.[5] Those young men who did begin clerical studies often caused problems and impeded good discipline in the seminary. Devisse commented that "many of the boys who come to us from the provinces, have witnessed acts [that were] sometimes scandalous by their parish priests and enter the Seminary [ill-prepared], ignorant even of doctrine. Very far from being inclined to the priesthood, they have [other] aspirations."[6] In some areas, including Bolivia, continuing pleas for more students to enter the seminaries went unheard. Eleven years later in 1922, the Church's situation in Bolivia was described as "alarming" because for several years there had been no new priests, and in the previous year only three priests had been ordained.[7] [...]

[266] Through the process of seminary reform, the Catholic Church in Latin America attempted to become more modern, more unified, and more closely tied to the papacy, all of which would contribute to a stronger institutional Church.

A central aspect of the papacy's modernizing strategy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries was increasing centralization, or Romanization.[8] Bureaucratic oversight and administration in Latin America and elsewhere in the Catholic world (including the United States and Europe) were expanded and rationalized at the diocesan level as well, often at the same time this process was occurring in local bureaucracies, including municipal governments and national educational systems.[9] Like their secular counterparts, ecclesiastical leaders in Latin America looked to Europe for models. They were encouraged to do so by the papacy as it implemented its own strategy of Romanization.[10]

Reform was one of the ways that bureaucratic centralization, and Romanization in particular, was especially evident in the Latin American Church during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. An examination of seminary reform demonstrates both an important aspect of centralization in Latin America and how the Church in the region became more closely tied to Rome. For the Church overall, the process demonstrates a strategy that allowed the institution to adapt to changing political and social realities of the [267] period and to bolster institutional strength in the face of liberals' secularizing efforts in the name of modernization.

Between the 1860s and 1920s, ecclesiastical leaders developed a modern response to the problems associated with modernization: the professionalization of the clergy, primarily through the reform of diocesan seminaries. Specifically, the reforms aimed to increase the rigor and breadth of seminary education; to improve clerical discipline; and, increasingly after the turn of the twentieth century, to address the social and political changes of industrialization by expanding social Catholic programs.[11] These efforts were initiated and carried out at all levels: by the papacy and Roman curia, by the bishops and archbishops of the region, and by interested seminary rectors and faculty. [...]

[269] When clerical discipline was inadequate, it was no surprise that the people would fall into perversion. At the same time, [Pope Pius X] noted, when the clergy were of high quality, Christian life could be restored easily.[12] To provide for a brighter future, the pope instructed the archbishop to ensure that the Venezuelan seminaries taught future priests the virtues necessary to the priesthood, including piety, chastity, and Christian humility; good discipline; and the necessary knowledge to perform their functions (specifically Scholastic philosophy and theology).[13] The pope was defining the characteristics of a more professional clergy.[14] [...]

[270] Priests who were not well disciplined or well educated could not serve as good examples to the general population. The papal secretary of state, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, was explicit when he informed the apostolic nuncio, Monsignor Achille Locatelli, in 1907 that the clergy of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay provided bad examples to the faithful. He listed their deficiencies: "the Gospel is not explained; they do not teach the catechism to the faithful; they do not administer the sacraments if there is no profit in it; they do not attend to the dying promptly … [and] finally, not a few live in concubinage and publicly maintain illicit relationships."[15] Far from inspiring the laity, "with such examples the peoples' faith languishes and their habits become more corrupt every day."[16] [...]

The region's bishops also recognized the problems of the modern industrial era and generally agreed with the Vatican's proposed solution: the reform of the clergy, primarily through seminary reform and the increase of priestly vocations. They saw the numerical growth and the reform of the clergy as a sure means of protecting the Church and, by extension, society, from the problems created by the social question and by the liberals' project of modernization through secularization. [...]

[271] In 1883 Monsignor Ignacio Montes de Oca--the bishop of Monterrey, Mexico--explained to the seminarians of his diocese why they should have patience and persist with their lengthy studies. He named the many pitfalls of an insufficient clerical education. An unprepared (or underprepared) priest would fail to stimulate interest in education in his parish, would lack sufficient resolve to resist activities antithetical to the priesthood, and would be unable to preach effectively. He also would be unable to speak English, which was required on occasion to provide the sacraments to foreigners and also was helpful for converting Protestants (mostly foreigners at the time) to Catholicism. For these reasons, Montes de Oca argued for a lengthy seminary education that lasted eleven years and included rhetoric [declamación] and sacred eloquence; Greek; and, if possible, Hebrew, English, and French.[17] Ordained without a complete preparation, a priest, he said, would become "a lover, not of his [flock], but of the property that he would have quickly acquired in his parish … [and because] no one would have taught him rhetoric, we will see him in the pulpit, if in fact we see him, contorting and gesturing ridiculously, speaking in such a low voice that no one hears him, or in excessive shouting that horrifies the audience…."[18] Bishop Montes de Oca assured the seminarians that a solid clerical preparation was necessary "so that the priestly ministry produces the healthy effects that the Divine Founder of the Church [Jesus Christ] proposed."[19]

[272] Montes de Oca's ideas on seminary education seem to have been strongly influenced by foreign examples. He was familiar with educational methods outside of Mexico because he had studied in Rome at the Colegio Pío Latino Americano and the Pontifical Gregorian University. [...]

In fact, many changes in seminary curriculum and discipline in Latin America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were modeled after European and North American seminaries. It was not uncommon for bishops, seminary rectors, and professors to visit seminaries abroad to inform their own programs of study and pedagogical methods, so that even those who were themselves educated in Latin America were affected by foreign practices. Like many liberals at the time, many Catholic bishops and seminary rectors believed that Europe and the United States were excellent examples of what a "modern" society looked like. Therefore, using practices and customs from these regions as blueprints could hasten the process of modernizing Latin America. In their correspondence, speeches, and writings, church leaders repeatedly emphasized the importance of incorporating European models into Latin American seminaries. Much less often did they express concerns about the challenges of young, educated priests assigned to isolated rural parishes, perhaps with parishioners [273] who spoke indigenous languages unknown to the priests.[20]

Their writings suggest that they believed that a solid education would somehow solve any type of problem that emerged. [...]

[274] The Plenary Council also considered specific subjects of study deemed important for a modern educated priest. The seminarians should study Latin and Greek to be able to interpret the Church's traditions and Scripture, and they should study the national languages of their homelands "until they [could] speak and write [Spanish or Portuguese] with propriety and elegance. It would also be convenient to acquire notions of the indigenous languages of each region, to be able to administer the Sacraments to [indigenous parishioners]."[21] The bishops also agreed that communication skills were critical for a good relationship between a priest and his parishioners. The priest should serve the people intelligently, as well as present a living example of piety and virtue. [...]

[275] [Leo XIII] also reminded them to ensure that the philosophical studies of seminarians (which preceded theological studies) were to be based on Scholastic philosophy to prepare them to learn Catholic theology.[22] Leo XIII then directed the Latin American bishops to choose their parish priests carefully. He asked, "Who are the directors and guides of the people? Who should signal the path of virtue to the masses, by example and with exhortations and advice? There is no doubt, it is the parish priests."[23] He was clearly suggesting that seminaries that provided solid ecclesiastical formation and produced good parish priests would ensure the well-being of the general population in the midst of the emerging problems of modernization. [...]

Monsignor Pedro Pablo Drinot y Piérola, bishop of Huanuco (Peru), was very specific about the importance of a good priestly education and what it should include in his 1907 pastoral letter. "Today more [276] than ever, a purely theological education is absolutely insufficient, even if it is very complete; the modern priest needs relatively complete humanistic knowledge, above all in Philosophy, the physical and natural sciences, history, the art of good speaking [and] languages."[24] To ensure this type of modern formation for the clergy of his diocese, Bishop Drinot indicated the necessary elements of a seminary, which included both a library with a broad collection of religious and secular texts and the facilities to study chemistry and natural history.[25] [...]

[277] The idea that local seminaries in Latin America should be modeled after their Roman counterpart to ensure a higher-quality education was emphasized by the papacy and some members of the region's hierarchy and seminary administrators, particularly after the 1880s when substantial numbers of graduates had returned to Latin America and were working in parishes, seminaries, and diocesan offices. There is no evidence that the region's bishops rejected the model explicitly, although certainly some of them were more committed to reforming their seminaries according to that model than others. Predictably, bishops and seminary administrators who had studied in Rome were especially enthusiastic about following the model of the Latin American College in reforming diocesan seminaries. [...]

[278] The ability to reform clerical education in Latin America was limited, however, by a severe shortage of resources, such as buildings, textbooks, and qualified seminary professors. In the Seminary of Ancud (Chile), for example, the liturgy course was suspended in 1865 because the professor left and no replacement was available.[26] This problem was not confined to Ancud. In many dioceses, it was difficult to establish and maintain a seminary because of the low number of students and the difficulties of attracting professors. The long distances between towns and inadequate transportation networks often complicated the provision of adequate personnel to seminaries. These problems, along with the papacy's belief that more regional unity would strengthen the Church, led to the Holy See's push in the early-twentieth century for the establishment of central seminaries. Like many of the reforms and innovations in clerical education at the time, the introduction of central or regional seminaries was not unique to Latin America, but was also utilized in Europe. During the first half of the twentieth century, Popes Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII actively promoted regional seminaries to maximize resources and to improve the education of priests.[27] [...]

[280] The Peruvian bishops did not end their meeting without discussing the curricula for the minor seminaries and the new central seminary. The plan of studies for the interdiocesan seminary included traditional subjects such as philosophy, moral and dogmatic theology, and Gregorian chant as well as courses in subjects considered appropriate for the particular needs of Peruvian society at the moment, such as sociology and Quechua.[28] [...]

Whether young men destined for the priesthood were trained in regional seminaries or diocesan ones, part of the Catholic Church's modernization project involved preparing them to be leaders in addressing the social question in Latin America. To do so, Latin American bishops and administrators introduced new seminary [281] courses in psychology, sociology, and Catholic Action, particularly after the turn of the twentieth century. At the Seminary of Buenos Aires, for example, Rector José Giné, S.J., introduced a special course in 1910 "in which social questions are discussed and the future ministers of the Lord are oriented" to address current issues emerging in Argentina.[29] Inspiring him was the example of the Pontifical Gregorian University and other European seminaries, which offered similar courses.[30] This, in Giné's view, would prepare the clergy to lead in the social reform that the Catholic Church recognized was an inevitable necessity of modernization. Around the same time, other seminaries in the region established comparable courses. By the late 1910s and the early 1920s, for example, there is evidence that seminarians in Bogotá, Colombia, as well as in Puebla and Zamora, Mexico, studied sociology.[31] In 1923, the Venezuelan bishops made a joint decision that their diocesan seminaries should introduce theoretical and practical sociology courses for theology students (the most advanced students) to play their part in protecting society from communists and atheists and to understand how "the most current" social Catholic institutions functioned.[32] By the 1930s and 1940s, students at the Conciliar Seminary of Mexico studied both sociology and psychology to be more effective in their duties as parish priests.[33] These subjects also were intended to equip them to address the changing realities of Latin America while simultaneously protecting the Church from her detractors with a better understanding of current issues. [...]

[282] Only further studies based at the diocesan or national level will fully elucidate the degree to which these reforms were successful in preparing the clergy to defend the Church from the secularizing modernization programs of liberal politicians.

As historians continue to examine the role of the Catholic Church in the modern age, however, it must be recognized as a dynamic institution with leaders willing to introduce and implement reforms. The Catholic hierarchy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries recognized the rapid social, political, and economic changes of the period; identified a key strategy to address those changes by focusing on clerical education; and implemented changes that would strengthen the Church at the local, regional, and universal levels. At the service of the Catholic Church, modernization seemed to offer not only problems but also solutions. Unfortunately, the practical difficulties of implementing reform in many areas impeded their success.



1. Francisco Martín Hernández, "La formación sacerdotal y la situación del clero en Iberoamérica en el siglo XIX," in Los últimos cien años de la evangelización en América Latina, coord. Father Luis Ferroggiaro and Monsignor Víctor Manuel Ochoa Cadavid (Vatican City, 2000), pp. 922-23.

2. Martin Austin Nesvig makes this point in his introduction to Religious Culture in Modern Mexico, ed. Martin A. Nesvig (Lanham, MD, 2007), p. 3. As Silvia Marina Arrom notes, "This narrative of progressive secularization accompanied by the marginalization of the church and the weakening of religious belief is too simplistic. "Arrom," Mexican Laywomen Spearhead a Catholic Revival: The Ladies of Charity, 1863-1910," in Nesvig, Religious Culture, p. 52. Other chapters in the collection address the same issue. See, for example, Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, "'A New Political Religious Order': Church, State, and Workers in Porfirian Mexico," in Nesvig, Religious Culture, p. 130.

3. Holland, p. 15. This shift in papal thinking was moderate but its importance should not be underestimated. Chadwick notes that Leo XIII's encyclicals, especially Immortale Dei (1885) and Libertas (1888),were "grudging" in their acceptance of (limited) freedom of thought and democratic government, pp. 293-94. Eamon Duffy points out that as diocesan bishop, Leo XIII "argued for reconciliation between the Church and the positive aspects of modern culture." Once he became pope in 1878, Leo XIII maintained the doctrines of the Vatican Council and Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors, but was conciliatory rather than confrontational regarding the place of the Church in European and Latin American states with anticlerical political parties. Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (New Haven, 1997), 236-37.

4. Mariano Casanova, Pastoral sobre la propaganda de doctrinas irreligiosas y antisociales [1893] in La "cuestión social" en Chile. Ideas y debates precursores (1804-1902), comp. Sergio Grez Toso (Santiago, 1995), p. 405. All translations in this article are mine.

5. ASV, Archivio della Nunziatura in Bolivia (hereafter Arch. Nunz. Bolivia), fasc. 89, fol. 239v.

6. ASV, Arch. Nunz. Bolivia, fasc. 89, fol. 240.

7. Boletín de Alumnos, 22, no. 1-2 (January-May, 1922), 55.

8. On Romanization and its reliance on improved clerical education in one Latin American nation, see Kenneth P. Serbin, Needs of the Heart: A Social and Cultural History of Brazil's Clergy and Seminaries (Notre Dame, 2006), esp. chap. 3, and C. F. G. de Groot, Brazilian Catholicism and the Ultramontane Reform (Amsterdam, 1996). Serbin notes that "Romanization was the conservative modernization of Brazilian Catholicism," p. 57. Romanization was not limited to Latin America. For a detailed study of Romanization in one North American archdiocese, see Donna Merwick, Boston Priests, 1848-1910: A Study of Social and Intellectual Change (Cambridge, MA, 1973).

9. Overmyer-Velázquez addresses this for the Archdiocese of Oaxaca, Mexico, p. 139.

10. On the Latin American interest in following European fashions and habits, see, for example, Arnold J. Bauer, Goods, Power, History: Latin America's Material Culture (New York, 2001), pp. 151-64. Some North American clergy and bishops also were interested in copying the Roman model. When William Henry O'Connell became archbishop of Boston in 1907, he "took Rome as the font of culture, the rule of theological interpretation, and the exemplar of organization" (Merwick, p. xii).

11. On Latin American clerical education during the colonial period, see William B. Taylor, Magistrates of the Sacred. Priests and Parishioners in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (Stanford, 1996), pp. 88-92. Very little scholarly attention has focused on early nineteenth-century seminaries. Among the few examples is the work of James H. Lee. See his "Church and State in Mexican Higher Education, 1821-1861," Journal of Church and State, 20 (1978), 59-60 and "Clerical Education in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: The Conciliar Seminaries of Mexico City and Guadalajara, 1821-1910," The Americas, 36 (1980), 469-70. During the nineteenth century, the focus on improving seminary education as a means of strengthening the Church institutionally was not limited to Latin America. See, for example, the North American examples noted by John Tracy Ellis, "A Short History of Seminary Education: II. Trent to Today," in Seminary Education in a Time of Change, ed. James Michael Lee and Louis J. Putz, C.S.C. (Notre Dame, 1965), pp. 69-73.

12. Pius X, "Carta de Su Santidad Pio X al Arzobispo de Caracas Mons. Juan Bautista Castro, en contestación a la enviada por el metropolitano, sobre la situación del país y la necesidad de preparar al clero y los seminarios [1910]," in Conferencia Episcopal Venezolana, 2:80.

13. Ibid., 81.

14. De Groot uses the phrase professional distinctiveness to describe the goals of reformers. He addresses the difficulties of reform and of maintaining priestly distinctiveness in rural Brazil, notably the geographical isolation, priests' lack of a sense of corporate identity, and the poverty that required many parish priests to engage in moneymaking activities for their own survival, pp. 28-35, 67.

15. ASV, Arch. Nunz. Arg. B. 61, fasc. 3, fols. 234-234v.

16. Ibid.

17. Ignacio Montes de Oca y Obregón, Obras pastorales y oratorias (Mexico City, 1886), 3:144-45. It has not been possible to find a mid-nineteenth-century explanation of declamación. The subject was discussed, however, in a Jesuit teaching guide in 1703. It instructed professors to have students publicly recite brief prose or verse pieces, paying attention to both the voice (avoiding monotony, for example) and the appropriate use of gestures. Done weekly, this practice would provide students with experience in public speaking. José Juvencio, "Método para aprender y enseñar. Florencia, 1703," in La pedagogía de los jesuitas en la Ratio Studiorum, ed. Miguel Bertrán-Quera, S.J. (San Cristóbal and Caracas, 1984), pp. 855-59.

18. Montes de Oca, Obras pastorales y oratorias 3:144-45.

19. Ibid.

20. On the isolation of many priests in Brazil, see De Groot, pp. 28-31.

21. Ibid., cap. II "De los Seminarios menores," nos. 617-19. See also cap. III "De los Seminarios Diocesanos Mayores," no. 627. Further research is necessary to determine whether adequate numbers of priests were fluent in indigenous languages in those areas where Spanish or Portuguese did not predominate.

22. Pedro Adán Brioschi, Pastoral del y Señor Pedro Adán Brioschi Obispo de Cartagena de América sobre El Concilio Plenario Latino Americano y relativos documentos puestos en apéndice (n.p., 1899), p. 7.

23. Ibid., p. 8.

24. Pedro Pablo Drinot y Piérola, Carta pastoral que el Obispo de Huanuco Monseñor Pedro Pablo Drinot y Piérola dirige al clero y fieles de la diócesis para clausurar su primera Visita Pastoral. Año del Señor 1907 (Lima, 1907), p. 24.

25. Ibid., p. 26. Experimental science courses were introduced in Latin American seminaries over the course of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. As early as 1865, the rector of the diocesan seminary of Concepción (Chile) reported that materials for teaching physics had been ordered from Europe. Archivo Nacional de Chile, Ministerio del Interior, vol. 443.

26. Archivo Nacional de Chile, Ministerio del Interior, vol. 444.

27. Casimiro Sánchez Aliseda, La doctrina de la Iglesia sobre Seminarios desde Trento hasta nuestros días (Granada, 1942), pp. 120-23.

28. Interestingly, the archbishop of Lima denied the importance of teaching Quechua in the central seminary, claiming that no Quechua speakers lived in the archdiocese. His colleagues disagreed with him, insisting that Quechua speakers did live in Lima and its hinterlands, and the subject was incorporated into the plan of studies. It is virtually certain that there were Quechua speakers in Lima at the time. Ibid., fols. 4, 24-28, 40-48.

29. Revista Eclesiástica (Buenos Aires), 10 (1910), 277-78.

30. Ibid.

31. Boletín de Alumnos, 18, no. 1 (June, 1918), 47; ibid., 21, no. 1-2 (January-July, 1921), 59-60; ibid., 20 [sic; should be 22], no. 3 (May-September, 1922), 15-16 and "Segunda Conferencia Episcopal Ordinaria: Acuerdos," 2:154.

32. "Segunda Conferencia Episcopal Ordinaria: Acuerdos," 2:148-56.

33. Gaceta Oficial del Arzobispado de México, Epoca 7, 34, no. 4 (April, 1941),156-57. Psychology was introduced in Brazilian seminaries in the 1950s (Serbin, p. 214).


Source: Lisa M. Edwards, "Latin American Seminary Reform: Modernization and the Preservation of the Catholic Church," Catholic Historical Review 95, no. 2 (April 2009): 261–282.

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