Msgr. Christopher Schreck announced the proposals publicly March 21. He had made the suggestions five days earlier in a memorandum to trustees and officials of the college and to bishops and vocations directors of the many dioceses across the nation who send students to the Josephinum, the only seminary outside of Italy with pontifical status.
The memorandum includes three proposals: creation of a national database for seminary applicants; hiring private investigators to review applications; and two in-person, pre-admission interviews of applicants by college admissions committee members and the college’s director of psychological evaluation and counseling.
The database was proposed several weeks ago by Msgr. Schreck to the executive director of the U.S, Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated life and Vocations. It would track all formal applications to U.S. dioceses, seminaries and religious orders and list the status of such applications as being either admitted, deferred, rejected or withdrawn.
The memorandum pointed out that although seminaries usually know whether an applicant might have been admitted to and departed from another seminary, “there is currently no way to know if an applicant had previously applied to another diocese or seminary and had been deferred or rejected, independent of the applicant’s truthfulness in answering the questions on the application form.”
Msgr. Schreck said in the memorandum that he would propose “the Josephinum assume a leadership role in this initiative.”
He also is proposing that the Josephinum’s admissions process include “an independent report generated by a firm of competent private investigators, under the supervision of a professional private investigator with extensive, high-level FBI experience.”
The investigators would check an applicant’s references, the truthfulness of his statements, his online and social media profiles, and anything else that can be learned about an applicant from a search of online records and databases. Applicants would be told that they are being investigated and that if they are found to be lying or attempting to deceive, they will be rejected, with that information placed in the national database.
Msgr. Schreck’s memorandum said he has talked with a former FBI agent who has provided such services to a diocese. He said that although it will make the admissions process more expensive for the colleges and the dioceses which send seminarians there, including this step would have “the extremely beneficial effects of adding a further independent professional layer to the process and of deterring any attempt to present falsehoods in an application.”
The proposed pre-admission interviews would take place during the summer before seminary admission for applicants living within a day’s round-trip drive of the seminary. Those living farther away would be interviewed just before the orientation period preceding the start of fall classes. “Thus,” Msgr. Schreck’s memorandum said, “all acceptances are provisional (as, in fact, they are already), pending successful completion of the interview process and successful passage of the fingerprinting and criminal background check completed here and the required Virtus training” related to prevention of sexual abuse.
Msgr. Schreck’s memorandum said the proposed admissions changes were in response to allegations against Joel Wright, 23, a former seminarian of the Josephinum and of the Diocese of Steubenville, who was arrested in San Diego on federal felony counts of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor and aggravated sexual abuse of a child.
The memorandum said “due diligence was carried out” by the seminary and the diocese in checking Wright’s background and psychologically testing him under current admissions procedures.
“Nevertheless, It is clear that in today’s world, our admissions process will benefit from the addition of components which can verify an applicant’s integrity as well as further detect deception, falsehood and the provision of incomplete information on the part of the applicant,” it said.
The executive committee of the Josephinum’s board of trustees is reviewing the proposals. Its recommendations will be given to the full board at its next meeting April 19. If approved, the changes will be put in place for the seminary’s 2016-17 formation year.
The Josephinum, founded as an orphanage in 1877, began training priests in 1888 and was given pontifical status by Pope Leo XIII four years later. The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education appoints its rector. The apostolic nuncio to the United States appoints the formation faculty and serves as its chancellor.
Puet is a reporter at the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus.