Ohio seminary approves changes to strengthen admissions process

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS) -- Three initiatives designed to strengthen the admissions process at the Pontifical College Josephinum have been approved by the school's board of trustees.

The initiatives include a formal recommendation to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to establish a national database listing all applications to each seminary and houses of formation in the United States; hiring a qualified private investigative agency to assist in verifying the integrity of all applicants, including a review of their social media postings; and interviews for all applicants with a representative of the seminary's admissions committee and the seminary's director of psychological evaluation and counseling.

School officials planned to have the new practices in place for the 2016-17 academic year.

The admissions changes were proposed by Msgr. Christopher Schreck, the seminary's rector-president, in March in response to criminal allegations against Joel Wright, 23, a former seminarian at the Ohio school and the Diocese of Steubenville.

Wright was arrested in San Diego in January on federal felony charges. He pleaded guilty April 13 to one charge of attempted enticement of a minor as part of a plea agreement in which he said he traveled to Mexico with the intent of molesting children. He is to be sentenced July 1. The charge carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Msgr. Schreck said in March that "due diligence was carried out" by the seminary and the diocese in checking Wright's background and psychologically testing him under then-existing admission procedures.

The database proposed by the seminary rector would track all formal applications to U.S. dioceses, seminaries and religious orders and list the status of such applications as being admitted, deferred, rejected or withdrawn.

In a memorandum proposing the idea to the USCCB's Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Msgr. Schreck 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 of seminary and had been deferred or rejected, independent of the applicant's truthfulness in answering the questions on the application form."

Background checks of applicants to the Josephinum, the only seminary outside of Italy with pontifical status, would allow for more thorough vetting of potential students and would have "the extremely beneficial effects of adding a further independent professional lawyer to the process and of deterring any attempt to present falsehoods in an application," Msgr. Schreck's memorandum said.

The planned pre-admission interviews would take place during the summer before admission for applicants living within a day's round-trip drive of the seminary. Applicants living farther away would be interviewed just before the orientation period before 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.

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Puet is a reporter at the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus.