Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Court of Higher Appeal

I don't know why John Noronha's friends have decided to pull the ad hominem attack card. Their omnidirectional manifestations of anger are quickly becoming an unjustifiable disservice to the church, the priesthood, and their friend's vocation.

It's not what you do when you want to keep something quiet.

Noronha is the seminarian for the diocese of Birmingham who was dismissed yesterday from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg. Out of respect for his privacy and the delicacy of the situation, I initially withheld the disclosure of his name and other elements.

Admittedly, I promised not to post about the decision early on. But his supporters' reaction of harsh criticism toward the seminary, its administration, and the fact that the seminary's decision has been reported in the external forum have turned the decision into a festival of outrage which has superseded the original act as priestly formation stands at a crucial crossroads. In short, that reaction has made it a story in a way it wasn't earlier yesterday.

If there is no reason to fear, then why all this hubbub? The People of God have a right to transparency and a right to know, right?

The Apostolic Visitation comes to Emmitsburg in two weeks (16-21 October). You'd be a fool to think that Bishop D'Arcy & Co. won't be going over the files with a fine-tooth comb. And if you think there won't be questions and probing into this case, think again.

Ergo, the investigatory and interragatory process which led to yesterday's decision will probably and should be thoroughly reviewed by the Visitation Team (representing the Holy See) for improprities, the lack of due process and/or errors of judgment on the part of the administration. Per the Instrumentum Laboris for the process, the seminarian involved -- and all members of the formation community -- have the right and are encouraged to raise concerns to the Visitors which will be of use to their investigation and the report on the institution to be sent to Rome.

If the Visitors find that the charges against Noronha were trumped up and exploited to silence a smart guy who the administration saw as a "nuisance," as his supporters believe, he could well be cleared, even possibly restored to the seminary. Now that's a vindication.

It would be just what the very angry people in my inbox are looking for, would it not? So what's the use in venting at everyone and everything? Let the process proceed.

Protesting to keep an ecclesiastical act silent serves no one well. Protesting a disciplinary action against a seminarian who appeared to be out of compliance with at least one seminary policy shows a lack of disregard for the rules of the house and the valid authority of those who govern it. (The Mount banned its students from maintaining blogs some months ago -- Noronha's website remains active.) For his supporters to use a sad moment to lash out and accuse the seminary authorities of being "corrupt" and "rid[ding] themselves of... a truly great figure in the Church," well, that speaks for itself. But if they feel so strongly and are convinced that they're in the right, the claims deserve attention and warrant scrutiny into the allegations and the process so that the complete truth can be known. This moment does not call for a cover-up and a mulligan.

Emotions are running high, and the best thing would be for everyone involved to take a step back and to let the thing pan out. I'm honestly tired of writing about it. But for Noronha's friends and supporters to send a message to the Catholic people -- and the press -- that a matter of public relevance should be kept private, and to attack those who wish to be informed, sends no good message at all and reduces faith to a case-by-case application.

As a coda, a longtime friend of mine -- a teacher in his mid-50s -- applied for his home diocese some time ago, and the Admissions Board turned him down, pulling out all kinds of potential objections. It was a moment of anger, of sadness and of doubt for many people. He then applied for another diocese which welcomed him into their formation program with open arms. He'll be better off there, and he's a better Christian and a better seminarian for the experience. What he endured said much more about his strength of faith than it did about the hoops others made him jump through.

Just another way of saying that, on this one, the process will soon be underway. Let it proceed.



Blogger Jeff said...

I have no opinion on this one way or the other. But I don't see a blog or anything remotely like it on this seminarian's website, so how does it violate policy?

28/9/05 23:30  
Blogger Rocco Palmo said...

Jeff -- From my reading, playing the "blog ban" card would be a loose construction on the part of the authorities.

The Mount's policy reads, in part:

"Seminarians are NOT free to publish either in print or on the internet. As public persons, they no longer speak for themselves, but are associated with the Church, their diocese, and the Seminary."

By that standard, it seems a website would also fall outside the lines.

29/9/05 00:05  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks, Rocco. I get it.

So do you or does anyone have any idea why this guy is being kicked out? So far, it seems like much ado over who knows what? Why should people be upset if they have no idea what he is supposed to have done?

The whole thing is a complete mystery. Maybe there's some kind of lowdown circulating around out there, but what do people think/say is going on? Are they just saying, "This guy is great; he can't have done anything wrong; I'm going to vent my outrage?"

Very opaque story.

29/9/05 06:49  
Blogger Jon said...


All very interesting. As you know, my bishop (a very fine man) was the rector at the Mount until last year. My spiritual director is a very holy Dominican, here in Lancaster, who served as spiritual director to the seminarians there for a number of years.

That said, I've a bigger mystery for you...where the heck is Papabile? I know he wasn't going to post for a while, but it seems that someone's "no blog" policy has swept him away. As you and he are buds, I thought you might illuminate.

29/9/05 07:30  
Blogger RC said...

This guy's site is just a list of links; it's not a blog or a collection of writings. To treat this as an infraction would be ridiculous. Don't the canonical experts tell us from time to time that even canon law is not intended to be strictly obeyed with no dispensations?

To be fair, it is thinkable that the rector had some more substantial reason to remove the student, but charitably used the web site issue out of consideration for the student's reputation.

And of course it is even possible that the administration had some foolish reason for its action, and used the web site issue to protect its own reputation. If so, it didn't work. On the surface, it appears some people with poor judgment are in charge at the Mount for now.

And, oh yeah: what's the deal with Papabile?

30/9/05 01:49  

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