The Visitation Begins Tomorrow
The protocol of the Visitations requires a brief introductory ceremonial. The Visitors are received at the door of the institution, at which point the designated head of the group presents its Letter of Appointment to the Rector or President of the facility. A familiar face in these parts will present the letter tomorrow at Aquinas as Auxiliary Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Philadelphia will head up the first Visitation.
Known for his cheerful personality, Burbidge, 48 and a bishop since 2002, served for five years as Rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary here in Philadelphia and currently chairs the Sapientia Christiana subcommittee of the USCCB. His commitment to issues of formation runs deep -- he devoted his dissertation for a doctorate in Education to a study of the Philadelphia program of the "Spirituality Year," the program instituted before theological studies which entails a year of prayer and spiritual conferences at a former Vincentian house 90 minutes from the Seminary's main campus.
Whether intentional or not, the choice of Burbidge to head up Visitation #1 is particularly noteworthy given his unusually clear and public stance on the admission of even celibate homosexuals to a formation program.
A 2002 interview the then-Monsignor Burbidge gave to The Philadelphia Inquirer caused ripples at the time, but the dominant trend has been moving closer toward it ever since. (The interviewee was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia two months after its publication.)
Msgr. Burbidge said that priesthood candidates are asked early on if they are gay.Whatever it is, it all begins in the morning.
Should a man answer unequivocally in the affirmative, he said, "then he would not be a candidate."
Msgr. Burbidge said the bar applies even if a candidate said he intended to be chaste, or as the monsignor put it, "whether he's acting out or not...."
St. Charles has "zero tolerance" of homosexual activity, Msgr. Burbidge said, and his 162 seminarians are instructed to report any violations.
"If we would discover anything like that, we would act on it immediately" through dismissal, the rector said.
In addition, he said, Cardinal Bevilacqua tells the seminarians as a group "that if that is their orientation, they have an obligation to the church to come forward and say they are no longer a candidate."
No one has come forward in his three years as rector. Nor is he aware of students reporting any infractions in that time.
Much of the weeding-out of candidates, Msgr. Burbidge said yesterday, occurs during initial interviews with the the archdiocese's director of vocations.
"Someone might say, 'I'm gay, but I could be a good priest.' His response would be, 'You are not a candidate.' Without a doubt."
At St. Charles, Msgr. Burbidge said leeway would be granted to a seminarian who admitted to suddenly being attracted to a classmate - as long as he had not acted on it.
"We might offer some insight-oriented counseling to see what it is," he said. "Because it may not be a homosexual-defined orientation. It just may be a confusion."