The recent news that Cardinal O’Malley presided over a May 6 “symphonic homage and prayer”at Symphony Hall composed by Neocatechumenal Way founder, Kiko Arguello, made BCI think that it is about time we posted something about the Neocatechumenal Way
In view of the tremendous support Cardinal O’Malley has given the Neocatechumenate Way here in Boston, BCI has been trying to figure out the Neocatechumenates for a little while now. A year ago, we thought their fund-raiser was a good cause, but the deeper we look, the more we emerge with many more questions than answers.
In principle, the Neocatechumenate Way, founded in 1964, sounds good. Candidates for the priesthood from other countries who have a missionary zeal prepare for the priesthood here in Boston (studying at St. Johns Seminary and in their own Redemptoris Mater Seminary), are ordained diocesan priests, and then would serve as parish priests here in Boston. In practice, a few things are not quite so clear.
Here is what the archdiocesan website says:
Redemptoris Mater Seminaries seek to prepare priests for the New Evangelization. The first Redemptoris Mater Seminary was opened in the Diocese of Rome in 1987. Today there are 87 Redemptoris Mater Seminaries in the world, on five continents. To date, more than 2,000 men formed in these seminaries have already been ordained to the priesthood.
Currently in the United States there are Redemptoris Mater Seminaries in Boston, Dallas, Denver, Newark, Washington D.C. and Agana (Guam).
Cardinal Seán O’Malley officially opened the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Boston (RMSB) in 2005. In 2009, he ordained the first priest formed in this Seminary, Fr. Israel Rodriguez. Redemptoris Mater seminarians are ordained for the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Boston and are assigned by Cardinal O’Malley. Fr. Rodriguez was assigned to serve as Parochial Vicar at Immaculate Conception parish in Marlborough.
Like all Archdiocesan priests, priests formed at RMSB receive their priestly assignments from the Archbishop of Boston. Because they are formed as priests with a missionary heart, they hope to be assigned by the Archbishop to the missions for part of their priestly lives.
RMSB seminarians receive their academic formation at St. John’s Seminary and their spiritual, human and pastoral formation primarily at or through RMSB. At St. John’s, they study alongside many seminarians who, God willing, will become their brothers in the presbyterate of the Archdiocese of Boston.
RMSB assigns seminarians to serve in parishes throughout the Archdiocese. Additionally, as part of their missionary formation, RMSB seminarians go for at least two years of itinerant evangelization, typically after they complete second theology. They are sent two-by-two, living in poverty and leaning daily on the providence of God.
Seminarians and priests from the Neocatechumenal community assist the Archdiocese greatly with our outreach to ethnic communities and in continuing the great tradition of assisting the Catholic Church in various parts of the world where there is a great need.
Sounds great in principle. About 26 Neocatechumenal seminarians have studied here since their seminary was founded in 2007, and today, according to the Neocatechumenal Way newsletters, there are 20 seminarians at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary. But here are a few questions:
- Who pays for the tuition of the Neocatechumenal Way seminarians here in Boston–at both St. Johns Seminary and at Boston College, Boston University and other colleges where they study?
- Who pays for their vehicles, gas, maintenance and insurance?
- Who pays for their food, utilities, and building expenses at the location of their seminary in Brookline (former St. Lawrence rectory)
- Who pays for their medical and dental insurance?
- Who pays for their airfares for travel around the U.S. and foreign countries for their itinerant evangelization (or “itinerancy” )
- How much have these expenses totaled: $2M? $3M? $4M?
- Are these expenses paid by the Neocatechumenate Way? Or have they been paid by the Boston Archdiocese and by St. Johns Seminary?
BCI is in the process of confirming that a substantial amount of these expenses have been paid by Boston (either the Boston Archdiocese or St. Johns Seminary operating funds or endowment). One might argue for a moment it would be a worthwhile investment if it gets us more priests. But then, one must ask, if Boston pays for those expenses for the Neocatechumenal Way seminarians, does Boston do the same for all Boston seminarians?
One might also ask, what do the Neocatechumenates do with the money they raise? Are they using those funds to contribute to St. Johns Seminary for some of the tuition expenses there? Or are they using those funds for other Neo-Cat related expenses?
How many of the Neocatechumenal Way seminarians will stay in Boston after they are ordained vs be called off to another part of the country or world? When Cardinal O’Malley was asked this question in 2008 by the Boston Globe, he hedged a bit in his response:
Q: The Neocatechumenal Way folks — some of them, or all of them, will stay here?
A: They will be ordained in Boston and some may be sent to the missions, but some of them will work here, obviously with the different ethnic groups that we have. The advantage of their community is that they have many Spanish and Portuguese speaking, and in the future we see that that’s going to be a big need of the diocese.
Q: And they become ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Boston?
A: They’re diocesan priests.
BCI believes 2 Neocatechumenal priests have been ordained from the Neocatechumenal Way in Boston, and one, Fr. Israel Rodriguez, is assigned here. Apparently, they can be excardinated (formally freed from jurisdiction in this diocese and transferred to another) after 5 years, or on-demand at any time by Kiko, the NeoCat founder.
Then there are the other controversies about the Neocatechumenal Way. Those would take quite a while to detail. This post gives a few examples.
Just one of the controversies involves their liturgies. In January of this year, Pope Benedict XVI approved their non-liturgical celebrations, but affirmed that their Masses must conform to official liturgical norms. In the past, they inserted various novel practices into Masses such as standing during the Consecration, baking their own loaves of unleavened bread and receiving the consecrated bread and wine while seated around a decorated table in the center of the church and passing the Precious Blood from person to person. The Vatican also had concerns about them skipping certain Eucharistic prayer. In 2005, they were directed by the Vatican to discontinue those practices and conform to Vatican liturgical norms.
In April of this year, the Holy Father ordered the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to investigate whether the Neocatechumenal Masses are or are not in keeping with the liturgical teaching and practice of the Catholic Church. This is a “problem,” in the pope’s judgment, that is “of great urgency” for the whole Church
Besides the unusual aspects of their Masses, NeoCats also want to celebrate their Sunday Mass on Saturday evenings apart from the parish community where they are supposed to be tightly integrated. In some cases, there could be several different NeoCat communities within a single parish with their own Mass. This can have the effect of causing confusion or division within parishes as cited by the Japan bishops here .
The language used in their statutes is also a bit unusual and concerning. They refer to the parish pastor or priest as a “priest” but to the NeoCat priests as “presbyters.” Instead of referring to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the NeoCat statutes refer to Mass as a “celebration of the Eucharist.”
Here is an example of their liturgical music:
Cardinal O’Malley described a 2009 gathering of NeoCat seminarians in this blog post, including these photos of the chapel where they met and celebrated Mass:
In the 46 years since its inception, the Neocatechumenal Way has given fruits to the Church in the form of inspiring many vocations to priesthood and religious life, and that is to be commended. It is understandable for Cardinal O’Malley to be enthusiastic about the potential for Boston to have more priests, whether they were natives of Boston or coming from other countries with an evangelistic zeal. At the same time, he should also understand the total cost, net gain, and legitimate concerns.
BCI is not criticizing the Neocatechumenates–we have met many of them, and they appear to be fine men. Rather, we are saying that, with the enthusiasm about their potential, there are also important questions which should be answered. For the good of the archdiocese, Cardinal O’Malley, Msgr. Deeley, the outgoing and incoming rector osf St. Johns Seminary, and parish pastors may want to prayerfully consider these questions (and the answers to these questions) as they continue to invest in the Redemptoris Mater seminary here. What do you think?