Daily Archives: January 10, 2011

Ushaw College’s Closure Poses Interesting Questions

No alternative Catholic use for all of this? Really?

You can read on the always excellent The Hermeneutic of Continuity blog the news about the impending closure of Ushaw College, with the Seminary of St. Cuthbert and all related activities. You can click here to sign a petition meant at stalling all decisions until a more reflected study and a more thorough exam of alternatives has been completed.

Being rather conservative in matter of money, I will not speak against the closure with the usual argument about the loss of jobs and the like. I do think that economic realities must always be considered if the Church’s patrimony is to be managed wisely, which I think it must.

Having said that, I do have the following questions.

1) I visited Ushaw College’s internet presence. It appears to me that when they talk about “formation” they mean “formation of priests”, as you can read here. I might be wrong here but if I am right it is not entirely surprising to me that an institution which lists the formation of its student as “human” first, “Intellectual” second, “pastoral” third and “spiritual” at the fourth and last place should have some problem in filling its ranks. If I were an aspiring priest and had the possibility of choosing, I’d avoid this place with some zeal. In general, it is not surprising that with such a mentality the vocations in the region should be scarce. I wonder whether the SSPX (whose number of aspiring priests is simply exploding) would see the priorities in the same way.

Similarly, if you read here you start to understand why these institutions are in crisis. “Spontaneous intercessions” and “sharing thoughts and ideas” are, well, so Seventies. This doesn’t look to me like a place striving to create Christ’s soldiers of tomorrow, but the surrender monkeys of yesterday. I can make at least an example of an organisation calling its seminary St. Michael’s school. Can’t imagine much of “spontaneous intercessions” and “sharing of thoughts and ideas” there but would you believe it? They thrive!

2) Without being informed about the details, I assume that the place is entirely paid for. No mortgages, no interests. Beautiful as the place is (and therefore, probably, not inexpensive in the upkeep), I cannot easily imagine that the costs for the maintenance of the structure are of such dramatic scale as to make the situation beyond remedy. This is one of those situations where it is difficult to understand if one is trying to keep the place open, or to shut the place down.

3) It would be interesting to know what happens of the entire place once the institution is closed down. What happens to the ground and the real estate of the structure? Does it pass in the diocese’s property? If this is the case, are the buildings listed? Is the land valuable? How much of the entire structure can be sold to, say, local developers?
I am not being cynical here. Just drawing from past experiences. If the place were to pass lock, stock and barrel into SSPX ownership I wouldn’t be concerned in the least.

4) I personally would be very curious to have the numbers put into proper perspective, as in: how much the structure is in the red, how much this represents in percentage of the resources of the institution covering the deficit (the archdiocese?); how much this institution spends for tasks which might reasonably be seen as more deserving of cuts than the college (from travel to inter-faith groups and initiatives of various kind to the apparatus of press officers and administrative personnel). A world in which seminars are closed before press offices doesn’t seem to me entirely in keeping with the running of a diocese. I can tell you that there was a time where the seminars were open and no one knew what press offices were, but the Church thrived. Perhaps there is a connection here?

5) I wonder whether in a privately run structure the organisation would be simply “closed”. Rather, there would be a thorough exam of what doesn’t work and why. In a structure with shareholders, you have to account for your own resources. If you have a valuable structure available, the question would be raised what else you can do with that. What is not viable as a seminary can be viable for paid hospitality or the revenues used to try to contribute for the costs of the structure. If the travel business is doing well, perhaps more money could be put in it and enlarge what works already instead of closing everything, and so on. Just some ideas, but I don’t know of any private company who would just say to his stakeholders “we close everything; we don’t tell you why; we don’t tell you what alternative solutions we have examined, we don’t even tell you whether we have done it in the first place; and that’s that”. As I have said before, the Church’s resources must be used wisely. If this is the case here, the wisdom is being sedulously hidden from sight.

6) We are in a situation where not only an Ordinariate is being created, but conservative orders from all over the English speaking world are thriving and needing new space. I wonder why an institution in need of a new orientation could not try to perpetuate its existence offering the structure for the use of others who may have need of it. This would ensure that the sacrifices made by past generations continue to be used to host Catholic activities rather than, say, a residential development.

This route should, I think, at least be tried. I can’t imagine an appeal to all the Catholic world saying “Biggish compound with stunningly beautiful 400-seat chapel available for use from every Catholic organisation offering to pay for upkeep and presenting a valid plan for its Catholic use” being made and the appeal remaining unanswered. I really can’t.

In conclusion, it seems to me that such events should give us reason to seriously reflect whether there isn’t something questionable in the way the faithful’s money are used. It doesn’t mean that the seminary shouldn’t be closed whatever the cost of keeping it open and from what I have read it seems to me that the average quality of Catholic seminaries will be improved as a result. But it means that beautiful, expensive structures created with the sacrifices of past generation of Catholics are not just “closed” whilst – just to make an example – the press offices (used to pay people like this chap) remain open.






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