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New NAC rector delayed over candidates' list deadlock

The American seminary in Rome announced Wednesday that its outgoing rector will stay in office another six months, extending a term of office that had been scheduled to conclude January 31.

The announcement comes as the seminary’s governing board and Vatican officials have failed to reach agreement on who should succeed Fr. Peter Harman, an Illinois priest who has worked at the seminary since 2013.

Sign at the Pontifical North American College, Rome. Credit: Gabe Knezek (cc BY 2.0)

Harman was appointed to a five-year term as rector in 2016, which was first extended for one year amid the coronavirus pandemic, and extended again this week amid the search for his replacement.

Sources close to the seminary board told The Pillar that the search for a new rector at the Pontifical North American College has reached something of a deadlock.

While the NAC’s board of governors have submitted the name of their preferred successor to Harman to the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, The Pillar was told, the name was not submitted as part of a required shortlist of three candidates, leading to a protracted exchange between the seminary board and Rome.

With the board and the Vatican congregation effectively deadlocked over the need for a wider selection of candidates, sources close to the seminary said Vatican officials will look to involve American cardinals not on the board, including Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the cardinal camerlengo and prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, in Rome, to identify suitable prospects for the seminary job.

“It has not gone as smoothly as anyone would have hoped,” one source told The Pillar.

“[The board] tried to get things done quickly and, ironically, it’s created a real delay. Instead of getting the one guy [they] want, there’s now going to be a conversation about some [they] never would have considered in the first place,” another source close to the appointment process said.

Harman’s tenure at seminary has not been without controversy. In an early 2021, a former seminarian alleged in a lawsuit he had that had faced retaliatory dismissal after witnessing sexually inappropriate behavior involving the seminary’s vice rector, Fr. Adam Park. The former seminarian, Anthony Gorgia, alleged that Harman had covered up that behavior.

The seminary has denied those allegations, and said it will defend itself in court. Park, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, stepped down from his position at the seminary in August 2021.

At the same time, American bishops have found themselves in ongoing and tense discussions with the Vatican over what exactly seminary formation should look like.

Central to the dispute is a Vatican requirement that an initial “propaedeutic” period of formation take place separately from other kinds of priestly formation, in a year set apart from other academic studies. U.S. bishops have argued that a period of spiritual formation could take place at the same time as the early stages of academic seminary formation, rather than extending the time required for a man to be formed for priestly ordination.

The Pillar contacted several members of the seminary’s board of governance Wednesday for comment on the selection process of a new rector, each declined to comment.

The North American College said Jan. 12 that the Congregation for Clergy “in consultation with the college’s Board of Governors, will name Fr. Harman’s successor in the coming months.”

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