PRIESTLY FORMATION

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Carl

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I am interested in anyone’s thoughts on the formation of priests.

The reason for my interest is that I have begun to think that some priests are ordained at too early an age. Some enter seminary straight out of high school. They tend to live cloistered lives and are not ready for the real world just when the real world is ready for them. Some grow out of that condition, of course. But too many do not. Many of the clergy develop friendships with each other that tend to intensify this cloistered mentality, while at the same time remaining aloof from real friendships with the laity. The aloofness of priests has been noted by some of my own Catholic friends.

More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to develop interesting relationships with priests who were ordained in mid-life. It’s not true in every case, no doubt, but they seem to me more well rounded types. This is even more true of permanent deacons, usually ordained later in life, who tend not to hold themselves aloof from the laity. Some priests are even so remote they seem to regard deacons as rival mini-priests.

I begin to wonder if the selection process for priestly candidates
has not been partly to blame for this condition. I think in the past some dioceses took anyone who applied just to get a body at the altar. Character and aptitude were secondary considerations?

Does anyone know how the Church now screens seminarians for their likelihood to be good and serviceable priests?
 
Well, I think that you bring up some interesting thoughts. It has been my experience as well, that many priests who did not become thus until later in life are very wonderful priests. Example: Fr. John Corapi. However, there are a great number of priests who were ordained after seminary which came just after high school. or college for some. Example: Fr. Bennedict Groeschel. You will notice that the Saints are a mix. There are Saints like St. Therese of Lisieux (granted, not a priest) who were aware of their vocation from an early. (she happened to know at 5) Others do not come until later in life.

When it really comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how old you are, it all comes down to God’s will. A religious vocation is a religious vocation, the only time one gets into trouble is when they do not have a true vocation, which is usually weeded out through spiritual direction. Also, keep in mind that the priesthood is not necessarily notated by an ability to be in with the laity, where a mistake might have been made is when a priest is not correctly assigned, or has not heard his vocation correctly. Example: one inclined to the life of trappist monk most likely would not make the best parish priest. However, he may be incredibly holy nontheless.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the system that we use, as it has worked for so many years. I certainly do not hold the position that it is to blame for any failings in the priesthood. I think that problems in the Church can be attributed to nothing more and nothing less than a lack of reverence and tradition, which is something that should be corrected in seminaries, and is being done. The theologies that seminaries teach now is better than the theology they taught 30 years ago…I think that it won’t be too long before the Church will blossom with her holy and well educated priests, and we will enjoy the fruits of a renewed Church.
 
I don’t know about waiting any longer to ordain priests, for instance if I joined the seminary right now after completing one year of college I would need to get my degree in something at the seminary and then after that it would be another 8 years for sure before I was ordained a priest. That is a long time, we really can’t wait anylonger because of the priest shortage that we are experiencing. Something to say about the aloofness of priests is that the priest needs someone to talk to sometimes and who better, or who else for that matter, than his brother priests? A priest is supposed to be a member of every family but part of none, meaning that they are suposed to be involved but not picking favorites among their flock. The aloofness may be the defense mechesim of some priests so they don’t become too attached to a certian family. Peace!
 
I wonder why young seminarians are not sent out to parishes for
work experience,so that they realize exactly what they are letting
themselves in for.A few years ago,a young man did come to our
parish as a deacon and was ordained priest the following year.
However,i am suggesting they get this experience before they are as close to ordination as the aforementioned young man.
On a different issue,does anyone know what the true position is regarding vocations?I know there are never going to be enough
priests,but i seem to be getting conflicting messages.I see
parishes like my own with two priests.When i came here in 1986
there were 4 priests.One of the original four is now a Forces
Chaplain,another became a Missionary Priest in Peru and now Ecuador.Yet,i am told that over the whole world vocations have increased while Pope John Paul 2 has been our Head.The problem has been that in the West there has been a scarcity,but there have been plenty of vocations in Africa and Eastern Europe.Of course,having a vocation does not necessarily end up in an ordination.
 
“The aloofness may be the defense mechesim of some priests so they don’t become too attached to a certian family.”

Good point. I can see where some priests might become the object of competition among the laity for favored status with the priest.

But I am still concerned about the youthfulness and inexperience of most young priests. When I was young, the average seminarian came straight out of high school through seminary and was ordained by the age of twenty-five. They never knew anything but a cocoon existence, and then they are thrown out into the world to fend for themselves. I can see why they huddle together, comfort each other, and perhaps sometimes see the laity as a thing to be avoided except in the line of duty.

I’m still interested in the process by which seminarians are selected. It must have been revised since the pedophilia scandals.
Might the new guidelines also be used to weed out seminarians who have made a mistake about their vocation? Are there interviews, tests (psychological as well as physical)? Are there any publications or internet sites that discuss this matter?

Doesn’t the laity have a right to know?
 
As one who is from the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, I can’t speak for any other diocese, but I will try to explain the steps for our archdiocese.

Here, we have two seminaries, a “minor” seminary (for undergraduate students) and a “major” seminary (for the graduate studies and ordination prep). The selection process for the minor sem is not as rigorous as it is for the major sem, but there is still psychological evals and intense spiritual direction. These are mostly the kids right out of high school who are just “college students” discerning a call to the priesthood.

Once the time comes for the major sem, the discernment process is more involved, In order to enter the sem at all, the bishop must meet with you and you must have letters of reccommendation/reference from your pastor. There are also more psych evals, spiritual direction, and close ties with priests and parishes. For example, all four years of major sem, our candidates are matched with a “teaching parish”–they attend most Sunday Masses at that parish, and work very closely with the pastor and staff of that parish. There are even “teaching parish committees” where members of the congregation meets with the pastor and the seminarian regularly to discuss pastoral issues.

At the end of our seminarian’s third year, they are ordained a transitional deacon and assigned a second parish as their “deaconate” parish. They continue to go to their teaching parish as well, but basically they “put into practice” the education and gifts they have been given now on a pastoral level. Many of them do hospital ministry, or parish work, or educational work at this time, as well as doing funerals, weddings, baptisms, and of course, assisting the priests at Masses.

The following spring is the priestly ordination, and assignment to another parish for 2-3 years as an “associate” pastor. Then, usually they are assigned to at least one or two more parishes for a couple of years each as an “associate” before being given the pastorship of a parish.

I would assume this basic structure is the same for most dioceses… though from what I can see we have a lot more vocations than other dioceses–next spring we will have 16 men being ordained as priests, God willing of course! Please pray for them and for all seminarians who are working to answer God’s call!
 
Dear Carl,

I was a seminarian for a diocese for three years (98-01) and here’s my impression of the process: I applied to enter major seminary (as opposed to minor seminary, which includes college and high school) in my senior year of college. So, I had 22 years of “life experience” before entering seminary. At seminary, there are many different formative requirements: during my first year, I went to a “half-way house” each week to do ministry, during the second year I spent a weekend at three different parishes to get a sense of what life is like there. During the summer after my second year, I spent six weeks in a parish. The end of my third year was the time for my formal internship at a parish, which was about 4.5 months. (Some seminaries require a full year internship, as do some dioceses.) I officially left the seminary and diocese after this internship and entered religious life. Had i continued, I would have had more parish and ministry experience during my fourth year at seminary, including at least 10 weeks of hospital ministry. Ordination to the diaconate would have occured sometime during my fifth year of seminary and I would have been assigned to assist at a local parish on weekends during the school year, and perhaps perform other ministries during the week, like CCD or other education programs. The summer after my fifth year of seminary would have been the time for my priestly ordination.

So, in the time before any ordination, I would have spent considerable time in ministry and, like I said, some dioceses and seminaries require a full year of internship well before diaconate.

As far as the seminary life itself, certainly the seminarians spend most of their time among their classmates and at the seminary. However, it is not really “cloistered” and there are plenty of opportunities to spend “quality time” away from the seminary, among the people.

Regarding the selection process: all seminarians must have undergone physical and psychological exams. The psyc. exams are quite extensive and include meeting with a psychologist. The bishop and vocations board also meet with candidates and the candidates must fill out quite a long questionaire, which includes biographical data. This is done all at the diocesan level. At the seminary, further interviews might be required (they were for me) as well as further biographical data and questions.

During seminary itself, the monitoring and evaluation continues…

Personally, I found the selection process and formation to be quite sufficient. A priest, no matter how young or old, is still going to need some time to become a good, parish priest.

Finally, you will not find many 25 year-old priests today. The average age of those ordained is over 30…maybe close to 35. I was the among the youngest in my seminary class and wouldn’t have been ordained until I was 27.

I hope this helps. Feel free to ask other questions.
 
VERITAS AND BROTHER DAN

Thank you both for your earnest and in-depth contributions to the discussion.

Hopefully all this testing will produce the desired results, though no system can be complete and there is always temptation to deal with after ordination. I expect Satan takes a kind of special delight in taunting priests. All the more reason to pray for them and all those who are drawn to the religious life.

God bless,
Carl
 
peace be with you! i think that it is probably better in some cases that people enter the seminary or religious life at a young age. i would think that once one is out of high school it should be okay. having young priests or religious would be such an awesome witness to the youth. many priests are much older and youth often feel that they don’t understand them because they are so far removed by their age. of course, we don’t necessarily need younger priests, we need holier priests…but i think young, holy priests and religious is the best possible way to reach the youth.

i have felt the call to religious life since the age of 17 (i’m now 20) and when i talk to people about it they are generally pretty amazed that someone so young wants to give their life and youth totally to Jesus. i know i have been very moved personally by some awesome congregations that get some younger vocations (many enter between 18-25). i think that is ideal. after all, becoming a religious takes many years and is a vocation just like marriage. i would not think it better to get married at 35-40. i think the best years for marriage (assuming the couple is mature and can care for their household) would be their 20’s because that is when their lives are so much more fruitful. they would have time to bring many children into the world if that was God’s will. religious life is similar to this. if one is mature enough, it should be okay in my opinion. some seminaries tell people my age to finish college and get more life experience first. that is fine, but my problem with that is that there are not many good Catholic colleges and it can be very hard for one to stay strong in the world and they might of had a genuine vocation. maybe Christ was asking them to enter when they were young.

i think this is a really tough issue to solve or fully give an answer to…but i think it necessary to have youthful vocations yet at the same time have a good screening process and education for future priests.
 
Carl, your wondering is in line with secular society today, but we as Catholics are not to be of secular society. We are to try to change it.

Look at the solid seminaries who start formation at a very young age, The Legionaires of Christ comes to mind. They have no priest shortages and are very orthodox and loyal to Rome. Now compare many of your local Diocesan (spl?) seminaries and they are hurting for young men. Why? The answer is “the truth attracts young men.” Experience in the secualr world often leads to trouble.

God bless you,
david
 
“They have no priest shortages and are very orthodox and loyal to Rome.”

At the risk of sounding even more secular, neither orthodoxy nor loyalty to Rome are of themselves guarantees of moral character or psychological maturity.

Many of the corrupt clergy of the middle ages were only too willing to preach orthodoxy and loyalty to Rome. And if you didn’t like it, you might get burned at the stake.

The present Pope has had the courage to apologize for those past sins of the Church committed in the name of orthodoxy.
 
At the risk of sounding even more secular, neither orthodoxy nor loyalty to Rome are of themselves guarantees of moral character or psychological maturity.
Code:
Neither are those who are not orthodox and have no loyalty to Rome guarantees of moral character or psychological maturity.
Therefore, since we get a whole range of moral character, at the least we need those men who teach the truth, (orthodox) and are loyal to Rome, where the truth is preserved. A priest of good moral character who is not orthodox and who is not loyal to Rome is not only useless, but harmful to the common good.
Many of the corrupt clergy of the middle ages were only too willing to preach orthodoxy and loyalty to Rome.
If the corrupt clergy were NOT orthodox and NOT loyal to Rome, how would that make things better? Then there would no longer be any standards by which we could accuse them of being corrupt.
For example, today there are many bishops who are corrupt because they not loyal to Rome, They honor pro-abortion politicians and they are silent when Catholic politicians promote abortion. Thus, their rejection of orthodoxy makes them corrupt and at the same time confuses Catholics who are no longer taught the difference. How can these confused Catholics accuse them of being a corrupt bishop, when these same bishops don’t teach standards of right and wrong in regards to abortion? Thus it is better to be corrupt and teach what is right, then to be corrupt and in addition teach what is wrong.
The present Pope has had the courage to apologize for those past sins of the Church committed in the name of orthodoxy.
** ABSOLUTELY FALSE**. He did not apologize for the past sins of the Church. He apologized for the past sins of members of the Church who did not obey Church teachings. The Church cannot sin. Only members of the Church can sin. When the Pope sins, the Church does not sin, only the Pope sins. When the Pope teaches for all Christians, then we can say the Church teaches.
 
I am interested in anyone’s thoughts on the formation of priests.
I am not a priest, but I am an Air Force Academy graduate. Let’s see how much of your critique applies to me.
The reason for my interest is that I have begun to think that some priests are ordained at too early an age.
I was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Air Force at 22 years old. Was that too young to be given life-and-death responsibility?
Some enter seminary straight out of high school.
I entered the Academy straight out of high school. Indeed, Basic Cadet Training began 2 weeks after I graduated.
They tend to live cloistered lives and are not ready for the real world just when the real world is ready for them.
Cloistered lives at the Academy? Check. Cloistered lives living on Air Force bases? Check.
Some grow out of that condition, of course. But too many do not.
Never much liked the partying life myself. I like the cloister.
Many of the clergy develop friendships with each other that tend to intensify this cloistered mentality, while at the same time remaining aloof from real friendships with the laity.
As a cadet, we referred to non-cadet visitors to the Academy as “Touri” and to our non-cadet college peers as “smokers n’ jokers”. Check.
The aloofness of priests has been noted by some of my own Catholic friends.
Some civilians think military personnel are aloof.
More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to develop interesting relationships with priests who were ordained in mid-life. It’s not true in every case, no doubt, but they seem to me more well rounded types.
Non-commissioned officers who go on to get commissioned mid-career often are claimed to be more well-rounded.
This is even more true of permanent deacons, usually ordained later in life, who tend not to hold themselves aloof from the laity. Some priests are even so remote they seem to regard deacons as rival mini-priests.
The Air Force deacon equivalent is probably the officers commissioned through ROTC, although they outnumber the “priests” and are on par with them. They have their own cloisters by school, so sometimes they’re felt to be too removed from “The Real Air Force.”
I begin to wonder if the selection process for priestly candidates
has not been partly to blame for this condition.
Yeah, people were always kvetching about the Academy too.
I think in the past some dioceses took anyone who applied just to get a body at the altar. Character and aptitude were secondary considerations?
Oh, don’t get me started on the claim that the Academy was tougher “back in the brown shoe days.” You’re describing “nostalgia.” You can tell by the sepia tone of your memories.
Does anyone know how the Church now screens seminarians for their likelihood to be good and serviceable priests?
No, but I can tell you that the Air Force Academy has a wide variety of screening processes: Congressional appointment, application process, Prep School (for some), ASVABs, DODMERB physical, Physical Fitness Test, Basic Training, SERE training, Finals, etc.

The attrition rate for my class was historically high. We started with 1,440 and graduated just 954.

But that was back in the brown shoe days.

The point is that your critique is applicable to any profession. Try it.
 
I am interested in anyone’s thoughts on the formation of priests.
The reason for my interest is that I have begun to think that some priests are ordained at too early an age. Some enter seminary straight out of high school. They tend to live cloistered lives and are not ready for the real world just when the real world is ready for them. Some grow out of that condition, of course. But too many do not. Many of the clergy develop friendships with each other that tend to intensify this cloistered mentality, while at the same time remaining aloof from real friendships with the laity. The aloofness of priests has been noted by some of my own Catholic friends.
It is good to have men become priest at a later age, because they bring with them years of experience doing the very same things their parishioners do. It is also good to have priests who are 25-26 years old. They are able to reach out to their own generations during what often are turbulent years for them. I think this is a very valuable resource for the Church.
More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to develop interesting relationships with priests who were ordained in mid-life. It’s not true in every case, no doubt, but they seem to me more well rounded types. This is even more true of permanent deacons, usually ordained later in life, who tend not to hold themselves aloof from the laity. Some priests are even so remote they seem to regard deacons as rival mini-priests.
Priests have to have a certain standoffishness from the laity. It is not good for them to get too attached to any one person or group of people, because their vocation is to serve the Church- not just a specific parish. They are often moved around every 10 years or so- that makes it difficult to get too close to people.
I begin to wonder if the selection process for priestly candidates has not been partly to blame for this condition. I think in the past some dioceses took anyone who applied just to get a body at the altar. Character and aptitude were secondary considerations?
The selection process takes a lot of the blame for many recent conditions in the priesthood- both good ones and bad ones. With the clerical scandals and more attention given to seminary formation, the selection and formation processes are being treated more carefully than perhaps they used to be. Still- vocation is the first consideration- character and aptitude *are *secondary considerations. Some priests may not be very intelligent- that doesn’t mean they aren’t good ones. Some priests may be geniuses- but they could make lousy priests. Some priests may be the friendliest people you could ever meet- and end up having character flaws that could destroy them. Some priests may be pretty standoffish and may not personally enjoy being with other people all the time- but they may be called to the priesthood, and if they are open to God’s will, could turn out to be outstanding priests.
Does anyone know how the Church now screens seminarians for their likelihood to be good and serviceable priests?
It’s a pretty long, and complicated process. They have all sorts of psychological tests to get into minor seminary, they review each candidate’s progress every year, and they do all the tests again before they go on to major seminary, and maybe once more before they are ordained a deacon. It is a complicated, but effective process. I’m sure some bad priests still make it through now and then, but judging by the newly ordained priests I have known in recent years (most of whom are under 35 and are outstanding priests), they sure know what they are doing.
 
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