Vatican updates guidelines for educating priests

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church needs holy,
healthy and humble priests and that requires prayers for vocations and the
careful selection and training of candidates, said the Congregation for Clergy.

Updating 1985 guidelines for preparing men for the
Latin-rite priesthood and ensuring their continuing education, training and
support, the Congregation for Clergy Dec. 7 released “The Gift of the
Priestly Vocation,” a detailed set of guidelines and norms for priestly

The updated document draws heavily on St. John Paul II’s 1992
apostolic exhortation on priestly formation, as well as on the teaching of and
norms issued by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and by Vatican
offices over the past three decades.

It reaffirms an instruction approved by Pope Benedict in
2005, which said, “the church, while profoundly respecting the persons in
question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality,
present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay

The document insists that through courses in pastoral
theology, the example of priests and practical experience, candidates for the
priesthood learn that priestly ministry involves — as Pope Francis says —
being “shepherds ‘with the smell of the sheep,’ who live in their midst to
bring the mercy of God to them.”

Highlighting lessons learned over the past 30 years from the
clerical sexual abuse scandal, the new guidelines state, “The greatest
attention must be given to the theme of the protection of minors and vulnerable
adults, being vigilant lest those who seek admission to a seminary or to a
house of formation, or who are already petitioning to receive holy orders have
not been involved in any way with any crime or problematic behavior in this

Seminars and courses on the protection of children and
vulnerable adults must be part of both seminary education and the continuing
education of priests, it says. And bishops must be very cautious about
accepting candidates for the priesthood who have been dismissed from other

In the end, each bishop is responsible for determining which
candidate for priesthood he will ordain, but the guidelines strongly encourage
bishops to accept the judgment of seminary rectors and staff who determine a
certain candidate is unsuitable.

“Experience has shown that when ordinaries (bishops) have
not accepted the negative judgment of the community of formators, it has been the
cause of great suffering in many cases, both for the candidates themselves and
for the local churches,” the document says.

Reaffirming the requirement that seminarians study Catholic
social teaching, the document says the education must include a study of
climate change and other environmental threats.

“Protecting the environment and caring for our common
home — the Earth — belong fully to the Christian outlook on man and
reality,” the document says. Catholic priests must be “promoters of an
appropriate care for everything connected to the protection of creation.”

Seminarians should be encouraged to use social media to
build relationships and for evangelization, the guidelines say, but seminary
personnel will need to help the students use the media wisely and in a way that
is healthy.

Psychologists, whether or not on the staff of the seminary,
can provide valuable help to the seminary rector and diocesan bishop “in
the assessment of personality, expressing an opinion as to the psychological
health of the candidate and in therapeutic accompaniment, in order to shed
light on any problems that may emerge and to assist in growth in human
maturity,” the document says.

The Congregation for Clergy recommends that women be on the
staff of seminaries or teach at the universities where the candidates study and
that seminarians’ ability to relate to and work with women be considered in the
candidate’s evaluation, since the majority of parishioners with whom the future priest
will work are women.

The guidelines, which are to be adapted by national bishops’
conferences, include an outline of the stages, prayer life and specific
subjects to be studied during the six or more years of preparation for priestly

But the guidelines also acknowledge that many of the skills
needed to be a good priest cannot be learned in a classroom. They are the
result of prayer, self-discipline and seeking to model one’s behavior on that
of Christ, the document says.

“The call to be pastors of the people of God requires a
formation that makes future priests experts in the art of pastoral discernment,
that is to say, able to listen deeply to real situations and capable of good
judgment in making choices and decisions,” it says. “To make pastoral
discernment effective, the evangelical style of listening must take central
place. This frees the pastor from the temptation of abstraction, to
self-promotion, to excessive self-assurances and to that aloofness that would
make him a ‘spiritual accountant’ instead of a good Samaritan.”

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Editors: The text of the document in English can be found at: 


The text in Spanish is available at:


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