At the end of October last year, the Congregation for Catholic Education released a new document called “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.”

The Vatican text said the use of psychological consultation and testing was appropriate in “exceptional cases that present particular difficulties” in seminary admission and formation.

In the first of a two-part interview, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the prefect of the congregation, spoke Dec. 18 about the reasons behind the clarification and what it entails.

Why has this document been released at this time?

There are three reasons that must be considered together. The first is that priestly formation in its integrity — as well as the “spiritual” and “intellectual” (especially theological) and “pastoral” dimensions — also includes the “human” dimension, which, as the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis [The Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day] makes clear, is, “the foundation of all priestly formation.”

We are dealing here with forming human maturity, in the sense of responsibility, consistency, ability for self-control, and so on.

The document highlights specific aspects of human formation in view of the priesthood; namely, the ability to live out the richness of their own affectivity in giving themselves to God and to others, knowing how to overcome wounds that can become a real obstacle to living a life according to the style of Jesus, the Good Shepherd; knowing how to live a life of chastity in celibacy without jeopardizing balance in their emotions and relationships; the knowledge of themselves, of their own potential and vulnerabilities, and comparing their own personalities with the ideals proclaimed by the Church.

As regards this reason, which was and is always valid, I’d like to note that the post-conciliar magisterium has repeatedly made pronouncements on the appropriateness, in particular circumstances, of using psychology to discern the authenticity of a priestly vocation before a candidate is ordained.

So, from this point of view, the [document] isn’t saying something new.

Besides this reason, which remains valid today, there are two other reasons which have made the issue particularly topical.

The first is today’s social and cultural context that influences, to a greater or lesser degree, the mentality of candidates presenting themselves to the seminary, creating, in some cases, wounds that may affect their ability to move forward on the path of formation for the priesthood and priestly life.

I am thinking here of a consumer mentality, moral relativism, instability in family and other relationships, publicized sexuality and erroneous views on sexuality, the precariousness of choices, the systematic denial of values, and so on.

These elements, as well as particular experiences lived before entering the seminary, may influence, more or less profoundly, the personality of candidates and especially their emotional maturity, resulting, in some cases, in a fragile character, precariousness in making vocational choices, and a lack of certainty about their vocation. Moreover, we cannot exclude the possibility of various pathologies.

This situation has determined the third reason for publishing our document: In some seminaries, in light of the great progress in the psychological sciences, too much importance has been given to experts in these sciences in the discernment of priestly vocations and in the priestly formation of seminarians.

In other seminaries, the fact that there are different schools of psychology and the fact that these schools generally ignore Christian anthropology have led to a certain diffidence towards psychology, so that recourse is hardly ever made to the possible contribution that it could make.

So the congregation, after consulting other departments of the Roman Curia and many experts, considered it appropriate to give practical guidance about the use of psychology in the admission and training of candidates for the priestly ministry.

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.