Are Our Seminarians Over-Analyzed?

The second part of the Register’s interview with Cardinal Grocholewski about psychological screening for the priesthood.

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.”

In Part 2 of Edward Pentin’s interview with Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the prefect of the congregation, he spoke about how the document is being received by bishops and psychologists and his regret that the document was misrepresented by the mass media.

How important should psychological screening be in the future admission of candidates to the priesthood?

Making use of experts in the psychological sciences can only ever be secondary, or auxiliary, to put it a better way. As the document mentions on three occasions, it is only useful “in some cases,” exceptional cases that present special difficulties. The experts, beyond recognizing true pathologies, can also give their opinion on diagnoses or about a therapy that may be useful, or provide psychological support for the development of those human qualities that the exercise of the priestly ministry demands.

In any case, the document makes it clear that the use of psychology must not be a mandatory or routine practice in the admission and formation of candidates to the priesthood.

In no way can experts in the psychological sciences replace those persons who are responsible for discerning and training candidates for the priesthood. Their role is only to bring something extra, to assist within the whole framework of formation.

As a result, the document states that the experts in the psychological sciences cannot be part of the team of formators.

Much of the media focused on how this screening might be used in preventing homosexuals from admission to seminaries. How much is this document about that and a response to the cases of sexual abuse by priests on minors?

The document does not mention homosexuals, and as we prepared the document, we were not thinking about the problem of homosexuality nor about the cases of sexual abuse.

We were simply thinking about what the document actually says; that is, to give guidelines about the proper use of psychology in vocational discernment and in the formation of priests, bearing in mind the good of the Church, the need for healthy and effective pastors, and the good of the people who want to enter the seminary.

How is this document being received in the dioceses?

I think the document has been well received, not only by bishops but also by psychologists and psychiatrists who have written or spoken about it to us. It has been praised especially for its balance and its due consideration of the specific supernatural qualities of the ministerial priesthood, and thus, of vocational discernment and adequate training.

We are sorry that the press often reported on our document in a very tendentious manner from the angle of homosexuality, without taking the effort to read it carefully.

Is there a danger, perhaps, that the Vatican is giving too much credibility to psychology and psychiatry through this document?

In view of what I’ve said, that psychology and psychiatry may be used only as an auxiliary aid, and, moreover, bearing in mind the other main points of the document, I do not think we can talk about too much credibility being attached to these sciences.

What are the other main findings of the document?

I would like to present them schematically:

• As a result of a particular gift of God, the vocation to the priesthood and its discernment lie outside the narrow competence of psychology.

• Because it is a gift that is given in the Church and through the Church, it is up to the Church to discern the vocation and suitability of candidates for priestly ministry.

• It is the bishop, as the first representative of Christ in priestly formation, who has the ultimate responsibility to recognize and confirm the authentic call to the ordained ministry. The document recalls Canon 1052 of the Code of Canon Law, according to which the bishop, in order to proceed with the ordination, must have moral certainty about the suitability of a candidate, proven with positive arguments, and, in case of a motivated doubt, should not proceed with ordination.

• Regarding the education of candidates to the priesthood, formators play a major role, and therefore, of great importance is their own adequate preparation, which includes vocational pedagogy.

• A unique role, also in the field of human formation, is played by the spiritual director, inasmuch as the spiritual life in itself promotes growth in the human virtues. It is rightly emphasized in Pastores Dabo Vobis [The Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day] that spiritual formation constitutes “the heart that unifies and brings to life who a priest is and what a priest does,” and thus constitutes the heart of all priestly formation. The help of the spiritual director and confessor is, therefore, essential and indispensable.

Spiritual direction, in fact, cannot in any way be mistaken for, or replaced by, forms of analysis or psychological help.

• One cannot ignore the importance of divine grace, inasmuch as adequate formation can be achieved only through the candidate cooperating daily with the work of grace. The document speaks, therefore, of “relying on the indispensable help of grace.”

• In light of what has been said, we understand that the role of psychology is only an auxiliary one, as I mentioned earlier. Let me add here that the document notes that the help of the psychological sciences must be integrated as part of the overall formation of candidates in a way that does not hamper, but safeguards the inalienable value of spiritual accompaniment.

• As for the psychological experts, we must resort to those who are inspired by Christian anthropology on issues concerning the human person, sexuality, vocation, celibacy, and so on.

• To guarantee the right to a good reputation and to defend the candidate’s privacy, there is a need for the candidate’s prior, explicit and free consent, both for the psychological consultation to take place and for its results to be delivered to the formators. The results must only be used for formation purposes.

I think I have synthetically presented an overview regarding the principal affirmations of the document.

What happens if the candidate for the priesthood does not give his consent to the test, despite the formators asking him to do so? Or, having received the expertise of psychologists, doesn’t permit the report to be delivered to the formators?

Obviously, the candidate is free to do so. Anyway, if the bishop, not having the results of a psychological consultation, remains in doubt about the suitability of the candidate, he cannot ordain him as a priest.

In fact, Canon 1052 states that to proceed to ordination, the suitability of the candidate must be tested “with positive arguments,” and in case of a motivated doubt, one cannot proceed to ordination.

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.

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