Pope Francis issues new education standards for future priests

Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Jan. 28. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Jan. 28. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic university programs in philosophy, theology and canon law -- especially those designed for future priests -- must be marked by fidelity to church tradition, academic rigor and an awareness of the challenges to belief in the modern world, Pope Francis said.

In the apostolic constitution "Veritatis Gaudium" ("The Joy of Truth"), the pope issued revised norms for what are known as "ecclesiastical universities and faculties" -- those that grant Vatican-recognized degrees, which are necessary for teaching most philosophy, theology and canon law courses in seminaries and pontifical universities.

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Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, presented the document to the press Jan. 29 at the Vatican, saying it "indicates the meaning and, more specifically, the basic criteria for a renewal and relaunching of the contribution of ecclesiastical studies to a missionary church that 'goes forth.'"

The constitution replaces "Sapientia Christiana" ("Christian Wisdom"), an apostolic constitution issued by St. John Paul II in 1979; the new document includes the amendments made to the norms in "Sapientia Christiana" by St. John Paul in 2002, by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 and by Pope Francis in 2015, the cardinal said.

Pope Francis wrote in the new constitution that it was time "to promote with thoughtful and prophetic determination the renewal of ecclesiastical studies at every level, as part of the new phase of the church's mission, marked by witness to the joy born of encountering Jesus and proclaiming his Gospel."

A key motivation, he said, was to find ways to respond positively to the call of the Second Vatican Council "to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral care, between faith and life."

The study of theology, Pope Francis wrote, "is fruitful only if it is done with an open mind and on one's knees," so it must be based both on sound academic investigation and a deep faith.

A key motivation was to find ways to respond positively to the call of the Second Vatican Council "to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral care, between faith and life."

A missionary approach to Catholic philosophy, theology and canon law studies, he said, must take into account the "social and cultural meditation on the Gospel undertaken by the people of God in different continental areas and in dialogue with diverse cultures," as well as modern scientific discoveries, modern challenges to human life and dignity and threats to the environment.

"Theology must doubtless be rooted and grounded in sacred Scripture and in the living tradition," the pope wrote, "but for this very reason it must simultaneously accompany cultural and social processes and, particularly, difficult transitions."

Only when those who teach in the church's name know its tradition, love its faith and understand the modern world will they be able to engage in "creative apologetics" that help people see how the responses to their deepest desires can be fulfilled by faith in Christ, the pope wrote.

Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, told reporters the new constitution will have to be implemented by the Catholic Church's 289 ecclesiastical faculties and the 503 related institutions that issue Vatican-recognized degrees. In North America, he said, there are 19 ecclesiastical faculties and 25 related institutes.

In North America, he said, there are 19 ecclesiastical faculties and 25 related institutes.

The new constitution, he said, does not replace or change the apostolic constitution "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," which provides more general norms for the world's 1,365 Catholic colleges and universities, except for the ecclesiastical faculties of theology, philosophy or canon law that may be part of those universities.

However, he said, he hoped the new document would inspire all Catholic universities to ensure their theology departments "are not left in a corner by themselves," but are actively in dialogue and wrestling with the questions posed by other university departments, especially as regards Catholic social teaching.

The archbishop also said the new constitution, for the first time, makes provisions for those pursuing ecclesiastical degrees to complete a portion of their studies online and, recognizing the reality of the migration phenomenon, provides guidance for evaluating the studies completed previously by migrants who do not have the documentation to prove they successfully completed some of their studies.

Unlike "Sapientia Christiana," the new constitution foresees the possibility of an ecclesiastical faculty including a professor or professors from other Christian churches or other religions, he said. The document insists, though, that they not teach students in the "first cycle," the initial years of study.

The first cycle, Archbishop Zani said, is designed to provide students with a foundation in Catholic philosophy, Scripture and Catholic theology. Once that foundation is laid, he said, "it is a great gift to be able to have the expertise and knowledge" of professors who respect the Catholic Church but have studied the Christian community or religion to which they belong.

The archbishop pointed to Rome's Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies where, he said, it would make little sense not to offer students a chance to learn from and dialogue with professors who have studied Islam from the inside.

Many of the articles in the new constitution are taken directly from "Sapientia Christiana," including the regulation that from ecclesiastical faculties "honorary doctorates are not to be conferred except with the consent of the chancellor, who, having listened to the opinion of the university or faculty council, has obtained the nihil obstat of the Holy See."

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Nora Bolcon
5 months 3 weeks ago

Unfortunately, what our Pope, priests and whole hierarchy need to come to terms with is that some of our traditions need to change, and some of our laws need to change.

Our Pope states: "Only when those who teach in the church's name know its tradition, love its faith and understand the modern world will they be able to engage in "creative apologetics" that help people see how the responses to their deepest desires can be fulfilled by faith in Christ."

The unjust, unequal, therefore unrighteous, therefore anti-Christian teachings of our church regarding priesthood itself and its laws as to who is not good enough, sacred enough, or worthy enough to be a priest, namely, All women, will not become un-harmful, less self-destructive or less hate-filled when we have them described to us in a modern language. This is because these laws and traditions were always hideous in the older language too, even in the past.

Our church loves to pretend that sexism, unlike all the other biases that demand we treat certain groups of people less than everyone else, is merely a cultural thing not really a human dignity issue. However, this is a sinful deception on our part. The truth is that sexism is not now, nor has it been in the past, nor will it ever be in the future, a mere culture thing. It cannot be justly argued that to degrade women, strip women of equal sacramentality, respect, or access to some or any kind of authority that men have or are given in church or in government is a mere culture thing. It is too damaging to the humanity of that group to consider these types of issues as cultural first dignity and justice issues only second if at all. Now the issues may also be cultural. However, like with the practice of human sacrifice, if a tribe is committing human sacrifice and missionaries are sent to convert the tribe, the missionaries don't excuse the human sacrifice, just for this group, because it is an intrinsic part of their culture. Instead, the missionaries must tell the tribes people that in order to be baptized, they must agree to first stop this practice of sacrificing humans to false gods.

If we do not soon face this evil we have installed in our church, and get rid of it completely and immediately, I believe our church will pay even more greatly in the future for its arrogance, and stubbornness in its misogyny than it has paid in the past.

Let us use our time and energy to change what matters now and stop playing games with Justice, and the Gospel Truth.

Mike McDermott
5 months 3 weeks ago

Nora, Sorry you are so hurt by your understanding of Church teaching. The male priesthood was given to us by Jesus Christ, according to the Catholic Catechism. Do you have a copy? There are numerous constructive and beautiful explanations of the complementarity and equality of men and women.

Please understand, being treated equally by God and the Church does not mean being treated the same. God made us men and women with unique roles. Most obviously in reproduction, where no biological male can bear and nurse a child. Women not being priests does not make women less equal, any more than men not able to bear a child makes men less equal.

That said there is no doubt sexism (and many other sins) practiced by many Catholics, including many priests and bishops. When we see serious sins practiced by people in authority, we should not tolerate it.

Luis Gutierrez
5 months 2 weeks ago

I think there is a difference between the natural, consubstantial complementarity of man and woman, who share one and the same human nature in the flesh, and the artificial, patriarchal complementarianism of gender stereotypes. My take is that the exclusively male priesthood is based on patriarchal gender ideology, not natural law; and the Church would do well to clarify this issue, in both doctrine and practice, because it is a critical issue and it is not going away.

Nora Bolcon
5 months 2 weeks ago

Michael, I am sorry that you choose to accept a catechism full of misogyny and sexism and are so willing to treat it like something else. The definition of sexism is only this: to treat one gender differently than another, and often less, or more restricted, based on their gender alone. Our teaching and catechism do teach sexism and that sexism is thoroughly described by the common definition that I just gave you.

You need to stop hiding from the sin your are supporting to commit against your sisters and so does our church. Our church treated black people just as badly and even owned black slaves less than 200 years ago. Our church has murdered to keep misogyny and other lies in place in its history. It has also over the years recognized its own sinful and erroneous and harmful teachings and traditions in various areas and changed them. This teaching banning women, without any gospel given right to do so, from priesthood can also change and must.

Women and men are both capable of becoming equally parents and both are capable of feeding and raising their children. Your choice to use this absurd argument is pure sexism and extremely sinful and self-destructive to our church and to all of its women and even men. You use an ability to nurse a baby as a reason to rob women of all sacramental authority and voice in our church. That is an extreme punishment for the sin of being able to nurse a baby. If you don't view that activity as a sin, then you should not punish women at all for the capability. Also both men and women represent Christ equally, as he represented both men and women in his sacrifice or his sacrifice could only save men and not women and we do not teach this.

Being treated as though one can never be ordained despite God Almighty calling the women's heart to that role and ordination and sacrament based solely on her gender is in direct conflict with the Gospel Commandment we must treat all the same and with love and never treat anyone any differently than we wish to be treated ourselves. Sexism is hate just like racism is hate. Women and men are no more or less complimentary to one another than different races are complimentary. All human beings are complimentary to each other and all are different than each other. In fact, recent science done wide scale from Britain has shown that different gender's minds may be slightly different in form but their working and way of thinking is actually less different than between different groups of men and women. So to use your way of treating people as a template, it could be construed that racism should be more allowed than sexism as a bias against ordaining people to priesthood since certain groups of men are more different from each other than women and men.

On a recent survey, last year, of many NONES (non-religious-affiliated) who had left Catholicism, they gave as one of their top reasons for leaving: Catholics aren't very Christian. While we refuse to treat each other exactly the same despite gender, race, ethnicity, we sin and break Jesus Christ's very plain and simple commandment on how to treat everyone. There are no exceptions to this commandment in any Gospel. Jesus picked 12 Israelite Men because to fulfill the prophesy to Abraham and King David the church had to begin based on a lineage of Abraham. This is why Jesus refers to the Apostles not as priests, and none of them were Levites, but as judges for the 12 tribes of Israel (for those who died before Christ's birth). Because lineage was necessary to fulfill the promises, the apostles had to be both men (because only men can pass down lineage thru their blood) and Israelite (they had to have Abraham's blood in them to have the correct lineage to pass). 99% of all clergy since St. Peter (who was also never officially ordained anything himself documented anywhere in the New Testament) are of gentile blood and could never have been one of the original apostles any more than a women - they had the wrong blood.

Hierarchy may be necessary after Christ but there is no use for patriarchy as patriarchy is only useful when lineage is the basis for rule (if our Popes had children and their children were given rule of the church because of their Father's bloodline). Patriarchy without a lineage role is not only silly but extremely harmful as it becomes a bias whose only purpose left can be the subjugation and oppression of women. Unfortunately, that is exactly how it has been used in our church and Christ would never have supported it. Christ chose Mary Magdalene as the Apostle to the Apostles and had many other female disciples and he never treated them as less or restricted them from learning or teaching or ministering in his name.

Patty Bennett
5 months 2 weeks ago

Wow! I will pray for you. Really I will. It's obvious that you must have been wounded deeply, because you sure are TOUCHY! I'm not saying this for the purpose of insulting you, although your comments do seem to indicate that you very easily take things that way. I too, am a woman, and I can't imagine flying into a rage because I can't be a priest!
Just hoping that lightening up might make your life a little easier. I won't have time to reply, but please, think about it. I really hope for your happiness.

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