'Rough Diamonds’

Pope Francis is concerned about the formation candidates for the priesthood are receiving and is well aware that all is not well behind the walls of seminaries in some countries, and also in Rome, sources say.

The Argentine pope knows there is a tendency in some seminaries to return to a pre-Vatican II style of formation and way of thinking, sources confirm. He’s cognizant of the fact that in seminaries in a number of countries, and in some national colleges in Rome, young men openly, and with a sense of pride, identify themselves as “John Paul II seminarians” or “Benedict XVI seminarians.”


Some ambassadors to the Holy See have drawn my attention to this too and asked: “What kind of priests will these men be when they go to work in parishes or take other posts of responsibility in the church?”

Seminaries are the formation centers for future priests and bishops, and what happens there is crucial for the future of the church, so in this week’s Vatican Dispatch I will take a first glance at what Pope Francis has done and is doing in this area.

In the last year of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, Mauro Piacenza, 69, then the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, who was a disciple of the late Cardinal Siri of Genoa and of a decidedly “conservative” mind-set, like his mentor, won his battle to bring the seminaries of the world under the control of his congregation. The move took place in January 2013. Before that date, seminaries had been under the Congregation for Catholic Education.

It was a short-lived victory, however. On Sept. 21, 2013, six months after the election of Pope Francis, the new pope, in a highly significant reforming move, transferred Piacenza from that important post to the office of Major Penitentiary and replaced him with Archbishop (now cardinal) Beniamino Stella, a Holy See diplomat who was then head of the Vatican’s academy for diplomats.

At the same time Pope Francis brought in from Mexico Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong, the 56-year-old bishop of Papantla, a pastor very much in the pope’s own mold, and appointed him to the newly created post of secretary for seminaries in the Congregation for the Clergy. It was the clearest indication yet that Pope Francis wanted to give high priority to the formation of seminarians and of course, with Stella, to the clergy and their permanent formation.

On Oct. 3, addressing the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Clergy, Pope Francis zoned in on three topics: vocation, formation and evangelization. He described a vocation as “a treasure hidden in a field,” which has to be “discovered.” God calls some people to follow him and serve him in the ordained ministry, “but we must do our part, which is the response of the man, of the church to the gift of God.” Bishops must discern carefully when accepting candidates for the priesthood; failure to do this can have disastrous consequences for the people of God, as can be seen in some dioceses today, he said.

“It’s necessary to study well the course of a vocation! Examine well if it’s from the Lord, if that man is healthy, if he is balanced, if that man is capable of giving life, of evangelizing, if that man is capable of forming a family and of renouncing this to follow Jesus,” he insisted.

It is necessary to safeguard and help the vocation grow so that it may bear mature fruit, he insisted.

Vocations are “rough diamonds” that “have to be worked on with care, with respect for the conscience of persons and with patience, so that they may shine in the midst of the people of God,” the pope said.

“Formation is therefore not a unilateral act through which someone transmits theological or spiritual notions,” he said. “Jesus did not say to those he called: ‘Come and I will explain’; ‘Follow me; I will instruct you.’ No! The formation offered by Christ to his disciples came instead through a ‘Come and follow me’; ‘Do as I do.’

“That is the method that the church wishes to adopt today for its ministers,” Pope Francis stated. “The formation we speak of is an experience of discipleship, which brings one close to Christ and allows one to conform oneself ever more to him.” It concerns the seminarian’s intellectual, human and spiritual development. Moreover, “every vocation is for mission...for evangelization.”

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio always gave great attention to the formation and accompaniment of seminarians. As pope he is doing likewise.

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Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 6 months ago
I sure would love to see some rising YOUNG Berrigans, Richard Rohrs, Roy Bourgeois, Dorothy Days, Greg Boyles and Helen Prejeans in the American Catholic Church, instead of so many rosary processions. Not that rosary processions are not important.
Mike Evans
3 years 6 months ago
One does not progress in the seminary espousing any liberal or radical notions. Instead candidates keep their heads down and stay under the radar. Not surprisingly, they are only exposed to very conservative views. Peer pressure from other immature and cautious folk make this their only exposure to major issues.
Veronica Meidus-Heilpern
3 years 6 months ago
Hopefully, in response to Mike Evans and others,the experience that novice seminarians have in their interning with active parishes and pastors who can expose them to real-world parishoners and experiences, help modify the clericalism and ideology of "follow the church" rather than "FOLLOW CHRIST" with which new young priests move out to practice their vocation. Fortunately, I have met a couple of seminarians who do take to heart the messages of our Holy Father and HIS Teacher, Jesus Christ.
Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 6 months ago
I think that part of the problem is that many of us who moved "underground" during the JP2 and B16 years are not yet established in a parish community. How I would have loved to have been part of a Vatican 2 community the last 25 years, but, alas, there were none to be found so I stayed on the margins, attending Mass in monasteries, hospitals, and out of the way places. The local parish church was not for me. I know many, many so called "lapsed" Catholics who share the same sentiment. We could not find our home. Now, with Francis, and changes at the local level, we dare to believe that there will again be a community for us in the Catholic Church, and that the young priests/seminarians will understand where we are coming from and what we are about.
Mike Evans
3 years 6 months ago
Our recent experiences with newly ordained indicate that a very poor formation in liturgy, preaching, pastoral care, and dedication to the poor are combined with a certain clericalism. There is no training in parish administration. The humility a young priest should exhibit is missing, and too many of them, including recent immigrants, are appointed as pastors with as little as 3 years of experience in a parish. Their apprenticeship is truncated, their own experience of living in the real world sometimes non-existent, and their ongoing education and training consists mostly of following a bishop's orders and canon law. So many young immigrants have no real experience of American life. It is no wonder that the laity relies less and less upon their leadership and utterances.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 6 months ago
Yes, unfortunately too many neophyte priests behave like wannabe princes, reflecting their flawed seminary training. This promises I fear, eminent clones who in procession, love regal attired, including a lengthy scarlet train flowing like a miniature “red sea” behind them. These shepherds do not “smell like their sheep” as Pope Francis says priests and Bishop should smell, fragrancing the Church with a heavenly reality all its own! Why is it that these young men favor cardboard-stiff Romanesque, rather than the easy flowing Gothic liturgical vestments, including that useless relic called “maniple” formerly a Roman handkerchief used to remove sweat and body grime? They are also crazy in love with the Latin language, about which long before Vatican II, a young priest told me using Latin liturgically was for him like “praying in a foreign tongue to an unknown God!” See what flawed training does – it tends to give the impression that at the Last Supper, or First Eucharist that I prefer, Jesus “reclining” as the Gospel says at the close to the floor table dressed no doubt in a stiff-back Romanesque chasuble, maniple and all, using Latin sang out “Dominus Vobiscum!” as the Apostles scratched their heads! This of course is an exaggeration, used to focus on the troubling mindset of too many young priests . The most troubling aspect of the messed-up seminary training is I fear, that ten or less years down the pike, young priests weary from their swim against the tide, ears of soul plugged to the cooing of the Spirit Dove, will simply abandon the rectory and there goes another needed priest down the drain so to speak. Let’s pray for all priests, especially the confused ones misled by flawed seminary training, asking God to grant Pope Francis’ insightful soul courage to push aside all obstacles to his plan to reform seminary training for the better.
Nicholas Clifford
3 years 5 months ago
Don't you know that Latin is a magical language, and must be reverenced as such? That is why the Nicene Creed's "credo" must be translated as "I believe," even when it is recited by a whole community in which "credimus" would make far more sense. Indeed one might argue (but not in Rome!) that saying "I believe" in a community setting shows a deplorably heretical, Protestant (!), American individualist mind set, no doubt influenced by Masons, Illuminati, nativists, and such like. And let's not even get into the contradictions between "pax homninibus bonae voluntatis" -- people of good will -- in the Gloria, and "propter nos homines" -- for us men -- in the Creed.
Nicholas Clifford
3 years 5 months ago
I'm far from knowing much about seminary education, but my sense that the problem outlined above is a very real one indeed. Put simply, many Catholics are far better and more broadly educated than they were, say, fifty years ago, and not surprisingly they expect similar levels of education among those who lead them. Just as an exercise, I recently checked (admittedly through Wikipedia) the educational formation of about twenty or twenty-five of our American bishops. With perhaps one exception, each had experience only of a Catholic education that was probably rigorist (rather than rigorous), and most had gone on to get PhDs in -- you guessed it -- canon law. Where were the scholars of, say, history, or literature, or physics, and so forth? Where was any evidence of engagement with the outside world and broadness of vision, of the sort one would expect of a graduate of, say, Michigan, or Stanford, or the University of Chicago, and so forth? Of course, the unfortunate Cardinal Law is a Harvard man (make of that what you will!). But so was Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ.


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