Take Action: Urge Our Bishops to Implement Effective Programs for Priestly Formation

Catholics know that the number of priests has been shrinking dramatically for the past few decades.  According to Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, by next year, 2019, half of all diocesan priests will be at retirement age.  The number of men entering the seminary has also been shrinking.  Still more troubling is the fact that younger cohorts of priests being formed are demonstrating attitudes that are unwelcoming of the vision of Vatican II and more adverse to shared leadership with laity, and women.

In February 2015, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown Univerisity, released a report focusing on lay ecclesial ministers in the U.S. Catholic Church.  Among their findings was a concerning trend.  According to the research, while Vatican II priests expressed strong support for working in partnership with laity and women, that support wanes in younger cohorts of priests, and especially the Millennial cohort.  Given our current and future need for ministry and governance in a church where the number of lay ministers continues to grow exponentially while the number of ordained and vowed religious is shrinking dramatically, that trend is troubling.   

In January 2018, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests expressed their concern about the training and formation of priests and their readiness to minister in a Vatican II Church.  In a letter to Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R. and the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, they stated, "Our study and reflection persuade us that a new Program of Priestly Formation needs more than minimal editing of the current Program of Priestly Formation (5th Edition). It needs in-depth revision."

In the letter they address five major areas of concern.

1. Faithfulness to Vatican II

2. Call to Service

3. A Pastoral Model of Priestly Formation

4. Psychosexual Development and Celibacy

5. Discernment Processes and Faculty Formation

1.  As the foundation of priestly formation, the pastoral values of Vatican II need to permeate and be consistently and persistently affirmed in the sixth edition of the Program of Priestly Formation. These values should serve as the basis and of all phases of priestly formation.  We are concerned that priestly formation in recent decades has not adequately implemented Vatican II’s pastoral vision and values in candidates. We are concerned that priestly formation in recent decades has not adequately implemented Vatican II’s pastoral vision and values in candidates.

2.  Above all other qualities priests need to develop, they need to see themselves as servants of God and of God’s people.  We are concerned that the way the current Program of Priestly Formation has been implemented in many seminaries has more often than not resulted in priests who do not see themselves as Christ-like servants of God’s people. 

3.  The goal of all formation is to prepare candidates for pastoral service. Consequently, the pastoral dimension should organize all other goals.  We are concerned that in too many instances the current model of preparation for pastoral ministry has proven to be inadequate and ineffective. 

4.  Psychosexual development and integration are a life-long necessity for all human beings. The task is profoundly personal but also requires the positive support of many relationships and wise counsel. A good formation program would foster a commitment to celibacy within a faith context, but also within a commitment to an individual’s authentic human psychosexual development.   We are concerned that a) the current Program of Priestly Formation offers an inadequate treatment of sexuality and celibacy. b) Human sexuality is too complex for the priestly formation system alone to assure healthy and mature celibate priests. c) Priestly formation programs do not adequately engage experienced professionals, both men and women, who can speak comfortably, are aware of realistic and wholesome human sexual expression and can assist candidates in their personal and honest understanding of their sexuality. d) We question whether the prolonged (six-year minimum) intensity (24/7) of an all-male environment is the best context for assuring the hoped-for human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral qualities.

5.  Discernment in its multiple dimensions has an essential role to play in the process of preparing and recommending candidates for ordination.  We are concerned that given the importance of the responsibilities of faculty, especially younger staff, regarding discernment, the we ask the following:  a.)  Should the PPF6 require that those involved in spiritual direction have appropriate formation beyond a seminary course in spiritual direction?  b.)  Should the PPF6 require that spiritual directors have either certification or extensive experience as a director? c.)  Do directors understand their responsibilities and the limits of their power and their ability to manage these limits?   d.)  Do seminaries provide updating for spiritual directors? e.)  Are clear and firm policies and practices in place to assure that candidates and faculty are aware of and honor the confidentiality of internal forum transactions?

FutureChurch supports the reform of seminary formation programs and urges Catholics to write a letter to Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R. and the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations asking them to implement the AUSCP recommendations and reform the priestly formation program.






       a.  Send one letter to your bishop.  Find address here.

      b.  Send another letter to Cardinal Tobin.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.SS.R.
ATTN: Rev. Ralph O’Donnell
USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations
3211 Fourth Street N.E.
Washington D.C.  20017


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