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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action


Renewing the Program of 
Priestly Formation 
in the U.S.A.
Rev. Louis Arceneaux, C.M.
The American Bishops are in the process of revising the" Program for Priestly Formation" as a result of the Vatican's Congregation of the Clergy's mandate to all conferences of bishops. This Program sets the Standards for formation programs for candidates to the priesthood throughout the U.S.A. The U. S. Bishops' Committee on Clergy,Consecrated Life and Vocations is responsible for this project and they welcomed input from interested individuals and groups.
That is where the "Association of U.S. Catholic Priests,"(AUSCP) with a membership of nearly 1200 priests and lay "friends" comes in. A group of us interested in the formation of priests in the twenty-first century decided to speak up and contribute to the process. Our concerns revolve around the attitudes of recently ordained priests. To address these concerns we concentrated on five areas that we thought  needed  improvement, given the situation of priestly life in the Church at present namely Faithfulness to Vatican II, Call to Service, Pastoral Model of Priestly Formation, Psychological Development and Celibacy, Discernment and Faculty Formation
Faithfulness to Vatican II.
The pastoral values of Vatican II need to permeate the Program of Priestly Formation. These values include a conversion of heart rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, grounding in the Scriptures,the Church as the People of God, the universal call to holiness, the central role of the laity, vernacular worship, the Church's mission to the world, dialog and consensus building, subsidiarity, and ecumenical-interfaith-interreligious commitment. These values should serve as the basis of all phases of priestly formation. We believe that priestly formation in recent decades has not adequately implemented Vatican II's pastoral vision and values in candidates.
Call to Service
Priests need to see themselves as servants of God and of God's people. The specialness of Holy Orders is found in the call to be shepherds of God's faithful. To become such servants, priests need to become like  Jesus Christ who came to serve and not be served. Sadly, the way the current Program of  Priestly Formation is being implemented in many seminaries has resulted too frequently in priests who focus more on what separates them from the laity.
This approach encourages a sense of  superiority and elitism, which results in clericalism,all of which have been critiqued by Pope Francis. Speaking  about Christ as"Servant  and Shepherd" as Pope Francis frequently does will complement the presentation of Christ as "Head and Shepherd" by Saint Pope John Paul II.
We recommend that candidates for priesthood start their formation by working with other lay Catholics, living among God's  people as collaborators, they will develop as servant leaders .To prevent formation programs from promoting any sense of clericalism, only candidates who have been ordained deacons ought to be allowed to wear clerical garb.
Pastoral Model of Priestly Formation
The goal of all formation is to prepare candidates for pastoral service. Consequently, the pastoral dimension should influence all other goals.  In too many instances the current model of preparation for pastoral ministry has proven to be inadequate and ineffective. Candidates for priesthood, throughout their formation, need  extensive concrete experience of the people whom they will serve.
The formation program ought to consider whether the present monastic, academic and doctrinally-focused model of priestly formation established in response to the Reformation needs to be deeply transformed. To minister effectively to people living in a secular age, our Church needs a more contemporary setting for formation; we need one responsive to the contemporary needs of a society that is modern, educated, scientific, democratic, capitalist, multi-cultural, multi-religious and globalizing. 
With this in mind, the intellectual formation of candidates will best take place in a university milieu where candidates will interact with others  both in classes and in casual encounters  outside classes. The continuing  Formation of Priests after ordination also needs greater emphasis, including studies with non-ordained pastoral ministers.
Psychosexual development and celibacy
Psychosexual development and integration are a  life-long necessities for all human beings. The mystery and the energy of human sexuality requires more than "education".  Psychosexual development is a life-long task. Just as 'spiritual direction' should begin by addressing the unique place of each person on one's spiritual journey, so too, support for psycho-sexual development should begin at the place each person finds oneself.
A 'general education' about living a celibate life is simply not enough. Considerable work is needed for a person to understand the dimensions of one's sexuality. Just as sufficient growth is needed by those who enter a committed sexual relationship, it is especially so for those asked to make a life-long commitment to a celibate life. A formation program that is superficial or coercive in this area gives no assistance to the candidates nor to the value of celibacy needed for the ministerial priesthood. The task is profoundly personal and also requires the positive support of many relationships and wise counsel.
A good formation program will foster a commitment to celibacy within a Faith context as well as within a commitment to an individual's authentic human psychosexual development. Candidates for the priesthood need to embrace the universal human challenges of psychosexual development honestly. In doing so, they will come to accept themselves and be realistic about living a healthy and happy celibate life. To assist in this development,  formation programs need to engage adequately experienced professionals, men and women, who are aware of realistic and wholesome human sexual expression and can assist candidates in their personal and honest understanding of their sexuality. 
The prolonged (six-year minimum) intensity (24/7) of an all-male environment is not the best context for assuring the hoped-for human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral qualities needed in priests. Living amidst the diocesan presbyterate in parish communities would provide a better community context for forming  candidates for servant priesthood where women would be involved in various capacities.
Discernment processes and faculty formation
Discernment in its multiple dimensions has an essential role to play in the process of preparing and recommending candidates for ordination. In this context, discernment has two different but related functions. During the formation process it serves the individual candidate in his efforts to identify and foster characteristics, necessary for someone preparing  for ordination to the priesthood. As the candidate progresses towards ordination, discernment enables the seminary rector/faculty to provide a responsible recommendation to both the candidate himself and to the appropriate bishop/superior as to the suitability of the candidate for various methods of discernment are available to accomplish these goals: spiritual direction (in the internal forum), professional psychological assessments and counseling, formation integration (connecting all four dimensions of formation in the external forum), on-site ministry supervision, faculty evaluations in general (both full-time and adjunct), and local lay community reviews.
All those involved in priestly formation, whether administrators, spiritual directors, formators, advisors or professors need a strong and developed pastoral sense and intuition. It is essential that women be involved in the discernment process of suitability for ordination. They also need to be available to serve as spiritual directors for candidates. The assumption that only priests can serve as spiritual directors of candidates because only they can minister the Sacrament of Penance no  longer has  merit. A spiritual director does not need to be one's confessor. Ultimately the spiritual formation program should ensure that candidates are aware of the need to be open to God's will and carefully impressed with the moral imperative of "wanting what God wants." 
Our observations and recommendations regarding the above five key facets of formation for priesthood in the Catholic Church in the United States demonstrate why the Program of Priestly Formation needs  significant revisions of the current model of  seminary formation. The current seminary model was established nearly 500 years ago. Times have changed, and continue to change at an ever-faster pace. 
We are living in a secular culture that offers an abundance of religious and spiritual options. The dramatic rise of "nones" among us, the disaffiliation of huge numbers of our own "baptized and raised Catholic" people, and the continuing paucity of persons drawn to service as priests - all these factors and others argue that the current model for the  formation of priests neither draws sufficient numbers of men to enter nor effectively serves God's People . We need a formation program that is pastoral in the spirit of Vatican II to meet the needs of our time and place.  We hope our bishops will develop and implement such a program, drawing from the input of many diverse sources such as ours.May the results lead to a renewed clergy in a renewed Church.  
Rev. Louis Arceneaux, C.M., S.T.D. was ordained in 1966 and received his S.T.D. from San Anselmo, Rome. He has worked in seminary formation, as a professor in diocesan and religious seminaries for fifteen years, as well as in parochial and pastoral ministry.
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