Priesthood Linked to Healthy Psychology

Vatican Offers Guidelines for Discernment

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Deciding to study for the priesthood requires a process of discernment, both for the would-be priest and for the Church, and psychologists can sometimes offer valuable assistance, says the Vatican.



This affirmation is one of the main ideas in a document presented today by the Congregation for Catholic Education called "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood."

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, prefect and secretary of that dicastery, presented the report with consultor and psychologist, Father Carlo Bresciani.

The text highlights the importance of bishops and formators being able to orient would-be priests in a solid psychological and affective maturity, as well as in a rich spiritual life that will enable them to face the demands of priestly life, particularly regarding celibacy.

The document affirms that a man who feels called to the priesthood, besides having moral and theological virtues, should also have a "solid human and psychic balance, particularly in the affective realm, such that it permits the subject to be adequately predisposed to a truly free gift of himself in relationships with the faithful, according to the celibate life."

It also notes the qualities that every future priest should have: "a positive and stable sense of his own masculine identity and the capacity to form mature relationships with other people or groups of people; a solid sense of belonging, base of the future communion with the presbyterate and of a responsible collaboration with the bishop's ministry."

According to the document, a correct perception of the significance of the candidate's vocation must be cultivated in a "climate of faith, prayer, meditation on the Word of God, theological study and community life."

But it also notes that those who want to enter the seminary reflect to a greater or lesser degree the faults of modern society, as seen in such aspects as materialism, family instability, moral relativism, an erroneous vision of sexuality, and the negative influence of the media.

Formators' role

The document insists that one who is in charge of seminarians' formation should be "a solid expert in the human person, his rhythms of growth, his potentials and weaknesses and his way of living a relationship with God."

It affirms that it is necessary to know the history of the candidate, but that this should not be the only decisive criteria in accepting him for preparation for the priesthood. Instead, the formator should look at the person "as a whole, in his progress and development," so as to avoid errors in discernment.

Formators should also know well a seminarian's "personality, potential, dispositions and the variety of probable types of wounds, evaluating their nature and intensity," the document continues. And it cautions against candidates' tendency to "minimize or negate their own weakness, fearing the possibility of not being understood, and for this reason, not being accepted."

Psychological support

The document proposes that in cases of particular need, recourse to a psychologist can "help the candidate to overcome those wounds" in view of aiming toward a "style of life like that of Jesus, Good Shepherd, head and spouse of the Church."

In this context, the Vatican council recommends psychological evaluation with the free consent of the candidate, cautioning the formators against using specialized techniques outside of their expertise.

Psychologists who give such support should have "solid human and spiritual maturity," it says, as well as a "Christian concept of the human person, sexuality, the priestly vocation and celibacy."

And the document makes clear that psychological services cannot replace spiritual direction. It affirmed that the spiritual life "in itself favors growth in human virtues, if a block of a psychological nature doesn't exist."