May 19, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Priestly Formation

Seminarians should receive a more extensive interdisciplinary, and not merely doctrinal, formation in the areas of engagement and marriage. Their training does not always allow them to explore their own psychological and affective background and experiences. Some come from troubled families, with absent parents and a lack of emotional stability. There is a need to ensure that the formation process can enable them to attain the maturity and psychological balance needed for their future ministry. Family bonds are essential for reinforcing healthy self-esteem. (203)
Arriving at this paragraph in Amoris laetitia made me happy.

Priests don't fall out of the sky fully formed. They are people who have a background and a family of origin just like the rest of humanity. And as the Pope notes, these backgrounds--like everybody else's--can have their troubles and dysfunctions.

This isn't a bad thing. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to transform suffering and alienation into compassion; this is one of the ways that the pattern of the Lord's paschal mystery of his passion, death, and resurrection comes to take form in our lives. And so it makes sense that many vocations to service, the priesthood included, can have roots in situations of difficulty and personal suffering.

That being said, it is necessary that before someone arrives at his ordination day and is given the care of souls, that he not only be given the opportunity to explore and understand his issues, but be made to do so. For if he arrives at the care of souls without having understood, accepted, and in some sense integrated the ways in which the sufferings, alienation, and family roles of his own past affect who he is and how he relates to people in the present, and is not able to see how to make psychological boundaries for himself so as to encounter people as they are in the here and now, he will end up taking out his issues on the people of God.

All kinds of issues can express themselves and make a minister less present to the reality of the person before him: issues with men, with women, with control, with authority, with addiction, with sexuality. Someone who is going to take on something as delicate as the care of another human soul must be aware of how these things affect him, so as to make the boundaries for himself that let him care for others with freedom, objectivity, and a certain equilibrium.

As someone wise told me during my early religious formation: the point isn't not to have issues, but to acknowledge them be able to work with them. I remember one man who was in formation with me. He cherished the idea that he was o.k. with himself, that he accepted himself as he was. Trouble was, it wasn't true. His situation got so bad that he had to be asked to leave. If only he could have admitted that he suffered from shame and self-loathing like the rest of us, he might have been fine!

In our time we have seen the tragedy of what happens when men are ordained to the priesthood without having been made to acknowledge, work through, and integrate their psycho-sexual issues--and what happens when the Church does not refuse to ordain those who aren't able to do this. Lives severely injured, the credibility of the Church and her sacred ministers undermined.

But this is just the terrible, criminal edge. Yes, there is sexual abuse and criminal sexual misconduct. But there is also pastoral misconduct that doesn't rise to the level of the crime, but is still a disservice to the people of God by priests who have not been made to attain to the "maturity and psychological balance" of which the Pope speaks.

In calling the Church to a more attentive pastoral care of the family, Pope Francis also calls us to a more rigorous and insistent human formation for the sacred ministers who will exercise this care.

No comments: