Priests Mediate Between Heaven and Earth

Author: Nicola Gori

Priests Mediate Between Heaven and Earth

Nicola Gori

Interview with the Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic education

A "brief, incisive and very clear" text on the formation of candidates for the priesthood is being considered for publication at the end of the Year for Priests. The project is being examined by the Congregation for Catholic Education. With this in view, the Dicastery is planning to announce in the coming months the convocation of the Permanent Interdicasterial Commission which deals with the formation of candidates for sacred orders.

This information comes from Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, OP, Secretary of the Dicastery, who in a recent interview with L'Osservatore Romano stressed the centrality of educational work in the mission of the Church, in light of the Year for Priests. The following is a translation of the interview, which was given in Italian.

In "Caritas in Veritate" Benedict XVI invites the faithful to promote ever broader access to education for all peoples. In what way does this challenge the Congregation?

We can first make three observations. The first: the Pope includes education within the principle of solidarity. Inhis Encyclical Benedict XVI recalls the important principles of the social doctrine of the Church: subsidiarity and solidarity. Education, therefore, is a question of solidarity among the diverse sectors and generations of a society. The second point is that education presupposes instruction, that is, knowledge to be passed on. The Pope has returned on various occasions to this conception of knowledge. For example, in n. 30, he says: "Charity does not exclude knowledge, but rather requires" it.

Without knowledge charity is ineffective. It is not only a question of good feelings. It is also necessary to transform things through knowledge.

The third observation is that we Christians believe in a complete formation of the person. The Pope speaks of an integral formation, which implies a global vision of the person in his different dimensions.

In the light of these points our Dicastery is doubly encouraged: first of all to make the most of knowledge and culture. In the various institutions that depend on the Congregation, we are developing what I would call a culture of excellence. In this regard we find encouragement in the Encyclical.

Secondly, we place the emphasis on the integral formation of the person, and in particular on the spiritual dimension which risks being overlooked in a secularized society.

In his Message to the G8 Summit in L'Aquila the Pope spoke of the importance of education, stressing that it is an indispensable condition for the functioning of democracy, for the fight against corruption and for the exercise of political and social rights. What contribution can the Church make in this regard?

Our Congregation is responsible for 1,200 Catholic universities across the world, for 2,700 seminaries — the majority of those in existence — and for 250,000 Catholic schools.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in turn is responsible for Africa and Asia. It is clear from this that institutes constitute a possibility for the Church, although not everyone seems convinced of it. They are the natural contexts in which the Church participates in the elaboration of a specific country's culture. There is no better way of fitting into a country's culture than through school and university. Schools and universities therefore represent a possibility to both the Church and society because we place this great pedagogical effort that we have been making for centuries at the service of the human community.

What are the Church's goals?

Thereare two aims. The first is recalled in the Letter inaugurating the Year for Priests: to restore to priests the joy of their priesthood and to help them rediscover a clearer identity than that which is seen in various countries of the world. It seems that in certain cultural contexts the features of men and women religious stand out more clearly than those of the diocesan priest. This is a magnificent opportunity to discover anew the traits of the priest and how much we need him.

For this reason, the second objective is to rediscover the priest's place in the Christian community. Thus this pastoral Year is not only for priests but also for the entire Christian community, the entire Church.

This dual dimension challenges the Congregation since it is responsible for the formation of seminarians. We must make seminarians understand the message: "You have been chosen, it is an honour, be glad to be priests". I would like to say that the seminary is a school that inculcates happiness in being priests. This is the first dimension. And the second is that the formation offered at seminaries should be the very best possible.

When we receive Bishops on their ad limina visits, our Prefect always likes to tell them: "Do not hesitate to put your best priests at the service of the formation of seminarians, it is worth it".

The Year for Priests is an opportunity to review the seminary formation of candidates to the priesthood. What specific projects have you planned?

There will be special activities for the Year. Our Prefect, as President of the Permanent Interdicasterial Commission for Admission to Sacred Orders, is intending to convoke the Commission this very year. Its purpose will be to examine the possibility, at the end of this Year for Priests, of publishing a short, clear and incisive text on the formation of candidates to the priesthood.

The Pope has recently invited us to overcome the dualism that exists between the sacramental and ontological and the functional and social conceptions of the priesthood. How can these two dimensions be reconciled?

In my opinion situations in the Church can differ widely. In some countries it is the social dimension in particular that is heavily emphasized, the social role of priests: I have seen this in Africa, in Latin America and in Korea. In these places the priest plays a role not only in the heart of the community but also in society, whereas in the heavily secularized societies the social role of the priest has become visibly less important.

Perhaps the exception is Italy, where I find that in spite of the secularized society, the Church has managed to remain popular and to stay very present in social and political life. So I would say that these two aspects necessarily give rise to tension and that this tension is beneficial.

It is normal that the priest should play a social role since he is a pastor: he is in charge of a part, a portion of the People of God, as the Second Vatican Council affirmed.

In this capacity, therefore, he has social visibility. He is also a mediator between Heaven and earth: he manifests Christ, he acts in persona Christi. Therefore I consider it essential that this tension be preserved everywhere, since it is beneficial for the priest and for the Christian people. For this reason it is first of all necessary that the community of the faithful feel responsible for the priest who is in charge of it.

When I was Bishop of Angers and I appointed a parish priest, I would introduce him to the faithful: "I entrust him to you". The priest must be supported by a community of the faithful. Secondly, every priest must be sustained by the community of his fellow priests. We must insist on the fraternal dimension of the presbyterium.

Too many priests suffer from loneliness, hence risk neglecting one or other of these aspects. A priest is a friend, a brother, in the midst of a great family represented by the presbyterium. Then with regard to the Congregation there is a third way: the seminary. It is here that one learns, theologically, to balance the two aspects of the priesthood.

Do you feel the need to review the system of education in formation houses?

A good formation is one that can be adapted to the development and changes of society. I repeat what I have already said on other occasions: it is true that young people are different from us; yet we must accept them generously. Generosity is essential in accepting the new generations, as is discernment: these two things go together. It is a question of discerning in them what we should encourage and what we should correct. I have noticed that a large number of the young men who present themselves at the formation houses in countries such as Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the United States of America, have a sound professional training, sometimes even high level academic qualifications, but lack a general culture and above all a Christian culture.

This is why I hope that seminarians will be given a propedeutic year at the beginning of their formation, and that formation itself will be adapted to the characteristics of the new generations. Then it is right to prevent the dispersion of academic disciplines and, instead, to have a synthetic view of theology, stressing in addition the role of philosophy and, in particular, metaphysics as a preliminary preparation for theology.

According to the instructions of the 2008 document, "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood", what are the cases in which there may be recourse to professional psychologists?

The answer is simple: when necessary. In our document we desired to react to two exaggerations. The first consists in saying that everyone must submit to an examination by psychological experts; and the second, in saying that psychology and psychologists are not to be trusted.

This ecclesial document, which is not the first to speak of psychology, uses very positive tones in this regard. The Church is sometimes blamed for showing a certain distance, even suspicion, with regard to psychology. This is not true. The proof is found in the document, where it says that, when necessary, there should be recourse to specialists.

What does "when necessary" mean? It means, as may be read in the document, when "it can help the candidate overcome those psychological wounds... that are not yet healed and that cause disturbances. These wounds, unknown to the candidate in their real effects, are often erroneously attributed by him to causes outside himself, thus depriving him of the possibility of facing them adequately".

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 September 2009, page 8

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