In the wake of the latest splashes from the United States, Stéphane Joulain has posted on Facebook some of his thoughts on the training of priests for the 21st century. As many of us are not Facebook enthusiasts, I reproduce this post here.
The formation of future priests is certainly one of the important places of the reform that Pope Francis could undertake. But first of all, we must agree in the Church on which face of the Church do we want and which ministries for this Church. The priests will have to find their right place there. Probably diocesan synods and synods of bishops could help the People of God to express their identity for the 21st century and the kind of help they need.
Once this is done, it will be necessary to decide what type of training to give to his future servants. The last Fundamental Ratio for the formation of the Clergy in 2016 was already an interesting advance. But still, one may ask serious questions when one hears a Cardinal declare that priests are the least competent to help prepare people for marriage.
But then what do they do during all these years of training between 6 to 10 years. Well, they study philosophy first, spend a long time discussing the colour and length of the mammoth’s coat. Spending long hours studying Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, dead Greeks who spoke to other Greeks who had also long since died. The number of philosophy courses and the choice of philosophy subjects is inappropriate for preparing priests to dialogue with people living in post-modernity. A good course in history of philosophy, a good course in philosophical logic, and courses on modern currents of thought would be largely sufficient. Let us leave the rest of philosophy to philosophers, to each his own profession.
Another avenue would be to give less space to catechism and more space for the study of the Word of God as the primary source of theological and pastoral reflection. Spiritual formation and solid accompaniment. Let us leave catechism to catechists, to each one his mission.
If priests are to help accompany and guide the People of God, they must not be blinded by useless knowledge, but they must sharpen the instrument of grace that they can be. Good training on affectivity and human development is essential. More humanities, less obsolete blah blah blah. Priests should be experts in incarnate divinity and not in vaporous divinity. They must be good connoisseurs of the human soul and its torments, without becoming psychologists, again to each his trade.
Why are so many young priests so disgusted with their studies that they no longer want to open a book after their ordination?
It is also indispensable to help them live their celibacy in a healthy and holy way, for this psychological and spiritual formation is indispensable, because if it is to continue to be a sign, it must not be an incomprehensible or controversial sign as is, unfortunately, the case at present. For a sign, a symbol that no longer conveys its original meaning no longer has any reason to exist. Signs and symbols carry meaning or have no reason to exist.
Finally, is the seminar the best form of training for the 21st century, it is the simplest for sure, but is it the most effective? I find that young people who go through university training in the humanities are often much more mature than many young priests at the end of their training. We should think about that. I think that the seminary format has run its course, and no longer corresponds as effective tools for the formation of future priests, it could even be one of the causes of the crisis we are currently experiencing.
Without wanting to become Protestant, we might have things to learn from the formation of our brother and sister pastors in our sister churches. But that would require a humility that we do not yet have.
But, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, it is important first of all to discover together what we want to live, then we can determine together how and with whom to arrive there.
These are just a few ideas, there are certainly others of interest to discover.
Stéphane Joulain, M.Afr.