Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 27, 2003
Scrutinize religious candidates
Psychologist tells directors to be discerningly truthful in their assessments
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"We have to be careful (as to whom we accept) because there is a great deal of trust placed on a priest and if that trust is abused, people get hurt."
- Fr. Raymond Carey
"We have to be careful (as to whom we accept) because there is a great deal of trust placed on a priest and if that trust is abused, people get hurt" he said.
During his many years of working with vocation and formation directors, Carey has found that the key problem in dealing with candidates is the difficulty in distinguishing between pastoring and assessing.
"The first inclination that most of us have in the work that we do is to pastor," he noted. "And if in fact you are not able to distinguish pastoring from assessing, that's guaranteed malpractice."
He gave the example of a vocation or formation director dealing with someone who just got out on parole for felonious assault, who is recovering from three or four marriages, who is new to the Church, who has recently gone into a sobriety program and now presents himself/herself for candidacy.
"If it is pastoring that you bring to the table, you will catch yourself saying to yourself, 'Well who am I to say whom the Holy Spirit calls?
"It's very easy to get caught in that trap of advocacy and championing pastorally the cause of the individual in front of you because you want that sense of hospitality in the enterprise of the Gospel to be the primary experience they have of you."
But he said the task of the director is to "assess the efficacy "of the candidacy, not who is acceptable to the Lord.
"We are talking about the efficacy of the candidacy for whatever (religious) group you represent. . . ." That's the task. And assessment is about answering the question "What is the evidence that gives us confidence that this person can do well with us?" Carey told his audience. "It's not like geometry where you are either right or wrong. Assessment is about reducing the likelihood of error, never eliminating it. Everyone we welcome into formation puts us at risk. It puts at risk the efficacy of the mission of the community which we represent."
Carey has interviewed many people who simply announced to him they had a vocation. When he asked one man what made him think that being a Catholic priest was a good decision for him, the man replied, "Sir, I resent the question. I'm called by God to be a priest and what I think hasn't got a lot to do with it, or what you think."
When he asked the man to provide something that would give confidence to the bishop that he would be a good priest, the man walked out. "What he expected was that he would be received because of his conclusion that he had been called by God to the priesthood.
"That's not enough," he said. "If you are in a congregation that's involved in hospital administration or education or pastoral ministry or priesthood education there are some criteria that candidates need to meet. There are some criteria I think people ought to meet about Catholicism, you know, like being border line Catholic. I'm not exaggerating. I've interviewed a number of candidates who weren't Catholic, but were deeply attracted to the mission of different groups of women or men."
Sister Marion Garneau, formation director for the Sisters of Charity of Immaculate Conception, liked what she heard. "I think Father Carey is giving us concrete skills to assist us in assessing candidates. If we don't do the proper assessment, not only the candidate will suffer, but also the whole congregation."
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.