Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 10, 2008
Psychological evaluation needed in seminaries
But Vatican says seminarians should never be forced to accept testing
- CNS file photo
Seminarians rejoice at Pope Benedict's election in 2005. A new Vatican document advises the psychological testing of seminarians when there is suspicion of personality disturbances
By JOHN THAVIS
Catholic News Service
Seminary candidates should undergo psychological evaluations whenever there is a suspicion of personality disturbances or serious doubts about their ability to live a celibate life, says a new Vatican document.
In assessing the capacity for celibacy, it said, the Church needs to evaluate a seminarian’s sexual orientation, and make sure that uncertain sexual identity or “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are not present.
The document, released at the Vatican Oct. 30, was prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education and approved by Pope Benedict. It is titled Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.
The use of psychological consultation and testing is appropriate in “exceptional cases that present particular difficulties” in seminary admission and formation, the document said.
However, psychological evaluation could never be imposed on seminarians or seminary candidates. But it emphasized that Church authorities have the right to turn away candidates if they are not convinced of their suitability.
The document said the psychological sciences can be useful not only in screening troubled candidates for the priesthood, but also in accompanying seminarians through their vocational journey, particularly for those who need to overcome “psychological wounds.”
In reviewing candidates for admission to seminaries, psychological experts should be called upon “whenever there is a suspicion that psychic disturbances may be present,” it said.
Such problems may include “excessive affective dependency,” disproportionate aggression, incapacity to be faithful to obligations, incapacity for openness and trust, inability to cooperate with authority and confused sexual identity, it said.
It said special attention should be given to make sure that celibacy is not “a burden so heavy that it compromises (a candidate’s) affective and relational equilibrium.”
In judging a candidate’s ability to live a life of celibacy, it said, “it is not enough to be sure that he is capable of abstaining from genital activity. It is also necessary to evaluate his sexual orientation, according to the indications published by this congregation.”
The document said that if those already accepted in seminary programs continue to demonstrate areas of grave immaturity, “the path of formation will have to be interrupted.”
Such areas of immaturity, it said, include deep-seated homosexual tendencies, unclear sexual identity, difficulty with celibacy, excessive rigidity of character and lack of freedom in relations.
A psychologist who helped prepare the document, Father Carlo Bresciani, alluded to the priestly sex abuse crisis when he told a Vatican press conference that such precautions were prudent and necessary.
“One cannot forget that unsuitable people with inconsistencies in their sexual-affective and relational life provoke negative repercussions on the Church and on the faithful,” he said.
The document said that if a candidate or seminarian has been dismissed from a seminary on psychological grounds he must make that known if he applies to a different seminary or house of religious formation.
The document said that among the virtues and abilities required in a priest are a “positive and stable sense of one’s masculine identity,” the capacity to form mature relationships, a sense of cooperation, self-knowledge, the capacity for self-correction and the ability for trust and loyalty.
Those qualities are threatened today by a general cultural drift toward relativism, sexual irresponsibility and family instability, it said.