Saturday, November 01, 2008

Psychological Assessment of Seminarians

I have been looking for the document on the the use of psychology to help assess candidates for the priesthood, I haven't seen it yet. None of the numerous commentators on the net or in the press given us a name for the document so I presume they have not read it either. I suspect that most of what we have heard is either from a press conference or mere journalistic speculation.

Someone in my year at the seminary after ordination spent 6 months in prison for downloading child pornography, at his trial it emerged that he been the victim of abuse by a friend of his father. He had said at his trial that he just looked at screen and wept remembering what had happened to him as a child. Most of his priestly ministry had been spent raising money for children in institutions abroad. I remember hearing him preach about them, he did so with a fierce passion.

He belonged to a religious community, and I suspect unlike the rest of us had not been psychologically screened. In his case there were certainly "deep seated" wounds that needed to be dealt with. Until his arrest and conviction I am sure he and others were completely unaware of how damaged he really was.

One of the real failures during my time at the seminary was in spiritual direction, most of the priests on the staff were recently ordained themselves, and often were men who were unable to cope with parish life. The Rector had done a course or two in counselling, but I think, to be honest he was illiterate in the art of Spiritual Direction. After I was ordained it seemed that the seminary became a therapeutic community. Those the Rector disapproved of were sent off for counselling, the type that had a distinctly Freudian character. I am sure the intentions were good, but in practice the students of the time thought it was used as a tool of oppression. In fact during this time, it seemed, more than any other, practically half those ordained left the priesthood within the first seven years, most to marry.

Psychological analysis for future priests is important, it always has been, the Church has always had its great psychologists, people like Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius of Loyola etc. Analysis can never be the substitute for a good spiritual director, nor can it replace hours spent in silence in the presence of God, or for that matter regular and frequent confession. It can be used to tyrannise or to help, I hope this document promotes it as a helpful tool but also makes it subject to the other ascetic disciplines which our Tradition actually excels in.


Joseph Fromm said...

Dear Fr. Ray,

Having never been to a Seminary, I have no experience in what a spiritual director means to a priest. However, as a lay Catholic I have lots of experience. I have been very fortunate by the Grace of God, to have had a real spiritual director. This Jesuit found me and took pity on me, for I was a completely broken man, unable to distinguish right from wrong. Even the simple act of saying word "Jesus" was an impossible task. I had to be broke down and rebuilt built from the ground up. This Jesuit was about 70 years old when we found each other. Over the course of five years and heavy sacramental participation on my part. I broke free of the Dark spirit. The key to my experience I believe was I wanted to be rebuilt and my spiritual director wanted to rebuild me. When I first met my Jesuit he said, "Don't waste my time if your not serious, Salvation is a serious matter". My spiritual director taught me to pray. He said, "You have to pray or nothing else will work. I am not your spiritual director, Jesus is, listen to Him, talk to Him."
My Jesuit was reassigned a few years ago. I miss him terribly, He helped me with my annulment, he prepared me for my vocation of marriage, he sacramentally confirmed into the Catholic faith my my wife. He Baptized my oldest child. We followed the Spiritual Exercises by the book, St. Ignatius and Jesus really shook hands.



the owl of the remove said...

Excellent post, Father. Your comments about the seminary and people being sent to 'counselling' as a sort of punishment reminded me of my seminary - the superior who sent everyone to counselling ran off and got married!

PeterHWright said...

I honestly don't understand (but I'd like to be enlightened,) how a psychological assessment of an eighteen or nineteen year old student can possibly determine how good he's going to be in a certain job, or living a certain way of life, twenty or twenty-five year later. After all, lots of men go off the rails in their middle age, not really a thing you can predict, I'd have thought.

As to future priests, I would have expected the scrutiny to which seminarians are (supposedly) subjected during their five or six years' study should be enough.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think for the example I mentioned I think it would have highlighted a problem, that if it was dealt with earlier could have been healed.

nickbris said...

It was headline news yesterday about 5 or 6 am but the emphasis was about the outraged "gay rights groups" in Italy.

Then there was no more about it,the "independent BBC" was again playing their silly tricks.

Sharon said...

This book may be of interest After Asceticism: Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests
By The Linacre Institute

Fr Timothy Finigan has written an excellent review but unfortunately I couldn't find it in Google.

Catholic Culture also has a review