From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Priestly formation: a climate of honesty and trust

by Father Darrin Connall, for the Inland Register

(From the April 11, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

One cannot pick up the newspaper these days without being confronted with yet another aspect of the scandal that has touched the Church we all love. The sexual abuse of minors by some priests has cast a dark cloud over our family of faith.

In reflecting on issues surrounding the scandal, I thought it might be helpful to share some information about the formation of seminarians today. I’d like to explain a bit about how our future priests are chosen and screened, and how they are assisted in becoming mature and effective priests for the Diocese of Spokane.

All seminary candidates for the Diocese of Spokane must go through an extensive application process before being accepted into the formation program. This process currently includes a detailed autobiography, letters of recommendation, a medical examination, personal interviews, and a psychological evaluation. The psychological evaluation is conducted by a clinical psychologist who administers several standardized tests and also leads the candidate through a structured clinical interview.

I recently had a potential candidate complain that the current process is too extensive and burdensome. He commented, “Gee, applying to the seminary is like applying to the CIA!”

My response is that, actually, it is more important.

The application process is used for screening purposes and also to gather information and data on a candidate. Seminary personnel can then use this information in helping the candidate to take full advantage of priestly formation. It is a service both to the Church and to the candidate.

If the bishop accepts a candidate into the priestly formation program, that individual is ordinarily sent to Bishop White Seminary at Gonzaga University for his initial formation. The immediate aim of the formation program at Bishop White is human formation. Before becoming priests, seminarians must first become mature human beings and Disciples of Christ. To this end, the seminary program assists a student in addressing a variety of formation issues organized around four general categories: spiritual, intellectual, personal and pastoral.

Each seminarian has a Spiritual Director and a Formation Advisor with whom he meets on a regular basis. These priests assist the student by providing practical advice, pastoral guidance, and affirmation. They are also responsible for challenging a seminarian and holding him accountable to the expectations of priestly formation.

Members of the Priestly Formation Council regularly review a seminarian’s progress. The Priestly Formation Council is a committee comprised of two laity, a Religious Sister, three priests, and a permanent deacon. In addition to reviewing progress, they also make recommendations to the bishop regarding priestly formation policies and procedures.

Every academic year concludes with a formal written evaluation of each seminarian. The evaluation affirms his progress and offers recommendations for continued growth. Throughout the year, and particularly within the context of the evaluation process, seminarians are encouraged to be very open about their struggles and failures as well as their joys and successes. A climate of honesty and trust is key to a good formation program.

At Bishop White Seminary we have tried to be very open and up-front over these last several weeks about the painful issue of clergy abuse. The issue has been addressed in a number of ways including conferences, homilies, and informal conversations. Just this week, Bishop Skylstad made a special visit to the seminary to review the diocese’s sexual abuse policy with all the seminarians and to answer their questions and listen to their concerns.

I am very proud of our seminarians. While this past month has been a discouraging time for them, they have not given in to despair. They have done remarkably well in keeping everything in perspective. Some of them see this as a time for purification and perhaps even a graced moment whereby God is calling them, and all Christians, to a greater sense of integrity and holiness.

No one is really sure when the wounds caused by this scandal will begin to heal. As we look to the future, however, let us do so with confidence that our future priests are receiving solid human, Christian, and priestly formation.

Let us also renew our commitment to support and pray for our seminarians and all those who have been entrusted with their training.

(Father Connall is Director of Vocations and Director of Seminarians for the Diocese of Spokane, and rector of Bishop White Seminary, Spokane.)

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