Trainee priests must undergo a robust spiritual formation that roots out clericalism, an obsession with the liturgy and a “presumed theological or disciplinary certainty”, according to new Vatican guidelines.
But while the 91-page document primarily seeks to ensure that seminarians become mature pastors, it controversially reiterates a ban on ordaining gay men or “persons with homosexual tendencies”, first implemented in 2005 causing widespread offence to gay Catholics, including many gay priests.
It is also at odds with Pope Francis’ more compassionate “who am I to Judge?” response when he was asked about gay priests in 2013 - and the reiteration of the ban has already received a negative response from LGBT catholics.
Nevertheless the text was signed off by Francis and was written following a two-year process, including consultation with bishops from across the world and various Vatican offices.
It covers a wide range of areas including vocations from indigenous communities, migrants, child protection and ensuring candidates to the priesthood reach a sufficient maturity before they are ordained.
Part of this is clamping down on clericalism, where a priest fosters a superior attitude to the people he is supposed to be serving: Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced clerics who “lord it over” their flock.
“Future priests should be educated so that they do not become prey to ‘clericalism’, nor yield to the temptation of modelling their lives on the search for popular consensus” the document, “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation” explains.
It also warns against an “obsession with personal appearances, a presumed theological or disciplinary certainty, narcissism and authoritarianism”, along with the “ostentatious preoccupation with the liturgy, vainglory, individualism” and “the inability to listen to others”.
Running through the document is a focus on ensuring trainee priests have undergone a personal journey of discernment before they are ordained, including experience in pastoral work.
One of the key recommendations of the text is that seminarians undergo a period of “pre-formation” in a house of formation distinct from the major seminary, a period which could last up to two years.
Known as the “propaedeutic” stage, it is already in place in England and Wales with candidates sent to the Royal English College in Valladolid, Spain, for a period of initial discernment.
The new document suggests this should be more widely used across the global Church, arguing that it helps prospective priests to discern early on whether to aim for ordination or follow a different path in life.