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POPE-EDUCATION Feb-4-2002 (740 words) xxxi

Psychology useful for evaluating seminary candidates, pope says

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II said proposed Vatican guidelines on the use of psychology to evaluate seminary candidates can help identify real vocations and ensure that such decisions are made with "a wider sense of awareness."

The pope made the remarks Feb. 4 in a talk to members of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which was reviewing a draft document, "Orientations for the Use of Psychological Methods in the Admission and Formation of Candidates to the Priesthood."

For several years, the congregation has been studying whether and to what extent the use of psychological screening and counseling can be useful in the selection of priesthood candidates and in accompanying them through the seminary program.

The draft document was discussed at length during the congregation's plenary assembly, which began Feb. 4, and after the meeting probably will be revised in light of the comments, an informed source said. Among the U.S. participants at the plenary assembly were Cardinals Bernard F. Law of Boston and Adam J. Maida of Detroit.

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the education congregation, said the issue of psychological screening was one of the most sensitive and difficult topics up for discussion at the three-day meeting.

The pope said the draft guidelines were aimed at providing "a useful instrument for those in formation programs, who are called upon to discern the suitability of the candidate and the vocation of the candidate, in view of his own good and the good of the church."

He said the support from psychological sciences should be used in a balanced way as part of the overall vocational path, integrated in a candidate's formation program.

The recourse to psychological methods can only be understood in the context of the "climate of faith" that marks the vocational decision, he said.

Psychological methods "do not eliminate every type of difficulty and tension, but favor a wider sense of awareness and a freer exercise of liberty" when it comes to the challenging choice of a priestly vocation, he said. This choice is always made with "the irreplaceable help of grace," he said.

The pope recommended the "preparation of psychological experts who, at a high scientific level, can unite a deep understanding of the Christian way of life and the vocation to the priesthood." In this way, he said, they will be able to effectively help integrate the human and supernatural dimensions involved in vocations.

According to a well-informed source, the discussions during the first day of the plenary assembly showed "quite a bit of openness" to the idea of using psychological methods in seminaries.

"Many of the congregation members have direct experience with this, and they see its usefulness. The general orientation is positive, even though some people have concerns about how these methods will be used," the source said.

In the past, some Vatican officials have voiced apprehension about over-reliance on psychological methods to screen candidates to the priesthood. The source said the draft document addresses those concerns by stressing a balanced approach that recognizes the potential contributions of psychology, but within a limited sphere of competence.

He said the draft document was at an "advanced stage" of preparation, but there was no timetable yet for publication of the guidelines.

In his address to the congregation, the pope made several other points:

-- Formation leaders today need to nourish among seminarians the "joy" of their own vocation. Priestly celibacy, he said, should be presented as an "eminently favorable choice" for their mission of announcing the Gospel.

-- The recent emphasis on canon law as a course of study among priests and seminarians will help the church deal with a number of important juridical-pastoral issues, which are more complex now than in the past.

-- The current series of continental vocation congresses are important for the church's future. He said there had been good preparation for the Third Continental Congress on vocations in North America, to be held in Montreal in April. He called it "an event the entire church will follow with its prayers."

-- Catholic schools need the continued contribution of religious men and women. Despite the difficulties facing many religious orders today, they still have an irreplaceable role in education, he said.

In his speech to the pope, Cardinal Grocholewski said the congregation was trying to find ways to encourage religious orders to rediscover "with enthusiasm and generosity" their former commitment to Catholic education.


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