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PSYCHOLOGY-DOCUMENT Oct-30-2008 (1,030 words) xxxi

Vatican recommends some use of psychological testing in seminaries

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Vatican document said 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.

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 XVI.

Titled "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood," it said the use of psychological consultation and testing was appropriate in "exceptional cases that present particular difficulties" in seminary admission and formation.

It said 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."

Here the document referenced the Vatican's 2005 instruction that said the church cannot ordain men who are active homosexuals or who have "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies. When that document was issued, the Vatican did not say whether psychological testing should be used to determine whether a candidate for the priesthood has homosexual tendencies.

In discussing the issue of sexual orientation, the new document said, "In light of the objectives indicated above, a psychological consultation can, in some cases, be useful."

It 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 living in 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 Vatican said the document took 13 years to prepare. One of the most controversial issues, according to informed sources, was whether psychological testing should be routinely done before seminary admission.

The document did not explicitly address that question, although it spoke of using psychological sciences "in some cases" that present problems.

At the press conference, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the education congregation, was more emphatic about the limited use of such tests. He said it was clear that the use of psychological sciences "should not be an obligatory or ordinary practice in the admission and formation of candidates to the priesthood."

Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, secretary of the congregation, said that, in fact, many dioceses currently have mandatory psychological evaluations for candidates to seminaries.

The Vatican officials did not say what effect the guidelines would have on such routine testing.

The document said bishops should make sure every formator in seminaries has enough psychological preparation to judge a candidate's motives, discern potential barriers to Christian maturity and "pick up on any psychopathic disturbances."

Psychological expertise could be called in when a formator believes a problem should be diagnosed and perhaps treated, as well as to help develop the more general human qualities needed for priestly ministry, it said.

In difficult individual cases, it said, psychological interviews and tests may be recommended, but they must always be carried out with the "previous, explicit, informed and free consent of the candidate."

The document specified that psychological experts can cooperate in formation programs but cannot be part of the formation team. They must share the Christian vision about the human person, human sexuality and priestly celibacy, it said.

The idea that any psychological expert in a seminary should carry out his task in "a vision of faith" was insisted upon by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict -- when the document was under discussion several years ago, according to Archbishop Brugues.

When a formator suggests a psychological consultation for a seminarian, he should avoid giving the impression that this is "a prelude to the candidate's inevitable dismissal from the seminary," the document said.

It said that if a candidate 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.

Likewise, a seminarian wishing to transfer to a different seminary must make known any previous psychological consultation, it said. The results of a previous psychological evaluation can be obtained from the expert only with the seminarian's consent.

The document said a healthy psychological balance was important to priestly ministry, which involves "an extraordinary and demanding synergy of human and spiritual dynamics."

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, it said.

It said those qualities are threatened today by a general cultural drift toward relativism, sexual irresponsibility and family instability.


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