The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

§ 1-73

Decree of Promulgation


On June 16, 2005, the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the Program of Priestly Formation (fifth edition) as the Ratio institutionis sacerdotalis for the United States to be observed in seminaries for the formation of priests.

This action of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made in accord with canon 242 §1 of the Code of Canon Law, was approved ad quinquennium by the Congregation for Catholic Education by a decree of November 15, 2005 (Prot. N. 1370/2003), signed by His Eminence, Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation, and the Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, CSB, Secretary of the same Congregation.

As President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I therefore decree the promulgation of the Program of Priestly Formation (fifth edition), which is to be observed in all seminaries, whether diocesan or interdiocesan, from the date of this same decree.

Given at the offices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, the District of Columbia, on the 4th day of August, in the year of our Lord 2006, the Feast of St. John Vianney.

+ William S. Skylstad Bishop of Spokane President United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Monsignor David J. Malloy General Secretary


Statement from the

Conference of Major Superiors of Men


The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, recognizing its obligations to help ensure quality training and education for the ordained ministry, has over the past few years collaborated with the Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation in revising the Program of Priestly Formation. We are pleased that the committee which drafted this revision of the document has included sections dealing with ordained ministry within the context of religious life. Although academic requirements may be similar for both religious and diocesan priests, the religious priest will understand the ordained role and ministry as reflecting the charism and spiritual traditions of his religious institute.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men adopts the Program of Priestly Formation Fifth Edition as applicable to all religious seminaries in the United States. We do this at the invitation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, preserving the rights and privileges granted religious in church law, especially regarding the religious and spiritual formation of their own candidates.


Foreword to the Fifth Edition of the Program of

Priestly Formation


Bishop George H. Niederauer, Chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation (1999­2002), asked Bishop John C. Nienstedt in December 2001 to chair a subcommittee overseeing the first phase of the revision of the Program of Priestly Formation. Bishop Niederauer also asked bishops, major superiors, and seminary rectors to consult with others in their administration and to offer suggestions about a new edition of the Program of Priestly Formation. The long process of gathering these comments and suggestions produced a wealth of insights based on both experience and expertise, which helped to fashion the current Fifth Edition of the Program of Priestly Formation. This edition was also greatly influenced by the Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis (1992). It is with great joy that we present this document, which is the result of much consultation and collaboration, and has involved the work of three bishops’ committees on priestly formation. It is truly a witness to the importance of priestly formation in the Church.

The drafting committee for the Program of Priestly Formation included Bishop John C. Nienstedt, Chair; Archbishop Timothy Dolan; Bishop Gregory Aymond; Bishop Earl Boyea; Bishop Curtis Guillory, SVD; Bishop Kevin Rhoades; Fr. William J. Baer; Fr. Louis J. Cameli; Fr. Robert E. Manning, SJ; Fr. Daniel McLellan, OFM; Fr. Mark O’Keefe, OSB; and Abbot Nathan Zodrow, OSB. They were ably assisted by Msgr. Edward J. Burns, Mr. Jason Straczewski, and Mr. Jamie Blosser.

The members of the Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation who brought the project to completion are Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Chair; Archbishop Basil Schott, OFM; Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien; Bishop Earl Boyea; Bishop Edward K. Braxton; and Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez. In his November 15, 2005, letter to Bishop Skylstad (Prot. 1370/2003), President of the USCCB, His Eminence Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski stated that “the Congregation for Catholic education has completed its study of the Fifth Edition of the Program of Priestly Formation, which is destined for use in the seminaries of the United States. The text is most appropriate. Of special benefit, in fact, will be the increased requirements for philosophical studies to a minimum of thirty credits and the lengthening of the pre-theology period to a minimum of two calendar years. . . . We are now happy to approve the Fifth Edition of the Program of Priestly Formation for a period of five years.” With the successful completion of this document, the Bishop’s Committee on Priestly Formation is pleased to offer this Program of Priestly Formation with much gratitude for all those who participated in the consultation.

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation, I offer our prayers and support for all those who play an important part in the vital work of priestly formation.

+ Thomas J. Olmsted Chairman, Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation




1. The fifth edition of the Program of Priestly Formation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) builds upon the foundation of previous editions. The principal and new direction of the fifth edition stems from its reliance on the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds: On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day, 1992) to organize and integrate the program of priestly formation. Two other papal documents also enter into the vision and shaping of priestly formation: Novo millennio ineunte (At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, 2001) and Ecclesia in America (The Church in America, 1999).

2. Documents of the Second Vatican Council establish a normative understanding of the presbyteral office.1 They form an essential resource for the program of priestly formation along with the Council’s specific treatment of priestly formation found in Optatam totius (Decree on the Training of Priests). After the Council, the Church laid down norms to aid national conferences in developing programs of priestly formation for given nations or rites. These norms were contained in the Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis (1970), which was revised and reissued in 1985 in light of the revision of the Code of Canon Law (1983). The Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (1990), the Ratio fundamentalis (1985), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, 1993), as an authentic articulation of the Church’s faith, shape the current Program of Priestly Formation (PPF).

3. Other documents of the Holy See pertaining to priestly formation and treating specific aspects of seminary programs contribute to the PPF.2 The Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation has published documents identifying particular concerns and giving specific directions in light of needs and experiences in the United States.3 The Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry has also contributed a series of important documents on priestly ministry and life that also influence the PPF.4

4. In addition to documents, the various editions of the PPF, including this one, have benefited immensely from direct reflection on seminary formation through a series of visitations. A pattern of episcopal oversight was developed after the Council through seminary visitations organized by the USCCB. In 1981, Pope John Paul II mandated an apostolic visitation of all United States seminaries. The visitations resulted in observations published by the Congregation for Catholic Education on freestanding diocesan seminary theologates (1986), college seminaries (1988), and religious priestly formation (1990) in collaboration with the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. These observations played an important role in shaping the fourth edition of the PPF.

5. From 1995 until the present, there has been a series of voluntary seminary visitations. Results of these visitations have entered into the formulation of the current, fifth edition of the PPF.5

6. In the current edition of the PPF, the bishops of the United States have taken the directions and vision of the Holy See and reflected on the lived experience of seminaries in the United States and then formulated this edition of the program. The PPF, then, is normative for United States seminary programs and serves as a basis for future visitations.6 At the same time, each seminary, with the approval of the diocesan bishop or the bishops concerned, or of the religious superior as the case may be, is to develop, articulate, and implement its own particular program in conformity with the PPF.




Priestly Formation: In Communion with Jesus and Participation in His Mission

        7. Pope John Paul II describes seminary formation as “a continuation in the Church of the apostolic community gathered about Jesus, listening to his word, proceeding towards the Easter experience, awaiting the gift of the Spirit for the mission.”7

8. Priestly formation today continues the call of Jesus, the response of his first disciples, and their communion of life. The Gospel foundation of priestly formation precedes programs, structures, and plans. What was vital and essential for that first community of disciples remains so today for those engaged in priestly formation:

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once, they left their nets and followed him. (Mt 4:18-20)

        9. The Church continues to place the highest value on the work of priestly formation, because it is linked to the very mission of the Church, especially the evangelization of humanity:8 “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Our apostolic origins, which bind us in communion with the Lord and his mission, motivate those who engage in the ministry of priestly formation, underscore the urgency of their task, and remind them of their great responsibility. This same sense of urgency and responsibility helps shape the PPF.


Priestly Formation: In a Context of the World and Church Today

        10. Priestly formation takes place in a given ecclesial and historical context. Identifying that context is a critical task for giving specific shape to particular programs of formation. The importance of context is highlighted in Pastores dabo vobis: “God always calls his priests from specific human and ecclesial contexts, which inevitably influence them; and to these same contexts the priest is sent for the service of Christ’s Gospel” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 5).

11. Although much could be said about the general context of priestly formation in the Church today, two points of particular importance emerge, and they are results or fruits of the worldwide celebration of the Great Jubilee.


•       The Church reclaimed with greater clarity and vigor the mandate to continue the authentic renewal inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council, recognizing that the Council itself was “the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century.”9

•       With a renewed sense of mission, the Church wants to engage in the new evangelization by rekindling “in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost.”10


12. There are also many significant elements of context particular to the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century. These elements ought to play an important part in shaping seminary formation today, and they set the horizon for priestly ministry in the years ahead. Here we can name some of the more significant elements of context.

•       In the United States at this time, there is the paradox of a widespread thirst for spirituality and, at the same time, a prevailing secular ethos. From another perspective, the nation finds itself more intensely called to build a “civilization of life and love,” even as it struggles against a “culture of death.”

•       Weaknesses of ethical standards and a moral relativism have a corrosive effect on American public life as seen, for example, in marriage and family life, in business, and in politics. This ethical environment has affected the Church herself, for example, as seen in the scandalous behavior of some clergy who have abused minors and engaged in sexual misconduct, causing great suffering for the victims and damaging the Church’s witness in society. Both the nation and the Church in the nation are summoned to renewal and to a greater integrity of life. The Charter for the Protection of Young People and the Essential Norms adopted by the Catholic bishops in the United States in 2002 (revised in 2005) provide an example of moving in this direction.

•       In United States society at large, many persons are unchurched or unaffiliated with any denomination or faith tradition but remain open to evangelization.

•       There are large numbers of inactive or “semi-active” Catholics as well as poorly catechized Catholics who need to be called back to full participation in the life of the Church.

•       The Catholic Church in the United States continues to be firmly committed to and engaged in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

•       Globalization has underscored the need for greater coordination and deeper communion with the Church in other parts of the world. Ecclesia in America bears witness to this reality and responsibility, especially in our own hemisphere.

•       In most dioceses in the United States, the norm is a high level of cultural, linguistic, and economic diversity. A new wave of Catholic immigration has located numerous newly arrived people who present their own economic and religious issues alongside


numerous other Catholic laity who are native-born and are already economically and religiously established. Both groups share a common Church, have very different backgrounds, and can be mutually enriched by the exchange of their gifts.

•       The greater diversity of candidates for priestly ministry also forms an important context for the Church and for priestly formation. They may be, for example:

—    Older men who bring previous life and work experiences

—    Candidates born outside the United States who speak English as a second language

—    Candidates whose faith has been rediscovered and rekindled in a powerful way through significant religious experiences

—    Candidates born and raised in the United States who find themselves struggling intensely with particular cultural counterpoints to the Gospel, especially regarding sexual permissiveness, the drive to acquire and consume material resources, and the exaltation of freedom as merely personal and individual autonomy, divorced from personal responsibility and objective moral standards

•       An increasing number of priestly vocations now come from diverse and sometimes dysfunctional family situations.

•       The demographics of the Catholic Church in the United States demonstrate the challenging situation of fewer priests and a growing Catholic population.

•       The ministerial collaboration of priests with bishops, other priests, deacons, religious, and laity has become an important feature of church life in the United States.

•       Continuing and, sometimes, significant differences about what is essential to Catholic belief have strained many dimensions of church life, diminishing the impact of the mission of the Church on society.

•       At the same time, the hope and promise of a new springtime for the Catholic Church in the United States, a fruit of the Great Jubilee, has also offered a more positive context for vocations.


The Nature and Mission of the Ministerial Priesthood



13. All priestly formation must have its foundation in an adherence to the truths of faith about the nature and mission of the ministerial priesthood. Those who are involved in the process of priestly formation whether as administrators, teachers, formators, or seminarians must adhere to these teachings.

14. All priestly formation must be firmly grounded in the truths of the Catholic faith, for it is from these truths that the nature and mission of the ministerial priesthood are drawn. Likewise, it is critical that formators and seminarians keep returning to the core of the faith for the integrating vision necessary for the full realization of the four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral.


Trinitarian Foundations

15. Pastores dabo vobis delineates the Trinitarian foundations of the ministerial priesthood. “It is within the Church’s mystery, as a mystery of Trinitarian communion in missionary tension, that every Christian identity is revealed, and likewise the specific identity of the priest and his ministry. Indeed, the priest, by virtue of the consecration which he receives in the Sacrament of Orders, is sent forth by the Father through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, to whom he is configured in a special way as Head and Shepherd of his people, in order to live and work by the power of the Holy Spirit in service of the Church and for the salvation of the world. . . . Consequently, the nature and mission of the ministerial priesthood cannot be defined except through this multiple and rich interconnection of relationships which arise from the Blessed Trinity and are prolonged in the communion of the Church, as a sign and instrument of Christ, of communion with God and of the unity of all humanity” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 12).

Christological Foundations

16. The ministerial priesthood relies on Christological foundations. “Priests are called to prolong the presence of Christ, the One High Priest, embodying his way of life and making him visible in the midst of the flock entrusted to their care. . . . In the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, the Head and Shepherd, authoritatively proclaiming his Word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation, particularly in Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit. In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the Head and Shepherd” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 15). Configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church, and intimately united as co-workers of the bishops, priests are commissioned in a unique way to continue Christ’s mission as prophet, priest, and king.11

Ecclesiological Foundations

17. Finally, the ministerial priesthood has ecclesiological foundations. “The priesthood, along with the word of God and the sacramental signs which it serves, belongs to the constitutive elements of the Church. The ministry of the priest is entirely on behalf of the Church; it aims at promoting the exercise of the common priesthood of the entire people of God” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 16). The priest’s specific configuration to Christ also brings about this special relationship to his Body, the Church. His participation in Christ’s priesthood is called “ministerial,” for service to the members of the Body. Within the Body, “he represents Christ the Head, Shepherd, and Spouse of the Church” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 16). Pastores dabo vobis expands the ecclesial foundation and sense of the ministerial priesthood, saying that it “is ordered not only to the particular Church but also to the universal Church, in communion with the Bishop, with Peter and under Peter. Through the priesthood of the Bishop, the priesthood of the second order is incorporated in the apostolic structure of the Church (cf. 2 Cor 5:20). In this way priests, like the Apostles, act as ambassadors of Christ. This is the basis of the missionary character of every priest” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 16).

Priesthood in Presbyteral Communion

18. The Trinitarian, Christological, and ecclesiological foundations give us a sense of the nature, mission, and ministry of priests. It is important, however, to add that these foundations only become real and operative in a presbyterate in communion with its bishop. “By its very nature, the ordained ministry can be carried out only to the extent that the priest is united to Christ through sacramental participation in the priestly order, and thus to the extent that he is in hierarchical communion with his own Bishop. The ordained ministry has a radical ‘communitarian form’ and can only be carried out as a ‘collective work’“ (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 17). This “communitarian form” also means that priests ought to develop and foster bonds of fraternity and cooperation among themselves, so that the reality of the presbyterate may take hold of their lives.12

Priesthood: Diocesan and Religious

19. Priestly ministry, whether lived out in a diocesan or religious life context, can appear to be very different: one more geographically and parish-bound, the other wider-ranging and rooted in a religious family’s particular charism. Still, both diocesan and religious priests share a common ministerial priesthood, belong to a presbyterate in communion with a bishop, and serve the same mission of the Church. A common sacramental bond links both diocesan and religious

priests, although particular circumstances of ministry and life may be diverse. It is, therefore, essential for all priests and those in priestly formation—both diocesan and religious—to understand and to see themselves as engaged in the Church’s ministry subject to the same formation laid out in this Program of Priestly Formation.13


The Life of Priests


20. When the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum ordinis) speaks of “the life of priests,” it refers to the whole of their existence but especially to the spiritual dimension that is at the center of all life. In today’s context of fragmentation, it is especially important to note and hold fast to “the one necessary thing” (see Luke 10:42).

21. Along with all the baptized who have been claimed for new life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, priests are called with their brothers and sisters to live out their baptismal call as disciples of Jesus Christ and to grow in holiness.14

22. At the same time, priests are called to a specific vocation to holiness in virtue of their new consecration in the sacrament of Holy Orders, a consecration that configures them to Christ the Head and Shepherd (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 20). This configuration to Christ endows the priest with the mission and ministry, which is specific to him and which obliges him to be a “living instrument of Christ the eternal priest” and to act “in the name and in the person of Christ himself” and with his entire “life,” called to witness in a fundamental way to the “radicalism of the Gospel.”15

23. For priests, the specific arena in which their spiritual life unfolds is their exercise of ministry in fulfillment of their mission.16 The life of priests in the Spirit means their continuous transformation and conversion of heart centered on the integration or linking of their identity as configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd (Pastores dabo vobis, nos. 21-23), with their ministry of word, sacrament, and pastoral governance or leadership (Pastores dabo vobis, nos. 24-26).

24. The ministry itself, by which the priest brings Christ’s redemptive gifts to his people, transforms the priest’s own life. In a particular way, the celebrations of Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist lead the priest to a holy encounter with God’s all-transforming, merciful love.

25. When the priest’s identity as configured to Christ culminates in his ministry on behalf of Christ, which is called amoris officium (a work of love), he finds his unity of life in pastoral charity. Presbyterorum ordinis, no. 14, says: “Priests will achieve the unity of their lives by joining themselves with Christ in the recognition of the Father’s will and in the gift of themselves to the flock entrusted to them. In this way, by adopting the role of the good shepherd they will find in the practice of pastoral charity itself the bond of priestly perfection which will reduce to unity their life and activity.”

26. Priestly life lived in configuration to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd, must necessarily manifest and give witness to the radicalism of the Gospel. In other words, priests are called to a way of life that gives evident and transparent witness to the power of the Gospel at work in their lives. The elements of such a lifestyle—named here and to be developed elsewhere in the PPF—include

•       A way of life permeated by the three-fold charge given priests at ordination to teach, to sanctify, and to govern17

•       A life of steady prayer first and foremost centered in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist (see Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 31), the Liturgy of the Hours, and the liturgical cycles, but also in prayer that is personal and devotional (see Pastores dabo vobis, no. 33)

•       A deep devotion to the person of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, Lord and Savior (see Pastores dabo vobis, no. 46)

•       A life of obedience that is apostolic, communal, and pastoral (see Pastores dabo vobis, no. 28)

•       A life lived in communion with one’s bishop and the presbyterate, a communion that includes sacramental, apostolic, and fraternal bonds18

•       For religious priests, a life in community with one’s fellow religious in accord with the institute’s rule of life

•       A life of celibate chastity that serves as both “a sign and stimulus of love, and as a singular source of spiritual fertility in the world”19 and, being freely accepted, shows that the priest is “consecrated in a new way to Christ”20 and offers in himself a reflection of the virginal love of Christ for the Church21

•       A life of gratitude for the material blessings of God’s creation coupled with a simple and generous lifestyle that cares for and is in solidarity with the poor, works for universal justice, makes itself ready and available for all those in need, administers the goods of the community with utmost honesty, and offers a courageous prophetic witness in the world22

•       A life that embraces “the mind and heart of missionaries open to the needs of the Church and the world”23

•       A life that promotes the array of ecclesial vocations


27. Although the life of vowed religious priests encompasses everything that has been said about the life of priests generally, the experience and the exercise of the ministerial priesthood within the context of religious life differs from that of the diocesan priesthood.

28. The primary context of religious priesthood ordinarily comes from the nature of religious life itself. Religious who are called to priesthood exercise that ministry within the context of their religious charism. The exercise of priesthood takes on a distinctive quality for a religious, depending upon the rule of life and the charism of a particular institute or society.

29. To a great extent, the deeper identification of religious with the charism of their founders today is due to their obedience to the directives of the Second Vatican Council. “The up-to-date renewal of the religious life comprises both a constant return to the sources of the whole of the Christian life and to the primitive inspiration of the institutes, and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time.”24

30. Centuries of tradition bear witness to a difference between formation for religious life and formation of candidates for the priesthood. Formation for religious life must always take into account the charism, history, and mission of the particular institute or society, while recognizing the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral requirements incumbent upon all who are called to the ministerial priesthood.

31. This program outlines the requirements shared by religious and diocesan candidates for priesthood while recognizing the different process of spiritual formation incumbent upon those whose primary call is to be of service to the Church through religious life and for whom fidelity to the charism of their founder is the gift that is shared.25


Priestly Vocations in the Church’s Pastoral

Work and the Admission of Candidates


Various Responsibilities in the Church for Vocations

32. The whole Church receives the gift of vocations from God and is responsible for promoting and discerning vocations.26 The entire Church is to be engaged in the pastoral work of promoting vocations.27 It is integral to the mission of the Church “to care for the birth, discernment, and fostering of vocations, particularly those to the priesthood.”28 Within that ecclesial context, there are various responsibilities:

•       The Church: The whole Church through prayer, active cooperation, and the witness of living full Christian lives takes responsibility for vocations.29

•       The family: “A very special responsibility falls upon the Christian family, which by virtue of the Sacrament of Matrimony shares in its own unique way in the educational mission of the Church, Teacher, and Mother.” Families can become “a first seminary in which children can acquire from the beginning an awareness of piety and prayer and of love for the Church” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 41).

•       The bishop: “The first responsibility for the pastoral work of promoting priestly vocations lies with the Bishop, who is called to be the first to exercise this responsibility, even though he can and must call upon many others to cooperate with him” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 41). However he shares his responsibility, the pastoral task of promoting priestly vocations remains his task for which he must continue to offer supervision and direct involvement.30 As the one responsible for the unity of the local church and its communion with the universal Church, the bishop, especially in the context of the United States, must encourage a wide range of candidates who represent the cultural and linguistic diversity of his diocese.

•       The presbyterate: “The Bishop can rely above all on the cooperation of his presbyterate. All its priests are united to him and share his responsibility in seeking and fostering priestly vocations” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 41). They do this by inviting men to consider the priesthood as a possible vocation. For those who are discerning the call, priests can nurture their sense of vocation and be invaluable mentors along the path of discernment. Through their priestly ministry, especially in parish assignments, priests are able to recognize the prayerfulness, the talents, and the character of men who may be called to priestly ministry. “At the same time the diligence of priests in carrying out their Eucharistic ministry, together with the conscious, active, and fruitful participation of the faithful in the Eucharist, provides young men with a powerful example and incentive for responding generously to


God’s call. Often it is the example of a priest’s fervent charity which the Lord uses to sow and to bring to fruition in a young man’s heart the seed of a priestly calling.”31

•       The vocation director: In dioceses and religious institutes in the United States, generally there is a vocation director (or team) who serves on behalf of the bishop and presbyterate or the religious ordinary and institute or society to promote vocations (the work of recruitment) and to direct those vocations while in discernment (the work of supervision or direction). In his supervisory function, a diocesan vocation director may manage the diocesan process of the admission of candidates, serve as a liaison between the diocesan bishop and the seminary, and link the seminarian-candidates to the diocese and presbyterate, e.g., through the placement of interns. He collaborates with the bishop, with the presbyterate, with a diocesan vocation commission if one is in place, and with the seminary. A religious vocation director’s role may vary according to the division of labor in a given religious institute or society. In all cases, the relationship with the seminary merits special attention. Mutual respect and collaboration should mark the relation of vocation and seminary personnel. Each possesses different responsibilities; yet cooperation, mutual knowledge, and trust are vital for the good of the candidates and the benefit of the Church. Such collaboration is especially important concerning the recommendation of applicants for admission and their continuing evaluation. Visitations to the seminary on the part of the bishop, religious ordinary, and vocation personnel should be encouraged.32 The bishop’s own relationship with the seminary and his seminarians should never be simply left to the seminary or vocations personnel. Often it may be helpful for seminary faculty to visit the local dioceses and religious communities they serve.

•       The seminary: The seminary plays a collaborative role in the promotion and an important role in the discernment of vocations. A seminary attached to a particular diocese often subsumes the responsibilities of a diocesan vocation director/recruiter. In the seminary, the rector, assisted by his faculty, is especially important in promoting, assessing, and developing priestly vocations. His leadership in this role is spiritual, pastoral, and administrative.

•       Seminarians: Seminarians also play a significant role in promoting priestly vocations through the friendships they form outside the seminary setting, through their visible presence in their home parishes, through their involvement in Christian service activities and field education, through their assistance with vocation programs, and through the welcome they extend to visitors at the seminary.


The Discernment of Vocations

33. Potential candidates for the priesthood must be in prayerful dialogue with God and with the Church in the discernment of their vocation. The linkage of this divine and ecclesial dialogue is especially important because “in the present context there is . . . a certain tendency to view the bond between human beings and God in an individualistic and self-centered way, as if God’s call

reached the individual by a direct route, without in any way passing through the community” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 37). Eventually, this dialogue, properly conducted, may bring candidates to the admissions process, completing this first phase of vocational discernment.

The Admissions Process

34. The purpose of the admissions process is to determine whether candidates have the requisite qualities to begin the process of formation and preparation for priestly ordination and ministry. In a global way, Pastores dabo vobis offers these criteria as a basis for admission to the seminary program: “a right intention, . . . a sufficiently broad knowledge of the doctrine of the faith, some introduction to the methods of prayer, and behavior in conformity with Christian tradition. They should also have attitudes proper to their regions, through which they can express their effort to find God and the faith” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 62).

35. In forming a prudent judgment about the suitability of an applicant for priestly formation, the principle of gradualism should be used. According to the principle of gradualism, progressively higher levels of expectations should be sought as an applicant seeks admission to progressively higher levels of preparation, moving from the preparatory to the collegiate or pre­theologate, and finally to the theologate program. In short, the closer the program is to priestly ordination, the greater the applicant’s development of the requisite qualities ought to be. The principle of gradualism recognizes that it would be unrealistic to expect an applicant for admission to be fully mature in all areas.

36. The principle of gradualism, however, does not deny that a minimal level of development is necessary for admission to any level of priestly formation. The minimal qualities necessary for admission are properly understood as thresholds or foundations. All applicants need to have passed through certain thresholds of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral development, which will serve as foundations for further development. For example, if a candidate has achieved a threshold of a basic capacity for empathy and communication, he would seem to have a foundation upon which pastoral formation could develop.

37. Candidates for admission, in other words, should have attained, at least in some measure, growth in those areas represented by the four pillars or in the integrated dimensions of formation identified in Pastores dabo vobis: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. In trying to determine what is sufficient growth or development in these areas, seminaries ought to be clear and specific. For example, sufficient human formation for admission means not only an absence of serious pathology but also a proven capacity to function competently in ordinary human situations without need to do extensive therapeutic or remedial work to be fully functioning, a psychosexual maturity commensurate with chronological age, a genuine empathy that enables the applicant to connect well and personally with others, a capacity for growth or conversion, and a deep desire to be a man for others in the likeness of Christ. Sufficient spiritual formation means a well catechized person who prays daily, belongs to a parish, participates at least weekly in the Sunday Eucharist and regularly in the Sacrament of Penance and is drawn to explore and deepen his spiritual life and share it with others. Sufficient intellectual formation means proven capacities for critical thinking, an ability to understand both abstract and practical questions, and the capacity to understand other persons and to communicate effectively with them in both oral

and written form. Sufficient pastoral formation means having a fundamental sense of the Church’s mission and a generous willingness and enthusiasm to promote it and knowing how the ordained priesthood contributes to the mission; having a sensitivity to the needs of others and a desire to respond to them; and having a willingness to initiate action and assume a position of leadership for the good of individuals and communities. Finally, candidates should also have the right intention when they present themselves for admission to the seminary. Their intention to pursue preparation for priestly ordination and ministry ought to correspond to the Church’s understanding.

38. In contrast to previous generations, when a more homogenous population presented itself for entrance to the seminary, today’s candidates represent a considerable diversity—not only of differing personal gifts and levels of maturity but also significant cultural differences—that must be taken into account. All those involved in the evaluation of applicants for priestly formation must appreciate cultural, generational, educational, and familial differences and be able to recognize which are gifts, which are liabilities, and which are simply indications of a need for fuller growth.

39. At the diocesan level, the primary responsibility for overseeing the admissions process belongs to the bishop. Ultimately, of course, it is the responsibility of the bishop or religious ordinary, to decide whether or not to admit candidates to priestly formation, in accordance with the criteria which have been properly established.33 The bishop or religious ordinary shares his responsibility with the vocation director or vocation team, perhaps also with a vocation board or commission, and with the local parishes. The admissions process requires: sacramental records, autobiography, a review of the psychological and medical assessment (with due regard for CIC c. 241 and Ratio fundamentalis no. 39), observations of the potential candidates during the course of their visits to the seminary, interviews, transcripts, criminal background checks, and immigration documentation as well as letters of reference.34 Bishops, religious superiors, and rectors must have moral certitude about the psychological and physical health of those they admit to the seminary. In particular, they should be assured that applicants have a requisite level of affective maturity and the capacity to live celibate chastity. They will determine the means necessary to arrive at such certitude, including, for example, their own interviews with applicants, the reliable testimony of those who have known the applicants, and psychological and physical assessments made by expert consultants. Whenever possible, the diocese and the seminary should conduct separate admission procedures to ensure the broadest and most objective screening possible, while avoiding a duplication of these efforts.

40. Although this process aims primarily at determining the fitness of an applicant for a seminary program, once an applicant is admitted to a seminary program, the results of the process contribute to the seminarian’s personal agenda for priestly formation. Specifically, the observations and conclusions that emerge from the admissions process should serve as a significant resource for the seminarian’s human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation within the seminary. The sharing of this information presumes a due respect for the rights of the seminarian and a prudent maintenance of confidentiality.

41. Without denying the importance of evaluating minimal thresholds in all areas of an applicant’s development, high standards and strict vigilance are especially necessary in evaluating human thresholds pertaining to sexuality. “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the attitude for forming bonds of communion with others.”35 For the seminary applicant, thresholds pertaining to sexuality serve as the foundation for living a lifelong commitment to healthy, chaste celibacy. As we have recently seen so dramatically in the Church, when such foundations are lacking in priests, the consequent suffering and scandals are devastating.





42. Seminaries as well as dioceses must have clear written statements of admission policies, which are to be regularly reviewed and updated. These policies include behavioral criteria which place the burden of qualification for admission to the seminary on applicants. In cases in which the admission committee has reservations, caution should be taken and the benefit of the doubt given to the Church. It is also important that the admission procedure carefully weigh the potential impact of the admission of each individual on the whole seminary community.

43. Seminaries should specify thresholds or foundations in a way that permits those charged with admitting candidates to have clear criteria available. This approach to admissions assumes that the seminary formation program is not the place for long term therapy or remedial work, which should be completed prior to a decision concerning admission.

44. Applicants must give evidence of an overall personal balance, good moral character, a love for the truth, and proper motivation. This includes the requisite human, moral, spiritual, intellectual, physical, and psychological qualities for priestly ministry.36

45. All applicants should give witness to their conviction that God has brought them to the seminary to discern whether or not they are really called to the priesthood, and they should commit themselves wholeheartedly to carrying out that discernment. They should be alert both to signs that seem to confirm that call and to counter indications. As a seminarian moves from a high school seminary program to college seminary to the theologate, there should be a growing sense of confirmation of that call.

46. Applicants for pre-theology must follow a careful and thorough admissions process equivalent to entrance procedures for the theologate. This process may result in specific recommendations concerning the applicant’s program.

47. Applicants must undergo a thorough screening process. Personal interviews with the applicants, evaluations from their pastors and teachers, records and evaluations from a previous


seminary or religious community if applicable, academic records, standardized test scores, psychological evaluations, and criminal background checks are all components of an effective admission program and are weighed together with an assessment of the applicant’s motivation. Those who do not fulfill these entrance requirements of the seminary must not be admitted.

48. It is the responsibility of the vocation director (or representative of the religious community) to provide the seminary in a timely and complete fashion the results of the screening process used by the diocese or religious community.

49. Applicants from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds should be given every encouragement. Seminaries are responsible to ensure the possession of adequate resources to serve the formative needs of such applicants. Academic requirements should not be lessened, but necessary adaptations may be made to enable admission into the regular course of study. Applicants must have an adequate command of the English language to begin intellectual formation in a seminary in which English is the language of instruction. English language studies may be undertaken in the seminary before admission into the full, regular courses of seminary study. It is also important that applicants from other countries receive special help in gaining the necessary understanding of the religious and cultural context for priestly ministry and life in the United States.

50. Theologates must require a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent from an accredited institution. Sufficient education in philosophy, which the Code of Canon Law states as a biennium,37 is understood in the United States to be at least 30 semester credit hours, plus the out-of-classroom work associated with each credit hour traditionally expected in American higher education. A minimum of 12 semester credit hours is required in appropriate courses of undergraduate theology. (The content of such courses is outlined in norms 14 and 15 under Intellectual Formation—College Seminary Norms.)

51. Seminaries should draw up guidelines for psychologists and admission personnel and describe those human traits and qualities that are consonant with an authentic vocation to the priesthood as well as those counter-indications that would suggest that the applicant is not a suitable candidate. Seminaries as well as dioceses and religious communities must be assured that those who conduct psychological evaluations for them are well versed in and supportive of the Church’s expectations of candidates for the priesthood, especially expectations concerning celibacy and permanence of commitment.

52. A psychological assessment is an integral part of the admission procedure. Psychological assessments should be administered using methods that do not violate the applicant’s right to privacy and confidentiality or do harm to the reputation of the applicant.38 At the same time, the applicant should understand that the testing results will be shared with select seminary personnel in a way that permits a thorough review. Due care should be observed in correctly interpreting the results of psychological testing in light of the cultural background of applicants.

53. The admissions process ought to give sufficient attention to the emotional health of applicants. Special care and scrutiny should be given to those who manifest dysfunction or come from dysfunctional families. It is possible for some seminarians to address these issues in the course of a seminary program through counseling or other means. Their willingness, however, to confront these or other personal issues should be determined prior to the decision about admission. If long-term therapeutic work is indicated, this is best accomplished before the decision is made concerning entrance into the seminary. At times, the gravity of family or personal issues is such that, if the candidate has not yet adequately dealt with these issues, entrance into the seminary program should be denied.



54. The admissions procedure should include an open and frank discussion of the life experiences that applicants bring to the seminary. Their level of insight or self-knowledge and their willingness to address important human issues, such as their interpersonal abilities, evidence of sound peer relationships, their manner of dealing with authority, and their psychosexual development, can be important gauges of their readiness to enter a seminary program. If the applicant is unaware of or unresolved concerning significant human issues, the seminary is well advised to delay admission until greater clarity or resolution is evident. Concerning the capacity to live the charism of celibacy, the applicant should give evidence of having lived in continence for a sustained period of time, which would be for at least two years before entering a priestly formation program.



55. Any evidence of criminal sexual activity with a minor or an inclination toward such activity disqualifies the applicant from admission.39



56. With regard to the admission of candidates with same sex experiences and/or inclinations, the guidelines provided by the Holy See must be followed.



57. Concerning the results of psychological testing and other confidential materials, the seminary must observe all legal requirements, inform the applicant in writing of his specific rights to privacy and confidentiality, and utilize appropriate release forms.40 Throughout the admission process and, if accepted, after entrance into the seminary, the candidate’s right to privacy should be respected and the careful management of confidential materials is to be observed. This is especially true in the case of sharing confidential information with a team of formators, while at the same time ensuring that those charged with the candidate’s growth and integration have the clear and specific information they need so that they can help the candidate achieve the growth necessary to become a ‘man of communion.’41 The rector must observe a careful vigilance that protects the privacy and reputation of the seminarian in his relationship with the formation faculty. The traditional distinction between internal and external forum is to be maintained. Clear policies must be enunciated concerning who may have access to any of the admissions materials. Clear directives must be in place to determine any further use of psychological testing results or other admissions materials for formation or even counseling purposes.

58. In the admissions process, an evaluation should be made of a candidate’s indebtedness, his ability to handle finances (i.e., responsible record-keeping and payment of personal taxes), spending patterns, and a willingness to cover a portion of his seminary expenses. Candidates should demonstrate an aptitude for learning principles of good stewardship, avoiding any attitudes of entitlement. They should also show an openness to developing professional approaches to personal and church-related business matters.

59. The admissions process should be attentive to older, experienced applicants, who often bring a mature spirituality, experience in pastoral life, and other significant life experiences, but who might also be less susceptible to formation. The seminary admissions process must be no less rigorous, thorough, or comprehensive than it might be for other applicants.

60. Diocesan bishops, religious ordinaries, vocation directors, and seminaries should recognize that additional time will be necessary to prepare candidates without previous seminary formation for entrance into the theologate. If a person has no previous preparation in a formation program, then the pre-theology program should extend over a two-year calendar period. Pre-theology programs are designed to address all four pillars of formation, not simply to meet academic requirements.

61. If applicants have been in a seminary or formation program previously, dioceses, religious institutes or societies, and seminaries must consult all previous institutions about the past record of these applicants as prescribed in the Norms Concerning Applications for Priestly Formation from Those Previously Enrolled in a Formation Program.42 If such records indicate difficulties, before admitting the applicant, the seminary should proceed cautiously and ascertain whether problems have been resolved and sufficient positive growth has taken place.

62. If an applicant has been dismissed from a program of priestly formation or from an institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life, no subsequent application will be considered in the two years following such dismissal. If the departure was other than a dismissal, sufficient time should be allotted to evaluate carefully his application and background. (See Addendum A.)

63. Prior to admission, the diocese or religious community is obliged to ensure (and the seminary must verify) that recent Baptism and Confirmation certificates (CIC, c. 241§2, 1050, 1033; CCEO, c. 342§2, 769§1, 1°) have been obtained. Although a valid marriage certificate of the applicant’s parents is no longer canonically required, the seminary may request it to gain further insight into the applicant’s family background. The diocese must also obtain the following documentation from others: summaries of personal interviews with the applicant, evaluation from his pastor and teachers, academic records, standardized test scores, assessments


by experienced formators of the applicant’s motivation and, if applicable, previous seminary evaluations. The seminary must verify the completion of all documentation before a candidate is admitted.

64. The seminary is also obligated to determine the freedom of the applicant from impediments to orders and from conditions that must be addressed prior to the reception of orders; namely: that sufficient time has passed for a neophyte (CIC, c. 1042, 3°; CCEO, c. 762§1, 8°); that the applicant does not hold a position forbidden to clerics (CIC, c. 285-6, 289, 1042 2° and 3°; CCEO, c. 762§1, 7° and 8°, 382-5); that the applicant does not “labor under some form of insanity or psychic defect” (CIC, c. 1041 1° and 2°; CCEO, c. 172§1,1°, 762§1, 1° and 2°); that he has not committed apostasy, heresy, or schism (CIC, c. 1041, 2°; CCEO, c. 762§1, 2°); that he has not committed homicide, cooperated in an abortion (CIC, c. 1041, 4°; CCEO, c. 762§1, 4°), mutilated himself or another, attempted suicide (CIC, c. 1041, 5°; CCEO,

c. 762§1, 5°), or simulated an act reserved to priests or bishops (CIC, c. 1041, 6°; CCEO, c. 762§1, 6°). If any of these conditions exist, then prior to admission, appropriate dispensations or remedies must be obtained. It is also recommended that the seminary investigate whether the candidate is allergic to wheat, whether he is able to consume the Precious Blood, whether he is abusing alcohol or drugs, whether he has a criminal background, whether he has ever been sexually abused as a minor, and whether any remedies would be appropriate.

65. The admission process by the diocese or religious community must include a thorough physical examination to ensure that applicants possess the good health necessary for seminary training and priestly ministry. This exam should include HIV and drug testing.

66. An applicant for the priesthood must testify that he is not married or, if he is married, he has the approval of the Holy See. If an Eastern Catholic candidate is married, a certificate of marriage is required along with the written consent of his wife (CCEO, 769§1, 2°) and the approval of the Apostolic See. Applicants who have received a declaration of matrimonial nullity should be carefully screened. Although these men may have canonical freedom to pursue the priesthood, it is important to ascertain if and how previous obstacles to a marriage commitment or possible scandal might affect their viability as candidates for the priesthood. Care must be taken to certify the canonical declaration of nullity by reviewing the Acta (official documentation and evidence for the canonical decision) to ensure that the reasons and circumstances that serve as warrants for the declaration of nullity are fully disclosed to the sponsoring bishop or religious ordinary, rector, and the seminary admissions committee. If a previously married person has responsibilities for spouse, this factor is to be considered. If the candidate has responsibility for a minor child, acceptance should be deferred. All such cases should be carefully weighed.

67. Especially careful screening should also be given to applicants who are recent converts to the Catholic faith or who have lapsed in the practice of their faith and have recently returned. It is advisable that at least two years pass between their entry into the Church and their acceptance into a seminary program. A suitable period of time should pass before entrance into the seminary in cases of Catholics for whom a sudden conversion experience seems to precipitate a priestly vocation. Similarly, those who return to the practice of the faith after an extended period away from the Church should not enter the seminary directly.


The Formation of Candidates for Priesthood


68. Formation, as the Church understands it, is not equivalent to a secular sense of schooling or, even less, job training. Formation is first and foremost cooperation with the grace of God. In the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests, a reflection on Saint Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 3:17-18 leads to a description of formation. “The apostle Paul marvels at the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms believers into the very image of Jesus Christ, who himself is the image of God. This grace of the new covenant embraces all who have joined themselves to Jesus Christ in faith and baptism. Indeed, it is sheer grace, all God’s doing. Moved by that grace, however, we make ourselves available to God’s work of transformation. And that making ready a place for the Lord to dwell in us and transform us we call formation.”43

69. All priestly formation takes place within the context of the Church as the Body of Christ and in relationship to the mission of the Church. Thus it is essential that the formation of the candidate for priesthood be integrated within the wider ecclesial dimension so that the candidate understands his role as a priest to be the representative and servant of the Church.

70. The seminary and its programs foster the formation of future priests by attending specifically to their human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation—the four pillars of priestly formation developed in Pastores dabo vobis. These pillars of formation and their finality give specificity to formation in seminaries as well as a sense of the integrated wholeness of the different dimensions of formation. “Although this formation [in seminaries] has many aspects in common with the human and Christian formation of all the members of the Church, it has, nevertheless, contents, modalities, and characteristics which relate specifically to the aim of preparation for the priesthood . . . the Seminary should have a precise program, a program of life characterized by its being organized and unified . . . with one aim which justifies the existence of the Seminary: preparation of future priests” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 61).

71. The goal is not just the development of a well-rounded person, a prayerful person, or an experienced pastoral practitioner but rather one who understands his spiritual development within the context of his call to service in the Church, his human development within the greater context of his call to advance the mission of the Church, his intellectual development as the appropriation of the Church’s teaching and tradition, and his pastoral formation as participation in the active ministry of the Church.

72. The sections that follow on human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation are to be read in this unified and integrated sense. These are neither discrete nor layered dimensions of priestly existence, but they are—as we shall see—interrelated aspects of a human response to God’s transforming grace.

73. Clearly human formation is the foundation for the other three pillars. Spiritual formation informs the other three. Intellectual formation appropriates and understands the other three. Pastoral formation expresses the other three pillars in practice.


xcxxcxxc  F ” “ This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 2005....x....   “”.