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Posted February 10, 2003

The Distinct Yet Related Parts of Priestly Formation

By Bishop John Nienstedt
In Origins Oct. 24, 2002

What I believe the fifth edition of the Program for Priestly Formation will seek to portray are the four aspects of priestly formation functioning as distinct yet related parts of an integrated whole, said Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn., chair-elect of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Priestly Formation as well as chairman of its subcommittee for rewriting the fifth edition of the Program for Priestly Formation, which provides the rationale and norms for U.S. seminaries.

. . . Human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation each contribute to the other three; in each, the others find their fulfillment.

In a discussion of human formation of celibate chasity, the new Program for Priestly Formation will need to deal directly with the acceptance or nonacceptance of priesthood candidates who admit a homosexual orientation.

Nienstedt said he would not speculate on that discussion's specific outcome, but he cited three criteria that he would say every priesthood candidate must meet in this regard.

First, he must be willing to give internal consent to the church's teaching, as proposed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that a homosexual inclination is objectively disordered since every homosexual act is intrinsically disordered.

Second, he cannot espouse a "gay" identity, by which is meant allowing himself to define his personality, outlook or self-understanding by virtue of a same-sex attraction.

Third, he must be prepared to admit that the sacrifice rendered by a celibate commitment is the renoucing of wife and children for the sake of the kingdom, and he must be ready to make that a personal and substantial, not merely symbolic, gift of self.

Speaking of spiritual formation, Nienstedt said: I agree strongly that spirituality, our call to communion with God, is the most desired quality our people look for in a parish priest. Yet to be wholesome and life-giving that spirituality must be linked to the other three dimensions of formation.

Excerpts from the text:

I have personally been involved with four of those visitations and can testify to the positive mannerin which today's seminary formation programs conform to the norms of the present Program for Priestly Formation.

With regard to intellectual formation, one of the areas of discussion will be the philosophy requirements offered at the pre-theology level. I personally would like to see the bishops hold fast to a full two-year pre-theology program. This time should be dedicated not just to a full exposure to the necessary philosophical content needed to do the work of theology, but also in allowing for the integration of that content through a process of internalization with the candidate's own priestly identity.