Posted July 22, 2004
Taken from: As One Who Serves: Reflections on the Pastoral Ministry of Priests in the United States. United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, Washington, DC
Respect for the very nature of the human person implies a realization of the demands of continuing education of the whole person, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, in light of the constant change of culture. Priests share a generally common experience of seminary education. The kind of spiritual and intellectual tutoring received during formative years has played a major role in determining who the priest is and how ministry is exercised. Some of the problems experienced by priests today are the heritage of what was often an isolated environment and sometimes inadequate intellectual challenge. The renewal of theological education since Vatican II is a source of promise for the future.
It is important to learn from the post, and to realize the limitations it effects in current situations. One archbishop’s observations are to the point: “In most cases there will be no final solution, only a continual attempt to adjust oneself to a perpetually evolving situation. This is certainly true of the methods of priestly training that will have to be fashioned in the near future to meet the crises of relevance and authority.” The assumption here is that priestly formation is a life process only begun in the seminary, and that the whole of the priest’s ministry is a continuum which leads to always greater growth and development of a priest as person and as servant leader.
The local Church and religious order have a serious obligation to provide adequate programs of continuing education for the priest. Such continuing education must not be seen as a luxury or a substitute for a vacation. It is necessity for the Church and for the priest. One NCCB document states such a demand succinctly:
Every priest has a right and an obligation to continue his spiritual growth and education. He has a right to strong support from his superiors, peers, and the people he serves. He also has an obligation to his superiors and peers, but above all to his people to continue to grow in grace and knowledge.
In practice the strong support mentioned in the document includes not only encouragement but also financial assistance. Many dioceses have developed continuing education policies which allow for sabbatical periods and include respectable formulas for the financial arrangements.
The priest’s responsibility toward continuing education is strong and deep. He has a right and responsibility to secure, encourage and participate in continuing education programs which enhance personal development and contribute to pastoral understanding and skill. Respecting one’s rights to continuing education in the broadest sense is to understand the dignity of one’s person — all of which is primary in personal growth.