“Be careful of who you admit to the seminary,” because there could be people with mental deficiencies among the candidates to the priesthood. Pope Francis said this in an audience with participants of a Conference sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy marking the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the Vatican II decrees “Presbyterorum ordinis” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests) and “Optatam Totius” (Decree on Priestly Training) (Pontifical Urbaniana University, 19-20).
Speaking off the cuff, Francis told a story about when he taught the novices of the Society of Jesus. A “good” boy didn’t pass the psychiatrist’s test and she said to Bergoglio: “These boys are fine until they have settled, until they feel completely secure. Then the problems start. Father, have you ever asked yourself why there are policemen who are torturers,” the doctor apparently asked Francis. The Pope told clergy that they must think twice when a young man “is too confident, rigid and fundamentalist”. Hence, his invitation to them to beware when admitting candidates to the seminary: “There are mentally ill boys who seek strong structures that can protect them”, such as “the police, the army and the clergy”.
In his speech, the Pope remembered the reform Benedict XVI wanted to introduce. He put the Congregation for the Clergy, now headed by Cardinal Beniamino Stella, in charge of the seminaries so the dicastery “can start dealing with the life and ministry of the presbyteries from the moment candidates enter the seminary, working to ensure vocations are promoted and nurtured and can lead to priests living saintly lives. A priest’s path towards sainthood being in he seminary!”
A priest, the Pope said, “is a man who is born in a particular human context” and there, staring from the family, “he learns his first values, absorbs the people’s spirituality, he gets used to relations. Even priests have a life story “and are not ‘mushrooms’ which sprout up suddenly at the Cathedral on their day of ordination,” said the Holy Father. “It is important for formators and the priests themselves to remember this, and know how to take this personal history into account along the formation path.”
“A good priest is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history – with its treasures and wounds – and has learned to make peace with it, gaining a profound serenity, characteristic of a disciple of the Lord,” he said. “Human formation is therefore needed for priests, so they may learn not to be dominated by their limits, but rather to put their talents to use.” The Pope said a priest is “a man of peace” who surrounds himself with serenity, even during hardships. “It is not normal for a priest to be often sad, nervous, or of a hard character; it is not good, and does no good, neither for the priest nor for his people,” he said.
Knowing and remembering that priests exist for the people, helps the them not to be self-centered but authoritative, not authoritarian, firm but not harsh, joyous but not superficial. Basically, pastors, not officials. The priestly mission is for the people of God and the whole of humanity. A priest, Francis said, “is always surrounded by other people”, he is not a pastoral care professional or an evangelisation professional who come and does what he has to do – he may even do a good job but it is still like a job – and then goes away and lives a separate life. One becomes a priest in order to be among the people. The amount of good priests can do depends above all on their closeness and tender love for people. They are not philanthropists or officials, but fathers and brothers. Closeness, a deep sense of mercy and a loving gaze: this is what we need in order to evangelise, to pass on the beauty of a life lived according to the Gospel and the love of God which becomes concrete also through his ministers.”
Francis reminded bishops that the decree on residence is still in force: “If you don’t feel like staying in your diocese you should resign,” Francis says referring to bishops who travel too much and are not close enough to their flock. “How often do we hear priests complaining.” Addressing the bishops he said: “If someone calls you and you can’t answer at that moment, at least pick up the phone and call them.”