Do we (and should we) care who becomes a priest?


The title is super inflammatory.
What I mean is this: Many priests I have met do not seem particularly well qualified - not in terms of holiness, or zeal, or fidelity, or even sympathy - but in terms of their ability to either 1) run a parish 2) explain more complex points of theology, or 3) know what to say when someone comes to them with problems. This is not to mention the inability to 4) write a coherent homily, or 5) the inability to read aloud the words of the liturgy (trouble reading is pretty common in my diocese).

Now, some priests give incoherent substanceless homilies, but bring in dozens of converts. Some priests can’t explain anything but can keep a struggling parish afloat.

I wonder, though, should we be concerned about the intelligence of the clergy? I mean, if we raised the standards to graduate from the seminary, would we lose valuable assets? Solanus Casey, Saint Giuseppe, these show that we might be foolish to discriminate on this basis.

But what are we to do? IS this even a problem? Are there enough well versed priests that it doesn’t matter if a lot of them struggle to read, since those might refer doubting parishioners to other people?

Does it matter? What do you think?


I cant really relate to this post, because I’ve yet to come across a priest who has struggled with reading or structuring a homily! The ones I’ve dealt with seem fairly intelligent to me…


I’ve never met a priest yet who had trouble reading, even those for whom English is a second or even third language. What I have seen is priests who would make much better administrators than parish priests, but are assigned as parish priests because there aren’t enough priests to go around. Ditto for those who are excellent homilists, teachers, or counselors, but lack administrative ability.

When I first joined the Church, quite a few parishes still had two or even three priests. They balanced each other. We don’t have that luxury now.

A single priest managing one or more parishes (here it’s common for a priest to have three!) simply can’t be all things for all people.


In a simple word, “Only if WE are ordaining them”.

The call to priesthood, is not a career decision or a sea change from your old life. It is a Call to Holiness and a holy life. It is not a decision that he is forced nor coaxed in to.

First of all, Yes. I have known priests, who are very strict. I remember my Rector, during my school days. I cannot know how holy a priest, nor anyone is, as that is between them and God.
Yes, some struggle with Language. I do not limit those who are NOT in western countries, but even they have had trouble in being understood. e.g. a think English, Irish or Scottish accent, although pleasant, simply escapes me.

Each priest will be blessed in a particular way. It is a difficult task to give them the best situation. All we can do is pray for them.

Dominus vobiscum.


Not everyone has the same gifts. The same goes for priests, bishops, and even popes. Part of what gets Pope Francis in trouble sometimes is that he sees himself, first and foremost, as a pastor. St. John Paul II was the great communicator - he had been an actor and a professor. Benedict XVI was one of the greatest theologians we’ve had since St. Thomas Aquinas. But Francis’s background was primarily pastoral. It’s not that his training was less rigorous (in fact, I’ve heard that the seminarian training for Jesuits is more rigorous than for diocesan priests), it’s just that he’s had a different focus. In order to be more reachable to his flock, he decided to live the type of lifestyle that most people in his flock had - poor, riding the bus/subway, and being outgoing.

The ultimate job that a pastor has is understanding the needs of his flock. He needs to know how to tell his flock the hard truths that they need to hear in a way that they will listen. And, he needs to know how to use his flock to compensate for his shortcomings. If the priest has a hard time running and keeping a budget, well, that’s why parishes have budget committees and secretaries. Pastoral councils exist to help the pastor with different facets of running the parish and for seeing specific needs of the parish. The pastor generally has the last say one way or the other, but pastoral councils are more than rubber-stamp committees. In fact, some of the best ideas for the parish come from pastoral council members - and there are times when the pastoral council will tell the pastor that the pastor’s idea isn’t a good idea.

Now, as for stumbling over words, a lot of it has to do with the new edition of the Roman Missal, and how wordy and complicated some of the words are. Plus, many of these priests were so used to the old edition of the Roman Missal that they still have a hard time reading the new Missal. Seriously - I still struggle to read the new version of the Nicene Creed (consubstantial is a tricky word). And, yes, though priests take classes in homiletics, some are just going to be better than others at giving homilies. We can’t expect our priests to be perfect at everything, but we can and should expect them to try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and lead us by example.


Yes, we should be concerned about this. But it’s hard to tell if this was an issue of poor seminary formation/selection or if these are problems that developed later.

On the other hand, while all of those things are great, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the #1 thing a priest is called to do is to bring the Sacraments to the faithful.


We all have different gifts to offer. But priests should be well educated.


This, this, 100x this.

God calls who He calls, it is not for us to question. At some point you have to trust that God has allowed the Holy Spirit to work through these individuals for a purpose sometimes known only to God, as is His pleasure. :thumbsup:


And they actually are. Honestly, Major Seminary is graduate school - men studying for the priesthood graduate with a Master’s in Divinity (theology). They need a Bachelor’s degree to even apply to seminary (and where they got their Bachelor’s and what type of Bachelor’s they earned will determine if they need to do up to 2 years of pre-requisites before they even start their theology degree). Now, could some have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia? Of course - and others could have speech and language impairments so they end up talking with a lisp or stutter. But that has no bearing on how intelligent they are.


We have personally talked about this. You know how strong my feelings are on this subject. If there is a way to private message on here, message me.
P.S. You also know that it’s next to impossible to “flame” or offend me.


I’ve certainly found this to be the case for the last couple of decades, which would form that period during which I’ve actually known individual priests the best.

There have been changes in seminaries over the last couple of decades and they are working hard to make sure that those ordained are suited for the Priesthood, which might have been less true for a certain period of years before that. The Priests I’ve known in recent years have all been pretty impressive intellects. Our current one delivers homilies that are very on point and intellectual, but capable of being understood by all, and English is not his native language. A very highly intelligent individual.


Some food for thought. St. John Mary Vianney, patron saint of priests, was terrible in seminary. He couldn’t grasp Latin and had much trouble with his studies. A petition was passed around to have him kIcked out of seminary for being too dumb. He signed it. When it came time for the bishop to determine whether he was suitable for ordination and learned of his struggles in seminary, the bishop asked one thing, “is he holy?”

We must be careful when we put our opinions into who should and shouldn’t be ordained.


This is a tough one. If God calls someone to the priesthood, then should we interfere with His will?

I have only met one priest who I felt would be better back translating Latin or something. He had horrible interpersonal skills and could not look anyone in the eye or even at them when talking. When he would give his homily, he would always look at the ceiling of the church. He was extremely smart and memorized all his homilies and could teach Theology like the best of them, but he just was not good with people. I do believe the diocese saw this and reassigned him with something that he is more comfortable with and better suited with.

YBIC - John


Looking people in the eye is not a requirement for the priesthood. Many saints as a form of mortification refrained from looking up or at things or people. There was one saint who was in charge of the food store and all the food on the top shelves spoiled because he refused to ever look up at anything. Needless to say he was assigned a different task.


It would be foolish to discriminate. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. 1 Corinthians 3:19

I wonder what the people of his day thought of St. Peter?

I’d bet a whole lot of Pharisees thought it really odd to consider that God appointed a fishermen instead of someone with a high educated background in theology like the Pharisees to be the first leader of the church. Think about how strange that must have sounded to them, to even consider it it probably sounded absurd to them.

I don’t think its up to us to sort out who makes a good priest or not. Plus, if you had a secret poll, I’d bet that there would be those who said they liked (as in they felt they were qualified) a certain priest while others said they didn’t. If we did start to ‘do something about it’, I’d bet you we would have NO priests left, because almost everyone would find something wrong with each one. Its easy enough to do. Also, popularity means nothing specific in God’s eyes, why should it matter so strongly to us who is so ‘perfect’?

We are a part of the body- not all priests are going to have the same “organ” function. Church History tells us that there have been those deemed unworthy or unfit for priesthood, which God showed otherwise. And Church history also shows that there were those who were flagrantly popular but were really ravenous wolves.

I thank God HE CALLS, and we don’t choose. In secular history, people chose Hitler, remember? They thought it was for the best and enthusiastically went for it all.

I would not dare to think I could or should do something about any priest, unless we knew for certain he was doing something criminal. That is a whole other can of beans.


To the person who recommended I write him privately, I don’t recognize your name, and think you may be confusing me with someone else. Sorry about that. And to the people who implied I was complaining about strict priests, I am not 100% on why you thought that. I like a strict priest. Also, I really was not complaining about priests! I was just wondering if we should be concerned. And for the “only if WE are ordaining them” thing - I never said “WE” ordained anybody; I asked if we should care. And I think you would agree we should.

Anyway, I tried to make it clear in my post that I was not of the opinion that under-education was necessarily a problem (only that it might be), and I did not recommend a solution.

But anyway, I am slightly dissatisfied by responses which claim that the laity should not be concerned about seminaries and how they perform - I get that we are an episcopal polity but since when has that meant we don’t worry about how our priests (leaving aside the whole “God calls them” thing) are trained.

Anyway, if everyone else is satisfied with the ability (and I am largely satisfied), then I guess it is a very low priority problem, and then is not worth the resources.

Thanks everybody!

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