Barry wrote: The one thing that I would like to see is a uniform seminary program and training and investigation of the personal holiness of each candidate.
Just a clarification here, because I’m sure that most lay people are not aware of this. We cannot have a uniform seminary program around the world, because it would violate doctrine and canon law.
There are many religious orders that are what is called Exempt Religious Orders. This was established in the 13th century when St. Bernard argued that Christ had revealed religious life as distinct from the secular priesthood. After careful reflection on scripture, Pope Innocent II agreed that St. Bernard was right and that religious orders could not be subjected to the same disciplines as secular priests nor could they be subjected to the bishops, but the voice of Christ speaks to them through their major superior and the pope.
Since then, canon law was ammended and it does not include the formation of men who belong to religious orders. It only covers the general rules pertaining to religious life: who can enter, the effects of the vows, the duration of the novitiate, the requirements for a valid profession of vows, the legal authority of superiors and juridical points, but not formation. Canon law leaves that to the determination of the founder and major superior of each order.
The decision to give this autonomy to religious is based on a scriptural doctrine, the religious life and the secular priesthood are not the same. So when a religious is permitted to become a priest, it is up to the superior of his community to design his formation program so that it meets the minimal expectations that the Church has for priests. The fact is that most religious who become priests have very good academic formation in theology and philosophy. By that I mean, more than the minimum. All religious orders require at least a four-year masters degree in theology. Most master’s degrees are two years.
As far as secular priests are concerned, there is no biblical reason why you can’t have a uniform seminary formation program, but there is a canonical reason. Bishops are heads of Churches. Secular priests belong to a particular church called a diocese. Therefore, the bishops cannot impose on each other their formation requirements. Each bishop is a head of his Church. There is a Sacred Congregation for priests that gives general guidelines as to the spiritual and academic formation of priests. From there the bishops and the religious superiors take their cue.
If the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, which is its proper name, decided that all diocesan priests must have the exact same formation program, that would create a very difficult challenge to follow, because education programs vary from one country to another. The world does not have a uniform education system. You have to allow the local authorities of each diocese to design a formation program that builds on the academic formation that the person brings when they enter. That foundational academic formation is going to be different from country to country. You really cannot legislate a uniform formaton program.
The best that you can do is legislate the spiritual qualities that you’re looking for in your priests. This has been done several times in history by different encyclicals and different councils. It’s really a matter of the bishops and the religious superiors to make sure that those spiritual values and qualities are present in their men.
In the case of religious, this is less of a problem. No religious can become a priest until he has finished his religious formation. This means that he goes through at least 7 years of religious formation, then makes perpetual vows. Only after he has made perpetual vows, does the major superior give him permission to become a priest, if the major superior believes that the person has a vocation to the priesthood. The superior is the voice of Christ. Christ decides who becomes a religious and a priest. Chirst may decide that you be a religious, but not a priest or a priest, but not a religious.
During those seven years, the major superior and the formators are looking at you very closely. They are looking for specific spiritual qualities, particularly that you embody the spirituality of the founder. If you do not have those qualities, you are not allowed to remain in the order. On the other hand, if you have those qualities you may remain in the order. But there is no guarrantee that a religious will become a priest. Only Christ can decide this and Christ speaks only through the superior and the pope. This is an accepted doctrine in the theology of religious life for men. It was handed down to us through tradition.
You see how this works?
Br. JR, OSF