It is the providential plan of God that I return to the Gregorian University after 12 years of service in formation. This coming home has opened to me the possibility to collaborate with the Centre for Child Protection (CCP) and to have a closer look at the reality of sexual abuse. In particular, I am researching human formation in the training to the priesthood. The research is important to address boundary violations by clergy, which was once was a topic covered by silence and secrecy but is now a national and international media topic that grips the Church (LaPlante, 2014; Zollner, 2017).
Whatever the challenge or the issue about priesthood – such as ministry, celibacy, formation, relationships, Church, etc. – the real concern is about its integrity and authenticity, leading to the question “what is going on in the formation to the priesthood?” This question points to another specific area of formation, “where are we in the human formation to the priesthood?”, which is considered in Pastores Dabo Vobis (PDV 43) as the foundation of all other dimensions of the person. The rationale for the specific attention given to psychosexual integration and human maturity in the study is the evidence of painful realities of infidelities in living the priestly identity, which evidences not only human vulnerability but also the fact of non-integration. The context of challenges arising from the facts of child sexual abuse (CSA), boundary violations in the context of pastoral care, and various problems related to sexuality in the lives of the few vulnerable shepherds who caused great pain to many is “the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body” (Benedict XVI, 19 March, 2010). Their lifestyle was a contradiction to the commission of Jesus to “tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16) and “be my witnesses” (Acts 1:18). Speaking to a group of formators, Pope Francis (7 October 2017) stresses that “the theme of priestly formation is crucial to the mission of the Church.” It requires a “serious journey of formation” (The Gift of Priestly Vocation [GPV], 2016, 1) and that the formators be capable of guiding the candidates – a “mystery to himself” (GPV 28). This is a risky project as it is an attempt to articulate the complex reality of formation to priesthood and much more the delicate issue of psychosexual integration and human maturity.
The research being carried out in three European seminaries uses the mixed method (qualitative and quantitative) to explore the experiences of those in formation and their formators. Similar to the preparation for professional schools (e.g. law school and medical school), the seminarian receives long years of professional education. What is the effect of such a long formation or education on the individual who is unique with his own personal story? Does the existing formation programme in the seminaries correspond to the goals of formation and needs of the seminarian? With these and such similar questions, the research is interesting. The Church, in its various documents and reflections, has already exposed the theological, philosophical and practical insights on priesthood in the Church and about the attention required for their formation or preparation. The increasing vulnerability of the human reality, with its implications for the priestly vocation and formation, impels the Church to review its priestly formation. I hope this study will be a small contribution regarding the existential situation of formation of future priests and the safeguarding of the vulnerable.