Priest's formation is continuous
Sept 07, 2007
A newly opened church center will host programs for "permanent" formation of all priests, not just "troubled" priests, said the chairman of the Philippine bishops' Episcopal Commission on Clergy.
TAGAYTAY CITY, Philippines (UCAN, 8/22/2007) – Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of Manila on Aug. 15 inaugurated John Mary Vianney-Galilee Development and Retreat Center in Tagaytay City, 55 kilometers (about 35 miles) southeast of Manila.
Speaking with UCA News after the inauguration, he said the Assist Ministry for priests, under the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), will use the center. The Assist Ministry, he explained, has developed several programs to address needs of priests at various stages of their priesthood.
According to the cardinal, the clergy commission's approach to caring for priests is driven by a desire to help priests who could use some "affirmation" or "renewal," as well as those who have children and partners, who have "problems with authority" and other special needs. He also said the commission is training personnel to minister to priests.
During the interview, the cardinal also talked about the Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuses and Misconduct by the Clergy, approved by the CBCP Permanent Council on Sept. 1, 2003. In sociological, cultural, psychological, civil and canonical terms, the guidelines describe the context, issues, concerns and principles relevant to "allegations and actual cases of sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy in the church in the Philippines." They also include recommendations for dealing with such allegations and cases.
Cardinal Rosales, 75, was ordained a priest in 1958 and appointed auxiliary bishop of Manila in 1974. In 1982, he was assigned to Malaybalay Diocese in Mindanao, the southern Philippines. Two years later he headed that diocese. He was appointed archbishop of Lipa in 1992 and archbishop of Manila in 2003. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal on March 24, 2006.
Cardinal Rosales assumed chairmanship of the clergy commission in 2000, after serving as chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Seminaries for 15 years.
The UCA News interview with the Philippines church leader follows:
UCA News: What inspired this center?
CARDINAL GAUDENCIO ROSALES: In the Catholic Church, the formation of the priest is continuous, ongoing. In fact, in one of the latest documents of the Church on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (I will give you shepherds, 1992), the late Holy Father John Paul II mentioned that this formation is not just ongoing. He calls it "permanent." Even old people need formation. At 70 or 80, it is not so much to add new ideas or to add new theologically enriching doctrine, but to affirm them in what they have done in terms of their long ministry. In this center we will have room for priests to live in. We will have the classrooms, and can have the five-day retreats of the Assist.
UCA News: The center and programs are not only for troubled priests?
CARDINAL ROSALES: Definitely not. I was surprised that almost half a dozen dioceses have already booked. On Aug. 22, the whole clergy of Puerto Princesa (vicariate) in Palawan (province) is coming with the bishop for their own retreat.
Whenever I go to a monastery and attend a full-time directed retreat, where we need complete silence, I come back feeling renewed and with a feeling of inner strength.
Priests are very public persons. Our Lord was a very public person. People grabbed him, listened to him, pushed him and even wanted to touch any part of his clothing. And yet when they looked for him in the morning they found him on a hill by himself.
It shows us solitude is needed for effective ministry and "humanhood." We need that to express what is in there inside of us. Solitude creates a space where the heart can express itself. It is not only for the priest. I think it is for every person. My father was a doctor, a very public person. And yet like most men, he had his quiet moments and we knew not to disturb him.
UCA News: What are you speaking about when you talk of troubled priests?
CARDINAL ROSALES: There are many aspects, not only in the area of celibacy. Sometimes there are priests who have authority hang-ups. There are different forms of addiction and other levels of needs of priests as human beings.
For example, I am 49 years a priest. As an idealist I remember feeling disappointed and down when I was young, and I looked at my companions. I asked myself, especially around five years into my priesthood, "Did I take the right steps?" My classmates were successful doctors, engineers, and there I was -- a priest.
I talked to my spiritual father. He told me, "Father, the time you give up prayer you will also give up priesthood." A young man like me, in my 30s at the time, I remember that very well, and I am very grateful to recapture that zeal, that moment of fervor.
Around the time the council (Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965) was beginning, it was a very confusing moment for priests. When my bishop promised me I would go to Rome to study, I was keeping that in mind. I'm going to Rome. But when the council finished, half of our priests who were studying in Rome and finished didn't come home. They married in Europe. So naturally my bishop got disappointed and told me, "You don't go to Rome."
To me, that was painful. The others were able to go to Rome, and when it was my time to go, no more. It may seem a small matter to you, but to us priests that is a very painful thing. Besides, the bishop didn't keep his word. I took it in. When I introspect and return to that experience, there is that slight pinch. But you move past it.
The best example I can give you also is when I was appointed to Mindanao. I never thought that would come. It was painful too when priests asked me, "Why are they sending you to Mindanao? What have you done?" Some were happy I was sent to Mindanao. And some were shocked. But I told myself, rather than brood, just treat it as one episode in my life. That is over. But when it was happening, it was painful.
UCA News: How does the church deal with priests fathering children?
CARDINAL ROSALES: The pastoral guidelines say, if you have a child – singular – you may undergo curative measures. There have been priests who had children, like St. Augustine. There may be a singular event or episode that could spell a weakness on the part of the person. This could be treated pastorally and it could be healed through a program that encourages a person to be better rather than just punishing him.
But speaking in plural terms, it is where you will apply the hardness of the law. When we get a case like that, Assist will help the priest acknowledge that he has a natural obligation to support the children that supercedes his other obligations, including priesthood. So we explain this and it will surface that parenthood is a much greater obligation that he should face. The priest has to leave the ministry.
UCA News: What about a priest with one child?
CARDINAL ROSALES: It depends on the decision of the person. Because of renewal, if he decides he will not have any more contact with the woman, at least we have hope for that person. The natural obligation to support one's child remains the higher obligation than the priesthood. Therefore, if he wants to stay in the priesthood, he has to set aside a certain amount to support that child. But he doesn't have to give it directly to the mama, maybe through another source. There will be no more relationship with the mother.
A priest cannot take the money of the parish or the church even if he has not fallen. The priest cannot claim the parish's money for himself. We are talking about his own money, for example, stipends from baptisms, salaries from teaching or lecturing.
UCA News: What is the role of punishment in caring for priests?
CARDINAL ROSALES: The church is very strict about those who have been abusive. Failure or weakness is different from abuse. If it's only a matter of weakness, you could study the case, introspect with them to see this is what happened, you were weak.
But something that happens repeatedly, that hurts others, I don't think that is weakness. There is something wrong. There is a certain bad will, a certain taking advantage of your position and taking advantage of others. This is bad. But if it is something that happens to a priest once, here is where you can be curative, not punitive. And here we will have some courses that are curative.
UCA News: Has poverty been a problem for Filipino priests?
CARDINAL ROSALES: No, I don't think so. I was assigned in Mindanao and I take off my hat to those priests trying to minister in very impoverished places. I remember when we did not have insurance for accidents, five of my priests got involved in vehicular accidents. We had nothing to spend for their hospitalization. You know, we passed the hat around among priests and they helped. So don't tell me that simply because you are in a poor area, that is a reason why you will lose your vocation. I won't buy that.
One of my priests in Mindanao asked me once if he could go on vacation. In my mind I asked, what was he thinking asking for a vacation when Mindanao is suffering from poverty. I immediately thought he planned to go to Manila or Baguio (mountain vacation city in the north). I was so angry at myself when I learned he was planning to take two weeks off to help his father plow the field before the rains came. He was back in 10 days.
This is a priest and he was spending his vacation plowing the field. So let the world know it is not true that poverty is an obstacle to priesthood. There may be some exceptions, but don't believe everyone who says he left the priesthood because of the difficult life of a priest.
UCA News: What exactly are “Assist” programs and who runs the center?
CARDINAL ROSALES: The development programs in the center are under the programs director, Father Ray Panegunda, and he has five resident priests on his staff.
There is a five-week renewal program for priests according to the number of years in the ministry. The three-month Assisted Intensive Renewal (AIR) for priests is for deeper integration and processing of issues and needs of persons. A two-month live-in AIR for formators or priests working in seminaries focuses on human-formation training skills.
There is also a whole-year program for staff, and counseling and spiritual direction. Servants of the Paraclete priests will provide tutorial courses for resident staff.
There are programs planned for clergy one-to-five years in the ministry, value clarification for clergy six-to-10 years in the ministry, programs on midlife concerns for those 18-24 years as priests and preparing for their silver jubilee. For those 25 years and above in the ministry and for senior clergy about to retire, we will have modules on a second look at priesthood as a gift and fullness of life.
UCA News: What is the status of the CBCP guidelines on priests' sexual misconduct?
CARDINAL ROSALES: We sent it to Rome and they returned it with some corrections. It is approved and for implementation by individual bishops, not by CBCP per se, that's why it is called "pastoral guidelines," and not protocol.
The bishops voted down the punitive school of thought. I thank God the bishops of the Philippines did not advocate the "one strike you're out" theory. They accepted the school of thought to which we belong, which says: Give the man help, repair the man and help him repent.