For the first time the rectors of seminaries, bishops, spiritual directors, psychologists and psychiatrists gathered in Florence to discuss the formation of the clergy and the prevention of child abuse. “An exceptional occasion”, said Fr Hans Zollner, President of the Centre for Child Abuse at the Gregorian University, member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, “to discuss the needs and all the good that is being done, to encourage a stronger commitment in this field and to step up prevention measures throughout the Italian territory.” The archbishop of Ravenna, Lorenzo Ghizzoni, the Bishop Msgr. Ales Carboni, Msgr. Domenico Dal Molin, Director of the Office for the Office for the Pastoral Care of Vocations of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), Cardinal Giuseppe Betori from Florence and Angelo Bagnasco CEI President, from Genoa, , represented the Italian delegation at the conference in Florence, organized by the archdiocese in cooperation with the Theological Faculty of Central Italy, the Centre for Child Protection of Pontifical Gregorian University and the Archdiocesan Seminary in Florence. “A remarkable presence”, said Father Zollner. “A very powerful message.”
Father Zollner, what are the weak spots and the shadows?
We start preparing young people in the choice of vocation from the beginning, not only when they arrive in the seminary or in the novitiate. It should be noted that the average age of young people entering our structures today is much higher compared to the past. This means that many of them have already gone a long way in their life: they completed their studies, they worked, they had relationships, they lived on their own, in some cases until they were 30-35 years-old. In the past many candidates came from well-structured Catholic families, with sisters and brothers, and had a deeply-rooted knowledge of the life of the Church. Today those points of references don’t correspond to the experience of a large number of European candidates; their families of origin are broken up and fragile in many cases; there are increasing numbers of only children, many of them lack exhaustive religious formation, others rediscover the faith after having been distant from it for years, since the age of Confirmation. Hence this situation requires preparing the grounds first.
What happens when a young person manifests a choice of vocation?
Vocational choices require intellectual, emotional, relational and spiritual discernment. Young persons who decide to knock at the door of the novitiate or of the seminary, undergo a proper candidate-selection. In Florence and Milan the candidate’s personality is seriously evaluated, also by means of psychological tools, recognized worldwide, with specific interviews. The final decision on the candidate’s admission is not taken by the psychologist but by the person in charge of the novitiate and by the Provincial, or by the rector of the seminary and by the bishop after having listened to the experts’ opinions and their careful evaluation.
This is done in order to delineate which form of maturity or profile?
Maturity is a broad, undefined concept. A personality is formed and shaped by many factors. Moreover, we don’t intend to say – and we cannot say – that some people are perfect. Perfection is not a Christian concept. We ascribe great importance to the attitude towards growth and ongoing commitment, to the candidate’s potential, to a sound degree of self-confidence, and self-understanding. Two prerogatives in particular are especially important to us: the attitude towards being committed in an interior journey, one of internalization. Without a deep faith and an integrated personality that encompasses all emotional, relational and sexual aspects, the person is unable to proceed along the path of vocation with a serious, sustainable commitment that lasts in time. The second attitude is the prospect of self-giving. Priestly and religious vocation should not be aimed at self-contentment: ‘I feel good with myself and with my God.’ It’s a vocation that draws the person out of him/herself, but this requires being in touch with oneself first. Only on sound and mature grounds, can the person start following the calling of the Lord who is asking that person to relinquish everything, including the certainties created inside the Church, the expectations of power and roles, as well as possible closures.
What could be the tie – if there exists one at all – between the choice of vocation and the inclination to abuse?
There is no connection between vocation and abuse, but we should do our utmost to avoid misunderstandings and prevent ineligible candidates from being admitted to the seminary or the novitiate. We often hear people say that celibacy causes abusive behaviour. This is not true, as confirmed by scholars in this field. Moreover, a large majority of cases of abuse are committed by non-married persons. Having said this, it should also be said that badly-lived celibacy is a factor of risk and that’s why it’s important to focus on initial formation, to verify that non eligible persons are admitted. Then, during the seminary and their religious formation, the candidates must be accompanied and educated. Finally – but this is a task of the bishops and of the formators – it is necessary to guarantee the ongoing formation of young priests.