“Amoris Laetitia”: A Clarion Call for a Healthier Clergy

One of the often missed points in Amoris Laetitia (chapter 6, §203) is the Holy Father’s reference to the importance of improving the psycho-affective development of future priests. I am convinced that this is long overdue.

Having been a pastor for over thirty years, and having been blessed with about a dozen priests who served with me in their capacity as parochial vicars, I have plenty of experience to weigh in on the Pope’s exhortation.

Over the years, there has been a gradual but definite shift in the affective life and attitude of some of the priests who have served as my vicars. It has not been all negative, but definitely not all positive.

While I have noticed these past several years a growth in piety, devotion, and fidelity to the Magisterium, along with a marked increase in appreciation for our liturgical and theological tradition, in our younger clerics, I have also observed a marked spirit of entitlement among them. Being absorbed with technology — iPhone, Facebook, Twitter — they often seem to be less capable of relating interpersonally due to being numbed out by technology. Instead of adopting a learning spirit, some arrive at the rectory door with a list of demands for the pastor in order that they might be “comfortable” in their new surroundings.

In seminary formation, the example of our pope could well be highlighted in that he chooses not to live in isolation in a museum but with others. The give and take of living with another priest(s) and of making healthy compromises require working at relationships which can well stretch us to become more giving human beings and priests. Seminary formators would serve the Church well if they worked more diligently with our priests-in-training by accenting in their formation program the indispensable importance of flexibility, generosity, and acceptance of the flaws and foibles of others. Important, too, is the humble acceptance and acknowledgement of one’s own faults.

The pope’s example of humility should be accentuated in formation programs in seminaries. As the pope has pointed out to us, what is required is more psycho-affective development in our seminarians to guarantee healthy priests for our future. Psycho-affective development requires a serious exploration of good communication, a willingness to accept situations which do not perfectly match expectations or perfectly meet our needs. This can well open us up to the need to be less self-absorbed and more open to responding warmly and positively to others.

The Holy Father reminds us in Amoris Laetitia, chapter six, that “family bonds are essential for reinforcing healthy self-esteem.” Many of our millennials who are being ordained come from small families; many are only children. Consequently, family experience involving emotional connectedness with siblings is lacking for some of our young people.

The pope urges that families be part of the seminary process and priestly life, “since they keep them well grounded in reality.” (AL 6). Many of our young priests come from one-parent homes. For some, the absence of a strong and healthy father figure can jeopardize the possibility of a healthy pastor/parochial vicar relationship. The psycho-affective health of our young priests would be well served therefore by programs and processes on the diocesan level that offer assistance in forging healthy relationships with families among whom the newly ordained live and work. A particular family could well be carefully chosen or invited to serve as a “host” family for the newly ordained, reaching out to him to share in some small measure their family life. In this way, healthy family role models might inspire and positively impact rectory life, assisting thereby the pastor and vicar in creating a healthy and happier communal life in the rectory.

The pope’s exhortation is well titled: “The Joy of Love.” Yes, the pope’s appeal for psycho-affective development is of key importance if we are to have priests who know the depths of the joy of loving with Christ’s love. Seminary formators and diocesan leadership, and all who desire priests who are formed after the heart of Jesus, should well heed the Pope’s call.

Msgr. Frank Chiodo About Msgr. Frank Chiodo

Monsignor Frank Chiodo was born and raised in Des Moines in a family of four siblings. After graduating from St. Anthony grade school and Dowling High School, he attended Conception Seminary in Missouri in 1974. He was awarded a Master of Arts degree in Moral Theology from St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

Ordained in 1976, he has served many parishes as pastor – from Leon and Chariton, Iowa to St. John Basilica and Holy Trinity in Des Moines to St. Thomas More in Omaha. He was named a Prelate of Honor with the title of Monsignor in 1990 by Pope John Paul II.

He has authored three books, Cross Your Heart and Hope to Live, One Dose Daily, and What the Senses Fail to Fathom. Has a radio program weekly on KWKY and the same program is telecast weekly on the local cable channel. The program is called, “The Heart’s Treasure.” A series of CDs are available which provide a variety of homilies and reflections. Some of these are entitled “The Power of Faith,” “The Power of the Cross,” and “The Power of the Eucharist.”

Comments

  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    Frank,
    Thank you for a timely reflection on the need for healthier priests. Since I have lived in many different cities over the years, I have experienced the ministry of many priests. Some pastors have been exceptional, with good communication and leadership skills. They provided spiritual leadership the encouraged participation in mission. Unfortunately, some were sick and unable to provide pastoral leadership, but others were far removed from the realities of family life. I have found some open and listened to constructive suggestions, others blocked it. “Why are you so negative, don’t you have anything positive to say?”

    I wonder is seminary is the best place for personal development that is open to good interpersonal communication with all parishioners no matter what their point of view. Certainly, seminaries restricted to only male students may contribute more to the ‘male club’ than to open diverse Christian Community in Christ.

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