Half-baked Priests for Asia?

Fr. Edwin “Pius” Sammut O.C.D.  recently explained Kiko Arguello’s brilliant idea of ordaining young men priests for missions in China after only five years of training and without the benefit of studying in a formal seminary:

Here’s the verbatim transcript of Fr. Pius’s comments:

“One of the things which he [Kiko} has inspired is you know with the Bishop of Murcia, okay he’s going to uh, em have a seminary – Murcia’s in Spain – to have a seminary, okay, not in aMurcia building, okay. That a boy, okay, who feels called, let’s say three hundred stand up. And he [Kiko] asks them, “How many of you would like to go to China?” And let’s say fifty want to go to China. Therefore, what, what Kiko is thinking is, that perhaps, okay. Em, instead of sending them to a seminary to be formed, you know, eight years, nine years, eh, no, they will remain in their community and they will be formed in their community. And also that five years they can already be ordained a priest. Okay, a bishop can ordain them, the bishop of Murcia. And then they can go, okay. These are, this is what God is, is working.”

What do you think?

A typical seminarian gets a 4-year undergraduate degree, a 2-year pre-theology program, including a good dose of philosophy, capped with a 4-year Master of Divinity degree that often includes a year of pastoral experience in a parish.  Sometimes the pre-theology program can be part of the seminarian’s undergraduate program.  In any event, we are typically talking about 8 years of training, formation, prayer, and pastoral experience prior to ordination.

Why?  Because the life of a Catholic priest is very challenging.  We expect our priests to be on call 24×7, and to be expert theologians, evangelists, ethicists,  homilists, liturgical experts, and counselors.  All “in persona Christi” too.  They are physicians of the soul, in a way, just like Christ, and because of that, they normally get the years of training and formation equivalent to a physician.    Moreover, these 8 years or so are ones of discernment, where the seminarian learns about his own weaknesses and dispositions, as well as about the wiles of the devil and the grace of God.  And this takes time.

For those that go to the missions, there is an extra year or so (at least) spent studying the language and culture of the country to which they will be sent.

So, back to Kiko’s brilliant idea.  How on earth will these priests, oops, presbyters, be adequately formed and trained to handle the rigors of Asia?

Answer:  These half-baked priests won’t, and most of them will fail miserably.  These men will be terribly damaged by the experience, as will many of the people they were sent to serve.

6 thoughts on “Half-baked Priests for Asia?”

  1. This discloses, for me, a certain naiveté among at least some of the WAY: to go into a foreign land, a foreign culture, a foreign language with too little preparation. Bearing on this point is one of the worries of the Japanese bishops who found the NCW so troubling within their communities: The catechists in Japan had not taken the Japanese language and culture seriously enough. It takes time to study the language and appreciate the culture and how to make successful catechetical inroads given Japanese sensibilities. (I speak as someone who lived in Japan for 15 years.) It was probably not an accident that Christ sought out a half-Jew, half-Greek (i.e., Paul of Tarsus) to evangelize the gentiles.

    1. Fr. Fran Hezel S.J. recently spoke of the Jesuit Matteo Ricci’s approach to evangelization in China in positive terms. Ricci took a long-term view of evangelization and engagement with the Chinese culture, and I think he showed us the best way to evangelize Asia: set the stage by engaging the culture on an intellectual level first.

  2. You rely on human wisdom and not on the Holy Spirit. Its because they lack those trainings or what you call it make them half-baked priests? Did Jesus revealed in the Bible the exact number of years the priest is ought to have in schooling? Look at Peter and the rest of the Apostles, they are not well educated yet the Lord has choosen them to become heralds of the gospels and ministers of the Church. They were only twelve yet they were able to preach the Gospel even to the ends of the world. Do not rely on human knowledge or wisdom or any trainings that the world can offer us. Rely on the power of the Holy Spirt. Do not judge.

    1. On the contrary, Jacob, you are the one limiting the Holy Spirit. How? By pitting training and formation against the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Of course Christians are to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit! But the question is, do the years of seminary training and formation currently required in most dioceses limit this power, or enhance it?

      The world is much more complex now than it was in the early days of the Church, and the problems our ordained leaders face are far more complex. And is our Lord asking us to return to the infant Church? No, not anymore than you or I would want to return to the days of wearing diapers!

      By the way, you seem to suppose that everything needs to be spelled out in the Bible. I can’t seem to find the word “neocatechumenal” there…

    2. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Natural Law is a participation in the Eternal Law due to the nature of the human mind. There is no contradiction between human wisdom and the action of the Holy Spirit, as St. Thomas also explains, “grace perfects nature”, it doesn’t replace it or abolish it. If the good Lord gave us reason to govern out lives, surely he would expect us to use it and solve our problems. The action of they Holy Spirit is not some kind of remedy for lazy people who fail to use the brain God gave them. Besides, the laws of the Church are the result of centuries of accumulated wisdom and it is not for Kiko to decide that seminarians can be formed outside a seminary, when Canon Law requires that they be a minimum of four years in a seminary.

  3. The law of the Church requieres that candidates for the priesthood spend a minimum of 4 years in a seminary. However, that doesn’t mean that they can be ordained in 5 years, as there are 3 years of philosophy and four of theology, and there may also be a spiritual year, like a novitiate for religious. Besides, it is also common for seminarians to do field work in parishes. I know because I have taught in seminaries for 25 years. That bishop should be reported to the Roman dicastery for seminaries. However, Kiko has his agents in the Vatican also.

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