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.

7 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.

  4. I came across your blog by accident. I was indeed searching for any articles related to NCW and was on the lookout for a venue where I could share some of my experiences.

    I much rather want to keep my identity confidential should you wish to publish this. This is to protect the people I care about, my family in particular, who are in the “way” still.

    I am pretty much an NCW baby. I was born into a family who is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. My parents joined the “way” in the early 80s in my parish. I do remember being brought to every Saturday night Eucharist; sometimes to some of their “Celebration of the Word” (which occurred on Tuesday nights if my memory serves me right); definitely to their once a month (I think) Sunday convivences and most definitely to their Easter Celebrations where they made us, kids, sing.

    When I was 13, I was expected to join and indeed was made to join a catechesis and eventually became a part of that community. While “walking” with this group of people, I was constantly exposed to their individual personal lives which to be honest, was somewhat daunting for someone my age then. Some of these were quite explicit and not appropriate for someone very young. It came to a point where, the older gentlemen, including some of the “responsibles” of the community would invite me to their drinking sessions. They were always drinking, after some Sunday convinvences for instance or any day they could get together (which was often. They tend to stick together). People getting wasted after the Easter Celebration was not uncommon even. They told me it was OK, because that was their reality; that they had to face and accept their reality; and that God loves them as they were, drunkards as they were. I always felt that they used the “God-loves-me-as-I-am” mantra as a ticket to indulge and justify their drinking habits. I never really understood that because almost every time they got drunk, they quarreled amongst each other. There was even an instance where one of the responsibles, highly intoxicated, threatened to pull out his gun if the others didn’t agree with whatever they were arguing about. They even talked, in their drunken stupor, about things in their personal lives that should be left personal. I have seen a “brother”, in his full drunken glory, asserts that he is better than everyone because he has “walked” the “way” longer. One occasion I can never and will never forget was when I was visiting a “brother” in my community. Since he wasn’t at home,I decided to wait. He was one of those I was close to. He came home obviously drunk and the moment he saw me, he shouted at me and told me I was not a Christian because I never accepted my “reality”. I don’t drink, I am alcohol intolerant and that is the reason why I shun drinking (even if I were not alcohol intolerant, I still detest acting like a complete fool under the influence of alcohol) but to be told that I did not accept my “reality” was beyond me. Getting senselessly drunk was never my “reality”. Needless to say, I became distant from that “brother” and going to the “celebrations” with him around was very uncomfortable to say the least. How sad really….

    There was some expectation that I would stand up if the call for vocation was made. if there is such a thing as “Papabile”, I was apparently “sacerdotabile”. I was initially open to the possibility and on several occasions, I did stand up. I was eventually chosen and sent to attend the beginning of the year convivence in Porto San Giorgio where at the end, a separate meeting of those who stood up was convened. Lots were drawn and I was sent to RMS XXXXXX. I was happy because, at least, language was not going to be a barrier.

    The whole seminary experience was generally good. We went to XXXXXXX for the majority of our studies so we were not completely exposed to the sole NCW theological teachings. The ones taught by NCW priests, at least during my time, were Canon Law, Languages (Latin, Greek and Hebrew), Patristics and Christology. I’d be lying if I say I wasn’t happy in the seminary at all. Sure, there were many difficult moments but generally it was a great experience. I think the fact that we had a very good relationship with the other diocesan seminary greatly helped as well.

    Being in XXXXXX was my first exposure to other cultures. There, I experienced first hand, the “way’s” obvious disregard for inculturation. What I did not understand was the imposition of Latin influence while ignoring the in situ culture. inculturation was always viewed as something detrimental to the spread of the Good News. This was evident in the catechesis that touches Jesus and the current socio-economic circumstances of the country as well as in the parishes where priests were either products of RMS or those who accepted the “way”. I never really understood it because Vatican II’s teaching as echoed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio among others encourages a dialogue between Faith and Culture. As I delved deeper into my studies, I found quite a lot of disparity between the NCW’s teachings and the Church’s teachings. I was afraid of raising any questions (while I cannot speak for the others, I do think the feeling was the same at least for some seminarians) for fear of being reprimanded or worse sent home. Being sent home was the perennial fear of the seminarians as it entailed failure and subsequently embarrassment. It was true then, I am sure it is still true now (on a side note: I don’t exactly remember the circumstance but I was actually called to the Vice Rector’s office once and was told that the next time I was in his office was to give me my ticket home. To this day, I still can’t recall what it was exactly that I did (or did not do) to warrant such threat). For a very long time, the question of inculturation bothered me as it delineates the superiority of the Latin culture over the others. As if the grace of God can only be channeled and made manifest through the Latin culture. I couldn’t reconcile with that. In the same way that I find it hard to accept any teachings that deviates from the Magisterium of the Church.

    I was eventually ordained. The biggest reason I went ahead was the expectation people had on me, my family in particular, I was “sacerdotabile” after all. Conforming to people’s expectation is the hardest thing in the world, something I learned the hard way. I was immature in both understanding my faith and in my decision to proceed. I was entering a serious commitment compelled only by what the others would think and not because I had a clear vocation. I was, to use your expression, a “half-baked priest”. I really felt and was convinced that my training wasn’t adequate enough to face the real world outside yet I, and the others, were constantly assured that we were experts in “Humanism” and “Theism” because we were exposed to the actual and real life situations of our “brothers” in the community (another thing I wasn’t and still not comfortable with is the clear sexist mentality in NCW).

    My first Parish assignment was XXXXXX, to the town of XXXXX to be exact. I looked after the XXXXXX, located in the XXXXX. I was really happy there. I didn’t mind driving over 200 kms circuit every weekend to cover the Mass centers in the Parish. After some time, I was moved to XXXXX. While being there, I was given the following pastoral a) The Hospital, b) Hospice for the aged and c) Prison. As a priest, I was expected to be the bearer of hope. My case however, was contrary. I felt completely inadequate faced by the seeming hopelessness of those who were in prison; of those who were in the hospices practically abandoned by their children and were just waiting to die; and those who were on the threshold of death in the hospital. What hope could I give them?? They asked me questions I couldn’t answer; they looked up to me for words of encouragement in the face of physical death but I had nothing to give. I struggled to find reasons in the the face of their “whys”. My apparent lack of training to deal with situations like these set in. Yes, I studied, extensively in fact, with Masters to boot, but was I trained to be an expert in Humanism and Theism? Perhaps not… obviously not. This proved too much for a young priest. To aggravate the situation, I did not have the necessary support system. I was in close proximity to another NCW priest who was ordained several years ahead of me but he was not much of a help either. He was just spewing out typical NCW jargons and mantras. It came to a point where I completely lost all sense of being a priest and to make matters worse, I couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life in such a state. I was in a very serious “crisis of faith” and help was not readily accessible. Due to my immaturity, my fear of being judged was so overwhelming that I tried to suppress what I was going through. I was in an emotional and spiritual spiral, I was a wreck. After agonizing and praying over this for a long time, I decided to leave. I sent my letter of Request for Dispensation to my Bishop and went back to XXXXXX

    I have since left the “way”. Another NCW priest came to visit me (two of them actually, they always go in the spirit of “due a due”, the “Regula Socii”). The spokesperson never asked me the reasons why I left, he just gave me a long winded catechesis on my errors. It is true that in hindsight, it really was a mistake for me to proceed with the ordination but in my immature state, the risk of being tagged a failure by my family and the “brothers” in the community was very real indeed. Not one of my so called “brothers” in the “way” visited me after I left, at least to check on me, perhaps I was and still am an embarrassment to them???

    I am sure that many priests from RMS are in the same boat as I was. They are aware of their inadequacies but are fearful of speaking out; they are conscious of some theological errors in the “way” but are afraid of being labelled.

    I have seen and experienced first hand the arrogance and condescending attitude of the catechists – what you referred to as bullying; I have seen and experienced first hand the elitist and “I-am-better-than-thou” disposition of some of those in the “way”; I have seen and experienced first hand the vilification of in situ culture and I have seen and experienced first hand the sometimes irreparable division in the parish brought about by the secretive and aloof attitude of those in the “way”.

    I am not surprised that many have left the “way”, myself being one of those. I do believe however that the “way” can be one of the avenues where maturity in faith is achieved provided, among others, it aligns itself to the true teachings of the Church. To claim to be the “via sola” to adult faith is replete with arrogance and elitism.

    One thing I am thankful for the “way” however is that it pushed me to search for the true teachings of the Church rather than just accept what was conveyed at its face value and blindly obey something that can be potentially harmful. I guess my propensity to question anything that is imparted to me is both a curse and a blessing.

    I don’t ever pretend to be perfect in my faith because I am not. I am a great sinner and I fall so many times and many times in need of God’s mercy. I am still very much immature in my faith. I am sharing this with the intention of highlighting some of MY personal experiences, not to judge the “way” as a whole.

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