By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Decision to Admit to Ordination Is Not Infallible

That should be obvious to anyone familiar with any portion of the Church's very long history. I am aware of at least one case where, in my strong opinion, I find it amazing that the individual was ever ordained in spite of clear signals of trouble. I am sure many others with a wider circle of experience can testify to the same. And, so, I reproduce here the recent comments of Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto on this very painful and distressing matter, as originally posted at the Whispers in the Loggia blog:

Anyone who has participated in the awesome rites of ordination is conscious of the majesty of the priesthood of Christ, which He has chosen to share with frail humans, "vessels of clay" as St. Paul calls them, so that He might work through them in a sacramental way. I celebrate several ordinations each year, and every time I am filled with awe. When I place my hands upon the head of the candidate at the moment of ordination, I silently pray in my heart: "Lord, may this man be a faithful and holy priest all the days of his life."

To me, as a bishop, the pain of any priestly scandal is a sharp personal reminder that I need to do all that I can to be sure that those who are ordained, for all their inescapable human frailty, are living their vocation with integrity.

In our seminaries, over the long period of preparation for the priesthood, we continually strive to improve our procedures for solid human, intellectual, pastoral, and spiritual formation, so that only those candidates who are suited for the priesthood will proceed to ordination.

As for the choice of bishops, the process is extremely thorough, with detailed letters of reference from dozens of men and women. A thorough process, but not perfect. If no one in that extensive reference net is aware of a problem, it will be missed.

Those entrusted with discerning who should be ordained as priest or bishop need to be diligent, and to pray for wisdom, always aware that they might fail to spot an unsuitable candidate, especially if the problem is deep seated and hidden from everyone behind a splendid exterior.

As for improper behaviour by those already ordained, I and all of us who exercise authority in the Church have a solemn obligation to God and to the people we serve, especially to the most vulnerable, to act clearly and effectively if a problem is discovered, although also with great care that injustice not be done to an innocent person, whose name and life can be destroyed be a false accusation.

The basic reality is that in the sacrament of Holy Orders God works through frail humans, and always has done so, and always will. In the twelve apostles we see the whole range of raw material from the beloved disciple to Judas. As long as the human heart is susceptible to iniquity, we will face scandals among the apostles.

Source link (emphasis added).

It seems to me that the charism of discernment should be a prime requirement for those involved in the spiritual and academic formation of seminarians--and I mean "charism" in the supernatural sense, not just the natural ability to write out evaluations as in the corporate world. There is always more than we can see. Hence, we need the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit to supplement our natural reasoning and evaluations. Moreover, the same requirement for supernatural discernment certainly applies to the selection of lay people to various parish and diocesan ministries. The need for the charism of discernment is urgent because, let's face it, plenty of people with emotional and personality disorders are precisely those most attracted to the perceived status, prestige, acclaim, and attention that can come with being a priest or a lay leader in ministry.