Francis Proposes Better Psychosexual Training for Priests

Many assessments of the Catholic Church troubles with clerical sexual abuse have noted as contributory factors the importance of inadequate seminary training in human sexuality, and the poor level of psychosexual maturity of some seminarians and priests. Especially for those priests who entered religious life in minor seminaries as young adolescents, many priests have observed that they entered the seminary as twelve year olds – and emerged in their twenties, with the sexual knowledge of a twelve year old.

This is a bigger problem than just that a lack of personal psychosexual maturity in some priests, may contributes to [possible pathological behaviour. Even among those who have achieved a satisfactory level of maturity, there remains the problem that a lack of training in human sexuality, may leave them ill-prepared to provide suitable pastoral support to those who come to them for guidance on sexual matters.

Part of the reason for the inadequacy of current and past seminary training, lies in its base in single-sex institutions. isolated from normal family life.

Pope Francis

It is encouraging then, to find in Pope Francis’ response to the Bishops’ Synod Assembly on marriage and family, (“Amor Laetitia”, the Joy of the Family), that he has acknowledged the problem, and proposed improvements.




It’s particularly notable that he proposes that instead of training in sexuality derived solely from Church doctrine, this should in future be interdisciplinary in nature – presumably including the findings from the social sciences.  He also proposes that part of the priestly training should be based in parishes, where they are more likely to come into contact with real families, and their real-life problems. Another notable  recommendation is for greater lay participation in pastoral support for families.

203. Seminarians should receive a more extensive interdisciplinary, and not merely doctrinal, formation in the areas of engagement and marriage. Their training does not always allow them to explore their own psychological and affective background and experiences. Some come from troubled families, with absent parents and a lack of emotional stability. There is a need to ensure that the formation process can enable them to attain the maturity and psychological balance needed for their future ministry. Family bonds are essential for reinforcing healthy self-esteem.

It is important for families to be part of the seminary process and priestly life, since they help to reaffirm these and keep them well grounded in reality. It is helpful for seminarians to combine time in the seminary with time spent in parishes. There they can have greater contact with the concrete realities of family life, since in their future ministry they will largely be dealing with families. “The presence of lay people, families and especially the presence of women in priestly formation, promotes an appreciation of the diversity and complementarity of the different vocations in the Church”.

204.  The response to the consultation alsoinsisted on the need for training lay leaders who can assist in the pastoral care of families, with the help of teachers and counsellors, family and community physicians, social workers, juvenile and family advocates, and drawing upon the contributions of psychology, sociology, marital therapy and counselling. Professionals, especially those with practical experience, help keep pastoral initiatives grounded in the real situations and concrete concerns of families. “Courses and programmes, planned specifically for pastoral workers, can be of assistance by integrating the premarital preparation programme into the broader dynamic of ecclesial life”.

235 Good pastoral training is important “especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse”.

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