Desperate bishops should not accept just anyone as priests, Pope Francis warns

In an address to the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, Pope Francis warned bishops against accepting men for the priesthood who are not healthy or balanced.

The Congregation for the Clergy deals with priestly vocations and formation as well as the life of priests. The pope spoke Friday during a plenary meeting of the congregation, which includes cardinals and bishops from all over the world.

"We need priests; vocations are missing," said the pope in departing from his prepared remarks to the congregation. "The Lord is calling but it's not enough." But he warned bishops, "we have the temptation to take without discernment, the young men who present themselves. This is bad for the church."

The pope called on bishops to study carefully the vocations of the applicants. "Examine well if that [man] belongs to the Lord: If that man is healthy, if that man is balanced; if that man is capable of giving life, of evangelizing," the pope said. "If that man is capable of forming a family, and of renouncing this to follow Jesus."

The pope acknowledged that serious problems arise if desperate bishops accept just anyone.

"We have many problems today and in many dioceses because of this chicanery [Italian: inganno] of some bishops to take those who come -- sometimes expelled from seminaries or from religious houses -- because 'I need priests,' " Francis said. "Please, think of the good of God's people."

Besides speaking about vocations, the pope also stressed the importance of the formation of priests. While vocations are to be treasured, they are like "a diamond in the rough, to be worked with care, respect of the conscience of persons and patience, so that they shine in the midst of the People of God." 

Priestly formation does not just involve instruction. "Jesus did not say to those he called, 'Come, I'll explain to you,' 'Follow me, I will instruct you,' " Francis said. "No! Instead, the formation offered by Christ to his disciples came through a 'Come and follow me,' 'Do as I do,' and this is the method that today the church also wants to adopt for her ministers."

Priestly formation must always be for evangelization, the pope said. Priests need a missionary impulse "frees ordained ministers from the comfortable temptation of being more concerned with others' agreement and their own well-being than animated by pastoral charity, for the proclamation of the Gospel to the most remote peripheries."

As pastors, priests are "sent to be in the midst of their flock, to render the Lord present through the Eucharist and to dispense His mercy." 

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

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