The Pope has told Spanish bishops that seminaries must form “very mature men, rooted in the person of Jesus Christ”, according to Cardinal Juan José Omella.
“We have to form men of God with their feet on the ground,” Pope Francis told the Spanish Bishops’ Conference during a two-hour discussion regarding the reform of seminary formation.
Pope Francis told the leaders of Spain’s 70 dioceses that he was particularly interested in the emotional formation of future priests.
This year Bishop Milton Tróccoli Cebedio of Maldonado-Punta del Este-Minas and Bishop Arturo Eduardo Fajardo of Salto, both from Uruguay, conducted an apostolic visitation of the Spanish Church’s 86 seminaries.
Spain’s bishops were summoned to the Vatican last week to hear the conclusions of the visitation. They also receive a working document about seminary formation from the Dicastery for Clergy. A discussion followed on how the bishops might execute the report’s recommendations on forming priests for a missionary Church.
The purpose of the meeting, according to Cardinal Omella was “not to condemn anyone but to see how we can improve. We are in a change of epoch.”
At a press conference after the meeting, the cardinal said Spain’s low birth rate had affected vocations. Omella said the Spanish Church had to face a kind of “corporate downsizing” as a result, observing that “things are different now compared to the 1960s”.
“There is one seminary in Pamplona that has room for 1,000 seminarians,” he said, adding “once Spain had the largest number of enclosed convents in the world”.
According to statistics from the bishops’ conference for 2022- 2023, the year was the first time there were fewer than 1,000 seminarians in Spain, while 97 men were ordained and 146 entered seminary.
Omella told journalists that the Pope had not mentioned Spain’s recent parliamentary report on sexual abuse in the Spanish Church during the discussion.