22 October 2016, The Tablet

Francis urges bishops to vet priests ahead of ordination

Pope Francis has urged bishops to carefully vet who they ordain as priests so they ensure the world is served by “mature and balanced” clergy. 

“When it comes to vocations to the priesthood and those entering the seminary, I beg you to discern the truth, to have a shrewd and cautious look,” Francis told a Vatican conference on vocations this week, adding that this discernment should be done without “shallowness or superficiality.” 

He went on: "especially to my brother bishops, I say: vigilance and prudence. The Church and the world need mature and balanced priests, pastors who are intrepid and generous, capable of closeness, listening and mercy.”

The Pope has previously told bishops to focus less on the numbers of vocations but the “quality” of the men coming forward, and he has called for the next synod of bishops in 2018 to be focussed on vocational discernment and young people. 

Before then, however, the Congregation for Clergy - the body which organised the conference which the Pope spoke at this week - are to release a major document on seminary formation. This has been prepared by Mexican Archbishop Jorge Patron Wong whom the Pope gave responsibility for seminaries urging him to undertake an overhaul of the system. 

Today Francis told an audience of cardinals, bishops and vocations experts that priests must come out of their ivory towers and start listening to people.  

“It's sad when a priest lives only for himself, enclosed in the safe fortress of the rectory, the sacristy or among a restricted group of loyal followers,” the Pope told the International Conference on Vocations. “On the contrary, we are called to be shepherds among the people, capable of showing pastoral care and taking the time to welcome and listen to everyone, especially young people.”

Vocations ministry, Francis explained, cannot be reduced to bureaucratic pastoral programmes and instead follow the example of Jesus and “go out” to meet people where they are. 

The Pope - who stressed faith cannot be reduced to “recipes or a collection of norms to observe” - explained that Jesus did not offer long speeches, proselytise or have “ready made answers” but simply asks: “follow me.”

He explained: "Jesus' desire is to set people out on a journey, moving them from a lethal sedentary lifestyle and breaking through the illusion that they can live happily while remaining comfortably seated amid their certainties.”

The conference took as its theme the Pope’s own own episcopal motto “Miserando atque eligendo”. This translates as “by having mercy and by choosing” and is taken from a homily on the call of Matthew by the Venerable Bede.

This is at the heart of Francis own vocation which, he told the conference, was not the result of a “nice theory” but having experienced the “merciful gaze of Jesus over me.” 

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