It distinguishes such cases from those in which homosexual tendencies “were only the expression of a transitory problem,” and itself states that “it must be remembered that, in a relationship of sincere dialogue and mutual trust, the seminarian is obliged to reveal to his formators … doubts or difficulties he should have in this regard.”
The document then goes on to discuss protection of minors and the accompaniment of victims, saying this must be given “the greatest attention” and that the Church must be vigilant that seminarians “have not been involved in any way with any crime or problematic behaviour in this area” and that “formators must ensure that those who have had painful experience in this area receive special and suitable accompaniment.”
It adds that lessons on the protection of minors are to be included in formation, including how to deal with exploitation and violence such as trafficking of minors, child labor, and sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults.
The document also recommends that bishops responsible for seminaries be in dialogue with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, established by Pope Francis in 2013.
Clericalism is discussed within the context of priestly identity as the basis and purpose of formation. The Gift of the Priestly Vocation says that seminarians “should be educated so that they do not become prey to 'clericalism', nor yield to the temptation of modelling their lives on the search for popular consensus. This would inevitably lead them to fall short in exercising their ministry as leaders of the community, leading them to think about the Church as a merely human institution.”
It reiterates that priestly ordination, while making its recipient “a leader of the people”, “should not lead him to 'lord it over' the flock.”
Cardinal Stella noted to L'Osservatore Romano that the new version of “the fundamentals” was necessary because “the historical, socio-cultural and ecclesiastical contexts have changed” since the document was last updated in 1985.
Significant changes have happened regarding “the image or vision of the priest, the spiritual needs of the People of God, the challenges of the new evangelization, the language of communication, and many more,” he said. “It seemed that the formation of Priests needed to be revamped, renewed, and restored to the centre.”
He added that the congregation had “been encouraged and illuminated by the Teaching of Pope Francis.”
The cardinal recalled the four pillars of priestly formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral.
Regarding the human pillar, he said there is a particular stress on the fact that “one cannot be a priest without balance of mind and heart and without affective maturity, and every unresolved lacuna or problem in this area risks becoming gravely harmful, both for the person as well as for the People of God.”
To this end, The Gift of the Priestly Vocation emphasizes the necessity of a “propaedeutic period” in seminaries, known in some places as a “spirituality year” prior to full-time academic work.
Cardinal Stella also said that vocational discernment is insisted upon, in an effort “to overcome a conveyor belt mentality which developed in the past.” He said bishops and formators “are called to exercise a shrewd vigilance regarding the suitability of each candidate, without haste or superficiality.”
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An effort at “integral formation” is central to the document, and so, the cardinal said, beside the traditional division of formation into the stages of philosophical and theological studies, there has been added a threefold division of discipleship, configuration, and pastoral stages.
To each of these new stages there “corresponds an itinerary and a formative content, orientated toward an assimilation with the image of the Good Shepherd,” he said.
Cardinal Stella sees humanity, spirituality, and discernment as the “keywords” which form the foundation of the document's vision.
“I cannot sufficiently insist upon the need that seminarians be accompanied through a growth process which will … help them become persons who are humanly balanced, serene and stable,” he said. “Only in this way will it be possible to have Priests with friendly traits, who are authentic, loyal, interiorly free, affectively stable, capable of weaving together peaceful interpersonal relationships and living the evangelical counsels without rigidity, hypocrisy or loopholes.”
Regarding spirituality, Cardinal Stella said that priestly identity is founded on the priest as “a disciple passionately in love with the Lord.”
“Only in this way – cultivating his spiritual life with discipline and expressly dedicated time – can old sacral and bureaucratic views of ministry be surpassed, so that we may have Priests passionately motivated by the Gospel, capable of 'feeling with the Church' and being, like Jesus, compassionate and merciful 'Samaritans.'”