Holy See on use of psychology in priestly formation

This from the Holy See to all involved in seminary formation…. including the wicked ******** years ago who used psychologists and psychological "discernment" as a weapon to keep normal, Church loving, faithful men out of the priesthood.


VATICAN CITY, 30 OCT 2008 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office, the document “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood” from the Congregation for Catholic Education was presented. The text consists of fifteen pages and was published in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Portuguese.

  Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, O.P., and Fr. Carlo Bresciani, respectively the prefect, secretary, and consultant and psychologist of the Congregation for Catholic Education took part in the press conference.

  Cardinal Grocholewski affirmed that the document highlights “the socio-cultural context that, more or less, influences the mentality of the candidates that apply to the seminary, creating, in some cases, wounds that are still unhealed or particular difficulties that could ‘condition their ability to progress along the formative path toward the priesthood’”.

  “These problems,” he said “are seen not only at the moment of entry into the seminary but, at times, also clearly manifest themselves at the moment prior to priestly ordination”.

  The cardinal stated that “the influence of the socio-cultural context as well as the need for a demanding human formation of the future priest, raise the question of the eventual use of the psychological sciences in the seminaries”.

  “This document,” he continued, “emphasizes the fundamental role of the formators and, therefore, the need of an adequate preparation in the area of vocational pedagogy”. On the other hand, he said, “in the human formation – which cannot be separated from the spiritual formation – the spiritual director has a special role”. In this sense he quoted the document where it says that “spiritual direction can in no way be substituted by forms of analysis or psychological assistance, and that the spiritual life, of itself, favors growth in the human virtues if no blocks of a psychological nature exist”.

  He then stressed another aspect that the document focuses on: “the importance of divine grace in the formation of candidates to the priesthood”. The cardinal indicated that “recourse to experts in the psychological sciences should be used onlyin some cases’ to show the assessment of a diagnosis, or eventual therapy, or psychological support in the development of the human qualities demanded by the exercise of the ministry. These should be consulted,” he insisted, “‘si casus ferat’, meaning in exceptional cases that present particular difficulties”.  [The problem is that for years those ******** looked at normal men and said, "You are against homosexual clergy.  You must be a homophobe.  You need help."  Or  "You don’t think women should be ordained?  Perhaps you need to see someone."  Or "You feel the need to follow the rubrics or quote canon law.  You are very rigid.  Perhaps this is a sign of psychological instability?"  Or "What is with the statue of Mary in your room?  Are you perhaps troubled in some way?  We may have to discern if you are psychologically suited to continue in the process of formation." Or "What about praying to the Spirit as female is wrong?  Are you incapable of dealing with women?  That is a sign we should refer you for closer examination."  I’ll tell… a lot of the guys I know who were good solid men maybe need help now for delayed stress syndrom after the battles endured with these wicked ********.]

  “The aid of psychology,” he continued, “should be integrated into the candidate’s global formation in such a way that it does not hinder but rather ensures, in a particular way, the safeguarding of the inalienable value of spiritual accompaniment”. This is why, he said, “psychologists cannot be part of the formation team”.

  Cardinal Grocholewski concluded by recalling that the document “on three occasions cites canon 1052 of the C.I.C., according to which, for the bishop to proceed to ordination, he must have moral certainty that the candidate’s suitability, ‘has been positively established’ and that, in the case of a substantiated doubt, cannot proceed to ordination”.

  Archbishop Brugues asserted that “no one, not even religious or diocesans superiors, can enter into the details of candidates’ psychological profiles without having received their prior, explicit, informed, and total consent … The psychologist cannot disclose aspects of their patients’ private lives to third parties, regardless of their authority, be it religious or political, without the free consent of the interested parties”.

  Finally, Fr. Carlo Bresciani emphasized that “with these guidelines, the Church, far from wanting to entrust to psychologists the psychological formation of candidates to the priesthood, which is and continues to be essentially of a spiritual nature, seeks to value what the human and the psychological sciences in particular can contribute to the preparation of priests with equilibrated personalities. The Church appreciates the psychological disciplines but, at the same time, wants to discipline its use in a way that it might be truly beneficial”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Jonathan Bennett says:

    I recall reading that in some seminaries the psycologists often used the label ‘P.O.D.’ to identify some of those tendencies which were deemed unsuitable in seminarians and candidates for Holy Orders. That is, ‘Pious and Overly-Devotional’.

  2. Nathan says:

    May God have mercy on us all. Is the abuse still going on in seminaries? Is anyone checking to make sure that the abuse of psychology isn’t used as a weapon against orthodoxy today?

    In Christ,

  3. miss book says:

    So sad that so many good men were shown the door, or had their lives made hell.Religious orders were affected, too. Will the new guidelines be adhered to? Who will check and how will we know?

  4. TLT says:

    As a seminarian in the early 90’s, I was subjected to a psycologist who served as our formation director (backed up by an unqualified musician who also had say over our formation) – it was a nightmare at best. Many of us were counseled for being “rigid” in our adherance to the teachings and laws of the Church. Good and holy men were sent packing after being told they no longer had a vocation, while many of the darlings of the formation faculty went on to be ordained, only later to bring public humilitation to the Church. St. John Chrysostoms’ statement that “Hell is paved with priests’ skulls” can be restated that is it is paved with pscychologists and their minions who have done untold harm and damage to the Church.

  5. Torquemada says:

    Father Z, thank you for this wonderful post!

  6. John O says:

    Not only are psychologists abusing the seminary system, but some are also being allowed by bishops to carry out experiments of ordained priests! I know of several preists who have been told by their bishop to have tests carried out on them because either the bishop or his advisors felt that “Fr… is too traditional and will not break the laws of the Church when we want to make a mockery of the faith!”
    The bishops demand obedience from the priests to carry out their wishes. It is slightly easier to hide in a parish and get on with the ministry to which the priest was ordained to do, but when the bishop demands the priest to go or get out the Church, what can the priest do?

  7. Ben Trovato says:

    The book Goodbye Good Men (Michael S Rose) is worth reading on this whole phenomenon (and many other dubious practices used to ensure that only the right (=left) sort got through (some) seminaries…

  8. Frank H says:

    I just recently read Michael Rose’s “Goodbye Good Men”. It is truly amazing that any good priests were formed in these last couple of decades. My prayers are with those strong men who made it through, and for those good men who did not. I have a difficult time praying for the salvation of the misguided seminary leaders who created such havoc.

  9. Memphis Aggie says:

    Psychology is often opposed to faith. It belittle faith as delusion – can’t say I find it surprising that it’s misused here.

  10. Frank H: My prayers are with those strong men who made it through, and for those good men who did not.

    The worry is that more good men did not than did make it through the schemes set up to weed out faithful seminarians. In 1995 Archbishop Elden Curtis (Omaha) said:

    “I personally think the vocation ‘crisis’ in this country is more artificial and contrived than many people realized. ….. It seems to me that the vocation ‘crisis’ is precipitated and continued by people who want to change the Church’s agenda, by people who do not support orthodox candidates loyal to the magisterial teaching of the Pope and bishops, and by people who actually discourage viable candidates from seeking priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines these ministries.”

    “I am personally aware of certain vocation directors, vocation teams and evaluation boards who turn away candidates who do not support the possibility of ordaining women or who defend the Church’s teaching about artificial birth control, or who exhibit a strong piety toward certain devotions, such as the rosary. ….. And the same people who precipitate a decline in vocations by their negative actions call for the ordination of married men and women to replace the vocations they have discouraged.”


  11. Mark R says:

    I had a very good psychiatrist…who are on the whole a lot brighter than psychologists. He was not a diocesan employee but one chosen by my pastor. I got the green flag…but did not stay in the seminary. Incidentally, he examined a number of potential novices for Thomas Merton, .of blessed memory. He gave none of them the green flag. They were all admitted to Trappist formation, but none of them stayed with the order.

  12. TNCath says:

    Unfortunately, there are still a few prominent seminaries out there (and even a few bishops) that still subscribe to this line of “formation.”

  13. Melody says:

    Not all forms of psychology are completely opposed to the faith. Notably cognitive therapy.

    It seems to me that psychology when properly used should identify folks like that priest in Brisbane early on before the damage is done.

    The hardest part is finding the right psychologists. As the saying goes, “Who watches the watchers?”

  14. JM says:

    It seems to be a problem that the Pope or the Vatican come out with these excellent pronouncements which they then have trouble enforcing. Did the Holy Father’s statement on Catholic education in the US lead to any actual changes? Or, Summorum Pontificum is ignored quite routinely. Etc., etc. The Holy Father is obviously an extremely intelligent man and I’m sure is aware of this problem, but I wonder what can be done.

  15. John Enright says:

    I’m not a priest and I’ve never attended a seminary. The bias which Fr. Z. speaks about in his post, however, happens on campuses worldwide, including nominally Catholic colleges and universities. How sad. How easy to fix with proper episcopal administration throughout our entire educational system, starting at the grammar school level.

  16. Dan says:

    I can say, at least for the seminary I attend, that we are fortunate to have a very good and faithful psychologist used both for psychological screening when men enter the seminary and counseling those in need of it. I’ve never experienced the abuse of psychology to weed out good men who are not of the same mindset as their formators, but I can imagine it existing. I have, however, seen first hand the benefits of psychology for men who truly do have wounds that are preventing growth in the spiritual life. Grace does indeed build upon nature, and if the natural foundation is not solid, formation for the priesthood will be quite difficult if not impossible.

  17. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Didn’t psychiatry arise as confession and spiritual direction lessened? Who has the right or power to look into a soul but those who have the grace and good will for it?

    To unleash this kind of approach in the formation of seminarians, except for the most egregious insanity, seems inappropriate. There’s a theory that most psychological problems are rooted in spiritual ones. Oh wait… is this a case where the real “inmates” are running the program?

    Its not funny. I mourn for those who bear this kind of treatment.

    Years ago, at the Trappist Monastery here, a monk hung himself following the monastery’s sensitivity training.

  18. TJM says:

    I liked Father Z’s comments in red. I think they sum in up pretty well. You had the inmates running the asylum. Tom

  19. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Didn’t Michael Rose write a subsequent book as a way to make up for Goodbye Good Men, when it came to light that many of his accusations were unfounded? Didn’t many of the unfair assertions come to light when some of the slandered individuals named in the book protest that they had never been interviewed? Some good priests were slandered on the basis of hearsay. Because of this, one wonders about other premises in the book. There are better sources than this.

    I don’t deny that our clergy, hierarchy, and religious [both men and women] have been subjected to terrible manipulation.

  20. Dr. Mel-South Carolina says:

    “Many faculty members of seminaries and religious houses do not adhere to the truth on matters of sexual morality and faith. For decades moral relativism, proportionalism, and situational ethics have been taught in these centers of formation. These teachings have contributed to the present crisis in the Church. Seminarians who support Church teaching on sexual morality, Scripture, the liturgy and fundamental moral theology have been labeled as rigid and often expelled from seminaries. Seminary faculty members, members of formation teams in religious communities, and individuals on vocations’ committees who have a rebellious and dissenting or homosexual agenda are driven to remove from the seminary males who are loyal to the Church’s teachings on matters of faith and morals.”
    Catholic Medical Association’s: “AN OPEN LETTER TO THE BISHOPS’ May 29, 2002

    One of the primary problems is not the use of psychological assessment for seminarians, but the use of psychologists/psychiatrists who do not follow the Church’s teachings on faith and morals.
    Any Diocese which utilizes “Dignity”, instead of “Courage” for those struggling with SSA (Same Sex Attraction), should raise a RED flag as to the seriousness of solving, long term, the current crisis.
    Dr. Mel-South Carolina

  21. CB says:

    I have a friend whose Latin Mass loving father (as in he only went to the TLM) went to see a psychologist for employment related depression. The shrink convinced him that he was really transgendered and that his 25 years of marriage had been very damaging to his female psyche. The man got his ears pierced to get in touch with his “female side” much to his family’s humiliation and after about a year, left them completely and started wearing dresses all the time. All this to say that future priests aren’t the only Catholics ruined by psychologists.

  22. kat says:

    No, Michael Rose then wrote a book showcasing 10 great priest in the Catholic Church. He was very spot-on in terms of a great deal of what he uncovered. I recall one passage about our former bishop in Richmond, Walter Sullivan, going around in madras plaid shorts and a tshirt. This very anti-traditionalist “progressive” screwed up the diocese so much that it will take decades to undo.

  23. Antiquarian says:

    I’m not aware of Michael Rose having written any follow-up to Goodbye, Good Men, but it is true that his journalistic methods and standards have been criticized by many, and that some of his sources dispute his accounts.

  24. Irenaeus says:

    It’s a similar thing in the ordination processes of many mainline Protestant denominations, such as the ELCA, ECUSA, PCUSA, UMC, etc. The seminary per se has nothing to do with it; the synod, or presbytery, or diocesan council or judicatory or whatever does, however, and requires budding seminarians to take things like the MMPI (MN Multiphasic Personality Inventory) or other tools and go over them with a psychologist or psychiatrist and make a recommendation about the person’s mental health. The denominational committee then can find things pertaining to orthodoxy to kick people out. But I’ve found that in Protestant processes, psychological assessment isn’t used as a tool to kick people out. A commitment to fundamental orthodoxy is itself enough to get one kicked out of the ordination process.

  25. Aelric says:

    1980’s seminaries: just say ‘no’ to INTJs. Every priest and nun on the formation team thought themselves a self-taught Jungian.

    I just answered everything on the idiotic Myers-Briggs the opposite of that to which I was inclined, and came up ESFP. “We were rather surprised by this result, N.,” suggested the formation team, puzzling over the results. The line with which I would have loved to respond was: “If you were INTJs, you would realize why you should not have been surprised.”

  26. mike says:

    Father Z

    how do you say ******** in latin?


  27. seminarian101 says:

    There is reason for Hope!

    In my seminary the psychologist begins the session with prayer and ends it with prayer. He always connects any psychological insight to the spiritual life. A real prayerful man who I’m sure has helped many seminarians as he has helped me. A beacon of hope for the integration of psychology and spirituality.

    He said the only way one can tackle any of one’s human “issues” is with prayer and cooperation with God’s free gift of grace.

    So atleast there is some good psychology happening in seminaries. Atleast from my personal experience.

  28. Aelric,
    -What did seminaries have against INTJ personalities?


  29. Ken Willard says:

    “Goodbye, Good Men” described the despicable practice of
    farming out this screening and said that Cincinatti employed
    ex-nuns and a Rosacrucian!”

    But also disturbing are the places that do it internally. In
    NYC, Groeschel still screens the candidates personally even though
    his own early advocacy of these methods is well documented and cost
    a lot of vocations.

  30. Tina in Ashburn says:

    “the idiotic Myers-Briggs”
    Myers-Briggs depends on SELF-assessment. As I learned in opinion research, people say one thing but their actual behavior is often completely different. We would complete studies showing that people liked a product enough to buy it… but then in the actual market, the product failed.

    When one lacks self-knowledge or holds an idealistic view of themselves, the Myers-Briggs is worse than useless.

    In reference to Michael Rose, my inference above is not that his premise is incorrect or that many things he said are untrue. I meant that his methods were questionable and a few of his stories were unproven. I agree that we suffer terribly from some poorly-formed and uncorrected clergy/hierarchy. I am making a cranky request for better sources.

  31. Sid Cundiff says:

    TELL ME ABOUT IT! I speak from experience. Every word, comma, full stop, question mark, and quote mark that Fr. Z has written in his red fisk are completely and utterly true. Every word behind every asterisk that he has used is utterly appropriate and well merited.

  32. sekman says:

    Is the full text of this documents available?

  33. Melody says:

    They really screened out INTJs?!

    Aside for the absolute scandal of kicking people out of seminary over a single test, I would say that when measured accurately, the INTJ describes someone who would make a pretty good priest. INTJs are logical, value loyalty, social structure, and obedience and less likely to accept relativism.

    Check this out: http://typelogic.com/intj.html

    I’m sick at how blatantly calculating the effort to screen out good priests has been. I thank God a few have squeezed through. It certainly explains why traditional orders are overflowing.

  34. Blaise says:

    A newly ordained priest gave a homily in our parish regarding a meeting he and new seminarians had when they arrived at the seminary (in Canada) for their first year of studies. The priest went on to say that one of the seminarians invited others to meet in front of the local abortion clinic to pray the Rosary for the unborn on the following Sunday. The priest giving the homily said that one of the seminarians, a big guy who was widowed went up to the seminarian and told him, “we don’t do those Catholic things like pray in front of abortion clinics, we are ecumenical…we don’t judge…go pray your rosary in your room”. The seminarian who was a witness to the dignity of human life at the abortion clinic left the meeting and eventually left the seminary. The priest telling this story agreed with the manner in which this seminarian was treated. Our hearts sunk to the ground…this is what is being ordained in our diocese. And this is the Marxist ideology being taught in some seminaries.

  35. Memphis Aggie says:


    I agree with you cognitive therapy is helpful and practical, quite unlike Freudian or Jungian therapy. It helped me. Also I wouldn’t want to belittle the real value of psychiatric medications that help people function and prevent suicide.

  36. Ex-Seminarian says:

    During my days in the seminary if you wanted to get rid of someone, all you had to do, was to call him a homosexual. If the rector wanted to get rid of someone he didn’t want, all he had to say was …well, there are certain questions in the air….we need a psychologist.
    Where is the church leading herself????? The Church has to start tackling more serious problems in today’s world! According to a study in Europa, most cases of abuse occur in families! So, should we now send everyone to a psychologist who is thinking of having children????

  37. Maureen says:

    Father Groeschel is primarily a priest and monk, and if he has added long study in psychology to the strings of his bow, that’s not a bad thing.

    A lot of things that were advocated in the sixties and seventies were not bad ideas… if they hadn’t been implemented by unwise and badly disposed people. A shrink who’s a devout Catholic and understands people as well would be a blessing. The problem is that those people are very few today, so it’s better to dispense with having such requirements for shrinks to be in seminary programs. Also, it is very dangerous for the bishop to pass the buck to anyone, even someone very wise and devout. Passing the buck to a layman or laywoman is unfair, and also interferes with the relationship between bishop and seminarians.

    But if you read St. Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care (aka The Book of Pastoral Rule), it’s full of psychological analysis rules of thumb and hints on spiritual direction. So don’t blame Fr. Groeschel; psychology entered the Church when the Bible started telling you people’s motives for their actions.

  38. dcs says:

    Father Groeschel is primarily a priest and monk, and if he has added long study in psychology to the strings of his bow, that’s not a bad thing.

    Fr. Benedict is a friar and he did his doctoral work in psychology.

  39. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Maureen, As usual, well said.

  40. P in Mancs says:

    Well this beats all!

    Faith and pschycology — what a match.
    Can’t see much good coming out of this but hey! ho! keep people in work.

  41. Richard A says:

    Excellent points, but the ******** was very distracting. It took a lot of effort to determine if you meant s***h**** or a**h****.

  42. Michael F.Rowe says:

    Benedict (Peter) Groeschel’s training is in education, he only dabbles in psychology (as he does in theology).
    He has a lot in common with his boyhood friend G. Gordon Liddy— good as well as bad

  43. Michael J says:


    As the father of a very active, energetic and clever two-year old boy, I would have to say that the answer to your question: “should we now send everyone to a psychologist who is thinking of having children????”, is not a bad idea at all.

    On a more serious note, what “more serious problems” should the Church confront other than the attempted corruption of her Priests?

  44. Can anyone tell me more about the INTJ personality bias? I am very interested in this.


  45. Robert Medonis says:

    Michael Rose sources and information were disputed by Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine, and according to New Oxford Review the problem was that Rose’s accusations of the seminary in Leuvain (spelling?) Belgium upset a big patroness who was also donated to Crisis magazine.
    So Crisis went after Rose.

    I heard Rose speak at a Catholic conference in Long Beach CA in 2001 along with the author of Triumph, various priests and I believe Jeff Cavins. No one disputed Rose at the conference and if he was off-base why was he invited? There was assorted leftist journalists floating around but they did not question Rose.

    So, Tina what was incorrect? This is a rabbit hole so write me

    Robert Medonis Los Angeles CA

  46. Tina says:

    I’m currently a doctoral student in education who is currently taking a class in testing and measurement. I find this current discussion fascinating. Obviously, the people who are using the results need to take this class.

    First of all, there are many ways to make these tests invalid. The easist is to use them inappropriately or for the wrong reason.
    Secondly, a competent psychologist should base his conclusions on many different data points, not just the basis of one test. Especially since someone could have had a bad day when the test was administered. ( I know I am smarter than my SAT score reveals….I KNOW IT!!!!)

    I’d echo Maureen in saying there are some good ideas that were badly/inappropriately implemented.

    I’d also like to throw out a couple of thoughts. Jesus didn’t run the disciples through psychological testing…what would the Church be like if Peter’s tests showed he shouldn’t be a disciple? The testing movement and such have only been around I’d have to say since the late 1800s (ball-parking)…how did the Church get along before then? I read something that suggested our favorite saints would have all been rejected… Can you imagine St. Francis of Assissi making it through the process?


  47. I think the questioning of Michael Rose came up in 2002, not 2001.

  48. Richard: It took a lot of effort to determine if you meant s***h**** or a**h****.

    I assume you eventually succeeded, noting that he carefully typed exactly eight asterisks each time.

  49. Hugo says:

    I thought Fr Z’s ******** meant the english for nothi (or spurii).

  50. LeonG says:

    There are certain psychological perspectives which form the basis of therapies that can be helpful such as behaviourist techniques for changing inappropriate behaviour. These have numerous positive, negative and vicarious techniques which are frequently used in educational processes. Others, such as cognitive behavioural therapy can be successful in treating various states of anxiety, for example. The problem for the post-Vatican II seminaries and convents was the adoption of Freudian and Jungian psychodynamics. Psychology has moved on a long way since the days of these two subjective approaches to psychological disorders. This helps partially to explain why, for example, the Sacrament of Confession has been bowdlerised in order to quash feelings of guilt and remorse for past actions. The un-catholic nonsense did not stop there and had effects across the entire seminary curriculum. It is little wonder that homosexuality has been welcomed into many religious houses. Freud and Jung (who was an occultist and hated organised religion) have had more influence on post-conciliar seminary training than many Catholics would like to believe. Many of us have seen the consequences of some of it at first hand. Admixed with de Chardin and modernist companions these together have undermined modern priestly formation with devastating effect.

    Psychological therapies can be very useful but they do not forgive sin – only a thorough Confession is the best therapy for that.

  51. Jay Earl says:

    Jesus Christ lived here and died here. He is here now our world does not reflect this fact yet. So until it does have faith. Satan belongs to our lord he does his work here. Right, wrong, good, bad heaven and hell are his playground.

    Nothing can stop our lords work! Satan is in our lords church doing the lords work. It is my belief he is killing the Lamb, the lamb must die before the lion comes. I can smell the lions breath cant you?

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