An improvement to the “Ratio” governing formation of priests in seminaries

There is a Roman document which deals with formation of seminarians: “Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis

A priest wrote (slightly edited):

Hi Fr, great post on the abuse issues, thank you.

I have written up an argument for adding to the RatioFIS the requirement to involve good Catholic husbands and fathers, to come into the seminary and give their testimonies about the hard work they do to lead, support and defend their families. I think this could address the danger of other sinister feminizing influences.  [Get this…] The Ratio requires women to have input into seminary formation but not lay men, yet it demands that the seminarians be conformed to Christ the Bridegroom and be formed in the virtue of fatherhood. St Joseph is held up as a role model but I think good manly men could also be helpful.

I hope this could be implemented in the US and maybe from there become part of the Ratio generally.

If you can help encourage this idea, I would be grateful. I have a short doc file with my proposal and relevant quotes from the current RatioFIS
Fraternally in Christ the Priest,

[For now and for his sake, I’ll keep his name out of it.]

This is a good idea.

I have long held that some laymen, as fathers, face this everyday that would make most priests roll up in a ball in the dark.   Of course it can go the other way, too.  Each of us have the grace of the sacraments suited to our vocations.

But think about the way the writers of the Ratio emphasized women… and not men.

Think about that.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mitdub says:

    Father, I’ve been thinking along similar lines. We simply must figure out ways to get manly formation into the seminaries and reduce the effeminizing influences. I think, especially, the way men are recruited and selected for the seminary is critical. On the interview panels/review boards, there should be lay men, perhaps Knights, or something, that help choose men. There are too many influences seeking men who “work collaboratively with women,” but its a canard of sorts. It may be getting better, but heterosexual men were definitely being screened out, and I think still not encouraged nearly enough. Another improvement would be the actual recruiting of good men, and not merely waiting for men to show up self nominating. Think of the recruitment of St. Ambrose. We have good men who need to be actively recruited to the seminary.

  2. mitdub says:

    PS. what might happen if every parish nominated a candidate each year for consideration of the seminaries?

  3. Deacon Jay says:

    Father Z,

    How about, in addition to lay men, using permanent deacons as “good Catholic husbands and fathers, to go into a seminary and give their testimonies? Most of the men I know are good husbands and fathers (and grandfathers, etc.).

    Deacon Jay

  4. LeeGilbert says:

    St. Paul writes to Timothy:”But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence.” 1 Tim 2:12. With this policy the Church is evidently no longer in agreement, but this is a mistake, especially when they are made professors in seminaries. Whenever I look at the oeuvre of female theologians, almost invariably there is a major focus on the place of women in the Church, a justification of the ordination of women, etc. Perhaps here and there some have made a contribution to biblical studies or Christology and the other theological disciplines, but the bias of women theologians towards feminist theology is very marked.

    Certainly there are plenty of highly intelligent women in the Church. That is indisputable. But giving them the opportunity to form priests is giving them the opportunity to foment discontent among priests concerning Church teaching on the the ordination of women, etc., and therefore to foment resentment and distrust of the Magisterium, and of the very Catholicism of which they are supposed to be the exponents.. Am I overstating the case? Maybe, but giving Eve the credentials and the opportunity to make a persuasive case to Adam year in and year out does not seem very bright, particularly not when he is destined for the altar and the pulpit.

  5. acardnal says:

    I know of lay married men who are teaching in seminaries, for example, Dr. Brant Pitre, Scott Hahn, Ph.D., Ralph Martin, STD, et al. I would like to think that they bring their personal lives and family anecdotes into their teaching. But seminaries could certainly use more of these influence on their students.

  6. acardnal says:

    I think that Patrick Madrid teaches at Holy Apostles seminary, too.

  7. Dismas says:

    This is hardly surprising, rather expected actually. As a husband and father, I am universally loathed. My efforts and sacrifices for my wife and children are publicly dismissed when not openly mocked. My very existence, according to the culture or the courts of law lies somewhere between “superfluous” and “abusive” as a default. Published papers in academic circles actually blame my genitals as the source of Global Warming.

    I expect no better treatment from any diocesan chancery, and now I can look forward to being blamed as the source of all evil and stupidity by the Dicastery of Family Life. Words are utterly inadequate to express my complete disgust for its current leadership. He’s besties with Pope Francis, so no hope there.

    Serial polygamists are free to eat the Bread of Angels, but I suppose that I aught not receive Communion until I pay for some Carbon Credits.

  8. KT127 says:

    That’s a great idea!

    It will also likely encourage more attendance and participation from lay Catholic men.


  9. I certainly have no issue with good manly examples in seminary life. That said, I would encourage readers — who I assume are not very familiar with seminary life, and I’m sure only few ever were in the seminary — to avoid making assumptions.

    There was a time when many seminaries were unhealthy places. Based on what I see and hear in the seminarians and recently ordained priests I talk to, there has been a dramatic change in seminaries in the U.S. Some of that change has come from leadership; but a lot of it has come from the men entering the seminary.

    Just for example, when I was in the seminary, ’97 to ’03 (2003 for any smart aleks!), the book Goodbye Good Men came out; and my seminary was mentioned. However, the author was relating stories from some years before. A reporter came out and interviewed some of us, and my classmate — a widower and grandfather, who was only ordained five years when he was called to reward — was interviewed. The reporter asked, what about a “gay subculture”? And my classmate answered, not here, and because the seminarians themselves wouldn’t put up with it. That was his answer, but it tracked with my experience, and I think it’s even more true today.

    I’m not claiming that is true everywhere, but I do think we are getting better men across the board; that’s what so many people in many places are reporting.

  10. Katherine says:

    The idea that seminarians need female teachers is simply ridiculous! They have mothers, and sisters, and aunts, grandmothers, neighbors, and teachers… It defies reality that any young man could manage to grow up in the US without the strong influence of women. What men in our society are lacking is the influence of real men.

    When one of our sons was 5 or 6 years old, out of convenience after a camping weekend, we attended the 7pm Novus Ordo at a local parish in a college town. The priest at that parish was quite effeminate. He had introduced a Sister from Bolivia to give the homily (a common practice encouraged from the top). The priest sat down in his presider’s chair as the Sister walked up to the ambo. I do not remember what she wore, except that she was definitely not in a habit. She had short, salt & pepper hair. She was stocky. She walked like a man. When she began to speak, though, a lovely, feminine voice surprised me. It surprised my little son, too, and he leaned over and whispered, “Is that a man or a woman, Mom?” I looked from priest to nun and realized that we had before us in the Sanctuary a woman trying to act like a man, and a man who acted like a woman. The tail of the devil showing, indeed!

    On Sunday we will be delivering that son to seminary. Needless to say, we have to be uncomfortable with any seminary chosen by our bishop. (The diocesan application actually included this question: “What about becoming a priest disturbs you most?)
    Our son believes that he has to be in the system to change the system. Well, OK then!

    For 10 years we have been driving past many parishes to attend a Mass that is holy and reverent. I wonder if my son would be responding to this calling if we had persevered in the liturgical wasteland so close to home.

  11. capchoirgirl says:

    Katherine: Praying for your son!

  12. Joy65 says:

    Praying for your son Katherine as well as for ALL Priests, Religious Brothers and sisters, Deacons, Seminarians, our Pope, Bishops, Cardinals and all discerning vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life.

  13. JMody says:

    Yes indeed, think about that for a moment. Think about how they squash any vestige of the faith as practiced by our own parents — I went to parochial school from grade 6, my brother from grade 2, and we never even heard of a novena, in only the 1970’s. Think about screening out “guys”, about what feminization they hope to inculcate.
    Why should we take any single one of them seriously when they say this is the same faith, nothing has changed, new springtime?
    Why have we not tarred and feathered the lot of them, or at least given them a shaved bald stripe across their scalps and a good-ol’ swirly with the hair that’s left?

  14. Elizabeth D says:

    I don’t have a problem with women seminary professors, as long as they are orthodox and sound and not radical feminists, and there are only a few (it would be seriously problematic if seminaries thought they needed half priest teachers and half women teachers). There should be some careful selectiveness about what subject might be taught by a woman. I beg to differ with Katherine that women in one’s own family of origin and childhood sphere give enough perspective on women. Most of them won’t have been real theologically well formed thinkers, for one thing.

    One thing I can tell that seminaries do is teach in an overly flattened way to regard women in their positive aspect as virgins or married/mothers. The liturgy forms men to think this way. Vocations in the Church (the CV vocation; matrimony) teach men to value women along those lines. Church documents basically teach that women in their positive aspect are virgins, married, mothers, and there is such a silence, almost always, about women outside those good categories, so men are surprisingly pastorally unprepared and so systematically trained to value women for being virgins or wives and mothers that over and over I have experienced that they literally have a hard time grappling mentally with the concept of a woman outside those categories that she acknowledges as goods, who might feel pain and shame. I will stop there. This is a genuine problem. One time Pope Francis made a comment about the need for a more profound theology of woman, that left people scratching their heads, but this is what I think of, that there’s a lacuna in regards to repentant women and even repentant women as having some kind of positive role in Christ and as able to be saints.

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  16. Gab says:

    How about the clergy start reinforcing Hell and start getting people to believe that it exists? Hell is mentioned 21 times in the New Testament, and Lord knows how many time in the Old Testament. And we have Saints like Faustina and Padre Pio etc who have been given visions of Hell. When did Hell become a no-go zone for Catholic clergy? Perhaps they felt it was to icky to talk about.

    I wonder how many of these priests who preyed on young children, mainly young boys, would have done so had they actually believed that Hell exists and it is for eternity?

    It’s to the ruination of many many souls that the Church no longer explains or reinforces the place called Hell (has the Pope ever?) and the consequences. And isn’t that exactly what the Church is in business for, to save souls from eternal damnation? Ah, but it might “scare” the natives and then the Church will become even more unpopular. Such are the shallow-minded times we live in.

  17. Dismas says:

    @Gab – sexual predators don’t come to that conclusion, no matter how explicitly you drill the truth into them. They will warp everything to satisfy their appetites, and view it all as a moral good. Uncle Ted was fondling boys before hell was publicly forgotten.

  18. Andrew says:

    Some think that the sacred ministers should be exposed to danger and that their chastity should be tempted so that it may be proved whether they are able to resist: let the young clerics therefore see everything, so that they may get used to see it calmly and thus be rendered immune to all mental anxiety. They think that young clerics should be free to turn their eyes to anything, without any shame, that they should frequent movies or read any commentaries, even obscene ones.
    It is easy to see that this manner of teaching, this “ratio” is false and detrimental, for “whoever loves danger, will perish in it” – and the admonishment of St. Augustine is appropriate: “don’t say that you have a modest mind if you have immodest eyes, because a lack of modesty in the eyes is a confirmation of an immodest heart.”
    Without any doubt, this awful approach is based on a serious confusion in thinking. For the Church has issued appropriate and wise norms in order to defend her priests from bad incitements, by which norms their life’s holiness is protected against the worries and the pleasures of the laity. (Pius XII, Sacra Virginitas)

  19. FN says:

    Father, have you ever heard Fr. Relyea of the Fatima Center speak? I think every seminary in the US should invite him to give a guest lecture! Especially on the topic of CONFESSION.

  20. Benedict Joseph says:

    “…The Ratio requires women to have input into seminary formation but not lay men…”
    I thought I had heard everything, seen everything, but every day presents another facet, great and small, of blazing derangement.
    Whatever the “Ratio” requires doesn’t seem to be hitting the spot. That it “requires women” to do anything is another distraction and appeasement of hysteria.
    What about requiring abandonment of vice and the acquisition of virtue, then a comprehensive knowledge of the perennial Magisterium. But above and beyond all be men of faith with concrete devotion to Jesus Christ?
    Yesterday’s “fresh news” from Allentown doesn’t do much to inspire confidence in that last weeks report is “old news.” Nor does the red hat in Newark telling his priests to button their lip.
    Can we ever get a an adult perspective on what is happening? Can we ever correctly prioritize necessities? It is if the Church — along with the secular sphere — have adopted psychosis as normality.

  21. robtbrown says:

    Mr Winters wants to return to the 1970s.

    BTW, was he close to McCarrick?

  22. KT127 says:


    I am afraid I am not following. Aren’t all Catholic women in some way repentant women? That’s why we have confession. Not every wife or religious sister has a virtuous past. But if you live a vocation or lifestyle that calls for celibacy, the preists should treat you as though you are celibate. That’s not a flatten view of women, but a respectful one.

    And some of the attitude (I think) you are alluding too is perfectly normal for men. We do have to make allowances for their particularities too.

  23. Elizabeth D says:

    KT127, your name doesn’t suggest if you are male or female, I am assuming you are male. Thanks for giving an example of someone who can’t even imagine how a devout woman might think or feel or experience parish life regards to being unmarried and not a virgin. A woman who is a wife or a religious sister has a positive social identity that an unmarried woman in a parish may not have whatsoever–and your assumption that priests respect such woman as having a celibate vocation is generally untrue. Most clergy generally do not regard celibate women in the parish other than consecrated virgins or members of institutes as having a vocation nor want much to do with such women. I was told by a layman diocesan staff person years ago “they don’t want to encourage it” because marriage rates are so low they badly want people to get married. So they are actually inclined do deter and disregard privately vowed celibate vocations, apparently dismissing the notion that if Jesus called people to be His own then this is disrespect to Him. Lumen Gentium calls such vocations, including private ones, part of the essential holiness of the Church. But this is not necessarily the prevailing view. Such women can expect to mostly be disrespected.

    Traditional spirituality sometimes emphasizes: there’s a way of innocence, and a way of penance. Chaste celibate women in the parish may be valued and honored if they are virgins and accepted as publicly worthy to be a bride of Christ in the consecrated virgin vocation. After returning to the Church a dozen years ago through the influence of nuptial Carmelite spirituality knowing Christ had called me to chaste celibacy for life, I found that I was not really going to be valued particularly for that, and soon I experienced extreme anxiety from the time I began to learn at church how important and esteemed it is to be a virgin, and how that related to female vocations, this is not the place to describe specific experiences partly because the subject of virginity is extremely humiliating to discuss and partly because I am not claiming that I have been treated unjustly in the Church and I do not want people to get a negative impression, but part of what made it incredibly hard is that priests would not listen or talk about it and did not seem to understand. Virginity was lauded and marriage was promoted but there was a silence about what if a celibate woman isn’t a virgin and I had to guess or try to piece together what Churchmen really think about it; virtually no guidance or spiritual counsel or saintly role models seemed available for such women. In a milieu where they have the consecrated virgin vocation, virginity is expressed as being the basis for being loved by Christ as spouse, and as I received repeated official rejections of my own (non public, penitent) vocation, I was in extreme spiritual pain and disorientation, for about the past decade. I want to say again quickly I do not think I have been treated unjustly but indeed I don’t think there’s always been comprehension. Maybe some of it is my fault? But it definitely, definitely wasn’t for lack of trying.

    It is very disturbing to discuss this subject in such a public way, which people are so unlikely to understand and inherently I cannot tell the whole story with detail, you are anonymous but some people on this blog know me in real life so if I try to talk about this here I am taking a terrible risk of real life humiliation, of saying something wrong and offending my beloved Lord Jesus, of being taken the wrong way, of people seeing me more negatively and rejecting me even more, even of giving scandal to some nominal Catholic or non Catholic who wanders by and has a negative impression or is afraid of coming back to the Church or of becoming Catholic. I completely, extremely love the Church and invite everyone because Christ invites them with absolutely personal love that compels us. I am replying not because an anonymous person remotely has a right to a response on such a painful and personal subject (which on this blog experience shows can lead to very hurtful comments) to but because this is a seminary thread and maybe something would be better for some other woman if people in seminaries might realize the degree of incomprehension there often is of repentant women (at least that has been my experience, maybe other people fare better? But so often, one person’s experience does represent many others’) and that women can feel pain and shame and sorrow about the subject of virginity especially as offense against Christ the adorable Bridegroom (I am not even scratching the surface, and it would be good to also put in a word for women who are mothers without being married through they repented of fornication and may feel very socially vulnerable in the Church being a single parent, or who are married but don’t have children and feel shame, whether because they contracepted before later repenting or because they couldn’t have children but feel sorrow and humiliation, these examples are all meant to refer to women who experience an uncomfortable disconnect between a Christian ideal of being a virgin or a wife/mother and the present reality of their life even though their present reality is one of fidelity and virtue) that men might not intuit.

    I have sought to incorporate all the suffering into my penitent vocation, which is not just for me but to do penance for all the members of the Church and witness to Jesus’ beautiful Mercy and the efficacy of His resurrection for restoring sinners to holiness, and why should I not suffer since I betrayed my divine Bridegroom, Who was rejected, humiliated, suffered and died to take away my sins and espouse me to Himself forever. No, it is not unjust! I had tried over and over to talk to different priests about what I was going through and was rebuffed, ignored, treated with suspicion; only within the last few years did I have a spiritual director who I could really talk with and who was a huge relief for me, though now he’s been transferred and I don’t drive so it’s unclear if I will still have his help. What did this priest do right that others did not? he made time and actually listened, and listened well, for one thing. Didn’t reject me for being in pain. And importantly he was supportive of my vocation as something positive in the Church. That means the world to me. I am not writing this for the anonymous person but for those who might teach future priests. There should not be any throw away culture about women who aren’t virgins or married/mothers; that is not how Jesus is at all.

    I am not sure what your last comment means, maybe that it’s “normal” for men to value women for being virgins or wives/mothers? Okay, but Jesus is not like you; what is normal for Jesus is to value us at the full value of His own life that He gave to redeem His bride. He is the opposite of the throw-away guys for whom women lose their value and are not inspiring if they are not virgins. He
    “throws away” His own life to redeem the value of sinners. I believe priestly formation HAS to be oriented toward this perspective of Our Lord in the Gospel. Priests are ordained to save souls. The extreme orientation to female virginity may be engaging to men but Jesus has obviously overcome that since the first person He wants to see when He rises from the dead is Mary Magdalene. In her He looks on someone whom His cross and resurrection has saved from hell; He looks upon His triumph, as though He sees adulterous bride Israel now made holy in His Holy Church. Priests need an orientation toward joy in saving sinners.

  24. KT127 says:

    I’m sorry you are going through a difficult time, I hope it gets better for you.

    I would say more but I am too busy wrapping my head around the fact you want to re-educate priest about women and yet assumed I was a man because I disagreed with you. I’m not by the way.

  25. Elizabeth D says:

    You say you don’t comprehend, and now I see you were probably never interested in comprehending but actually signifying “disagreement”, and you seem contemptuous of another woman (I pointed out I don’t know if you’re male or female, but you made a comment on what you alleged was normal for men so I thought you might be saying you were male) that I hope for priests to understand repentant women, to whom they minister. Not only men but women can reject and be callous toward other women who repent of sin and feel pain and sorrow, in fact women may feel more free to do so. So you are giving a glimpse of the negative experience repentant women may sometimes have in the Church. I don’t know you so I don’t know what is behind your attitude. May God bless you. Only His love and mercy is the source of our being able to have genuine love and mercy toward others.

  26. dallenl says:

    I recall an article about 30 years ago in a Catholic publication whose name I can not remember, that called for more masculine men to enter the priesthood. At the time, clerical abuse was not a well known problem. Now, it is quite clear what was meant. I see no difficulty in women being academic instructors in seminaries, especially in the more secular subjects of History, Administration, etc. But the formation of religious men should probably be left to those best suited by virtue of personal experience.

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