By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – An organization of 1,200 priests has called for revisions in the way seminarians are prepared for ministry so that the U.S. Catholic Church can better address challenges that include declining membership and falling seminary enrollment.
The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests addressed five areas of concern, saying that priests must get closer to the people they serve and better understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus as envisioned by Pope Francis.
The concerns were outlined in a letter and eight-page document sent to Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
The committee, which includes eight other archbishops and bishops, is reviewing the Program for Priestly Formation, the fifth and most recent edition of which was published in 2006. The committee is expected to submit revisions for a new edition of the guide at the November 2019 USCCB fall general assembly.
The AUSCP said its comments were influenced by several challenges facing the U.S Catholic Church: the “departure of millions of Catholics from active participation and membership in the church”; the decreasing number of priests and men entering studies for the priesthood; the declining number of church marriages and baptisms; fewer parishes; and the “growing identification of Americans as ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious.’”
The working group’s report also questioned the current seminary model used to train priests. Among the organization’s recommendations was a plan to have seminarians live in parishes while they complete their studies so they can better understand the lives of people they will eventually serve.