VATICAN CITY, OCTOBER 2, 2018 (Zenit.org).- In this exclusive interview with ZENIT, Father Jaime Castillo Villacres, Rector of the Seminary of Loja, in Ecuador, answers key questions on vocational discernment and the formation of seminarians, in face of the challenge to renew the “Formative Project” in the light of the new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis.
This reflection is understood in the framework of the ongoing Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith, and Discernment,” being held from October 3-28 in the Vatican, and in the wake of the recent events in the heart of the Church (the resignation offered by all the Bishops of Chile, the Pope’s suspension from all functions of former Cardinal McCarrick, the removal of Karadima from the clerical state, and the publication of the Pennsylvania Report on sexual abuse).
Father Jaime Oswaldo Castillo Villacres was born on September 17, 1973. He has dedicated a good part of his 20 years as a priest to the formation of young people (youth pastoral work and vocational formation). He has collaborated as formator and professor of Dogmatic Theology in two seminaries for seven years: the Reina del Cisne Seminary of Loja and the Jesus Good Shepherd Seminary of Riobamba, in Ecuador.
Father Villacres is beginning his second year as Rector of the Reina del Cisne Major Seminary of Loja and has, together with the formative community, the “challenge” to renew the “Formative Project” offered by the new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis.
Here is a translation of Father Jaime Castillo Villacres’ exclusive interview with ZENIT.
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ZENIT: What human, spiritual and intellectual requirements does a candidate to the priesthood need?
Father Castillo: The priesthood, gift that God puts in the heart of some men, calls, from the one who feels this divine call, for a very generous answer. In the educational process, the candidate assumes progressively the essential traits of Jesus, the Good Shepherd: he looks after, nourishes and corrects the flock (Jn 3:15). Given this vocational challenge, the human, spiritual and intellectual requirements are indispensable and inseparable conditions. Human maturity is necessary, which entails adequate physical and psychic health. When a youth enters the seminary, he brings with him his vital world, which he has experienced in his family and socio-cultural environment. I remember my first formator who said to me: “the candidate to the priesthood doesn’t fall from heaven.” He was very right. We arrived with cultural, religious and spiritual diversity. Today those young men enter our processes of vocational discernment who God has enabled to respond. We adults — fathers of families, professors, educators, and formators, should have enough creativity and docility to understand the new cultural paradigms of young people.
ZENIT: Do you think that it’s more appropriate to give more importance to intellectual capacities than to emotional balance?
Father Castillo: The new directives for priestly formation, which are harmoniously well oriented in the new Ratio Fundamentalis, enable us to understand that formation to the ordained ministry is characterized by gradualness and completeness. That is, the educational processes in the seminary take care of the totality of the person in his different dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. It’s very necessary to constitute a stable personality, to cultivate ideal qualities in young men that enable them to assume the gift of the vocation to the presbyterate (RF, 94), because “the lack of a well-structured and balanced personality becomes a serious and objective impediment for the continuity of formation to the priesthood” (RF, 63).
Since Pope Francis proposed to the whole Church — through Evangelii Gaudium — the category of discipleship as the fruit of the reflection in Aparecida, we realize that the most important thing in the priestly vocation is the journey of discipleship. The seminarian must undertake a journey of discipleship, which is prolonged for the whole of his life. In this journey, the cultivation of the intelligence is also necessary. I believe that a well-cultivated mind makes it possible to open new horizons for a humanizing commitment in the Church. One must facilitate in a future priest a fruitful meeting between human values and intellectual preparation so that he’ll be a valid interlocutor in a plural and heterodox world. There comes to mind right now an instructive and thought-provoking phrase of Sister Andrea Tacchi, on referring to Pope Francis, which clarifies this anxiety much better:
“Combined admirably in Francis is the intelligence of a Jesuit and the humility of a Franciscan. If one is only intelligent, one can be proud; if, in addition, one is humble, one triumphs!”
ZENIT: What consequences can it have in the candidate himself and in the people to whom he will be dedicated?
Father Castillo: Well, if there isn’t emotional balance and the minimum necessary to relate to persons normally, the consequences are very serious. By the way, let it be said: the priest is a man of relationship. Therefore, without human maturity, the individual experiences withdrawal into himself to the detriment of the community. The Church has the right to exact that her ministers are able to serve the Christian community evangelically and this entails tested human maturity. Let us remember that faith can grow, mature, and bear fruits in an integrated, not divided, human being, in a heart unified by the cause of the Kingdom and its justice.
ZENIT: Pope Francis recently exhorted a group of Bishops in the Vatican to give priority to vocational discernment “to help young people recognize the voice of God among the many that resound in the ears and in the heart.” How must a rector or spiritual director guide a youth, in the journey of discernment, who feels called to the priesthood?
Father Castillo: This question is very valuable because it leads me to speak about the importance of the formation team. As is known, the bishop is the first one responsible for priestly formation. However, the bishop delegates responsibility to the rector and to the formators, in the framework of subsidiarity. The formators, disciples of the Lord, are the presence of the Father and pastor (bishop) in the seminary because they have received his trust to channel the processes of discernment, helped by the light of the Holy Spirit. To this end, it’s a priority to assume the experience of ecclesial mediation. To what am I referring? One doesn’t walk alone in the Church. One needs a companion on the way. Our walking is synodal. One needs human mediations. In the end, the call to the priesthood is made palpable through brothers and sisters in a particular community context. As Benedict XVI said: “one who believes is never alone.” The one who speaks in an irreplaceable way is the Spirit in each one’s conscience, in that sense God inspires what we must do and say. However, this same God makes use and needs human instruments that accompany the path of decisions through contrasts to persons’ aspirations, often very subjective.
Keeping in mind what we have said, the voice of the spiritual director and of the rector (in their different competencies and levels of communication) is more than necessary. The voice of the spiritual director exists to understand through mercy the seminarian’s vocational answer; to contrast the candidate’s possible subjectivisms, review the plan of life (personal history, progress or setbacks in the seminarian’s different stages); verify the authenticity of the call (personal conversations and biweekly meetings). Likewise, the rector has the delicate mission to take care and to foster a healthy environment for formation. He must be able to make opportune inquiries and questions to verify the conscious answer of the candidate to the priesthood. He must also validate, periodically, the continuity of the process of formation of each seminarian, helped by the advice of the formator Fathers and the specialists in human sciences, especially clinical psychology.
ZENIT: What determines the differences between a diocesan seminary and another of some order or movement (for instance, the missionary Seminaries of the Neo-Catechumenal Way or the Schoenstatt Seminaries) in regard to norms and periods of formation?
Father Castillo: Each religious community, diocese or ecclesiastical jurisdiction has a very particular history, which must be known to avoid anachronistic prejudices and approaches. There are dioceses that have good formation teams and adequate physical areas to set out an educational project in the seminaries, and this strength must be promoted. There are others that have experienced a strong diminution of vocations, but they don’t cease to promote this legitimate area of ministry in the Church. And this need leads them to look for other places to form their presbytery. I must articulate some specifications about this:
- If a bishop decides to entrust to a center of ecclesiastical studies, seminary or movement the formation of his seminarians, it will be because he can’t guarantee priestly formation in his diocese. There are already valuable experiences that exist of national and inter-diocesan (regional) initiatives, as the fruit of the communion and communication of goods in the Episcopal Conferences. But it is prudent that the diocese of origin offer serious vocational accompaniment so that the seminarians remain rooted in the cultural and religious reality, where they will exercise their future pastoral ministry.
- If there is a case where a bishop entrusts the formation of a part or totality of his seminarians to some apostolic movement, the responsibility in terms of ecclesial communion is of greater commitment for the latter. The spirituality of the diocesan priest stems from his ministry; he is called to configure himself to Jesus the Good Shepherd and to be a servant of all the holy people of God. He has the challenge of being a man of communion who receives all and is at the service of all. The community or movement in charge of the formation must be able to relativize its charism in keeping with ecclesial communion. And it would be of much help to him to beware of those conceptual dichotomies: a hierarchic, charismatic, lay Church? Let us say it very forcefully: the Church is ministerial. There is a ministerial dynamic where the Church, community of communities, is the large house where we all find our space.
- Particularly interesting is the contribution of the Ratio Fundamentalis, which establishes norms, regulations, stages, processes and times for the whole process of priestly formation. I recommend that it be read, meditated upon and studied, because there is a new paradigm there for the priest of our time. And also the Ratio Fundamntalis of each nation, as the fruit of the agreements of the Episcopal Conference, which enables the reception of the universal proposal and the assumption of one’s reality in the formative field.
ZENIT: The new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, issued in 2016 by the Congregation for the Clergy, states very clearly:
“In regard to persons with homosexual tendencies that approach the Seminaries, or that discover this situation during the formation, in coherence with the Magisterium, the Church, profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the Seminary and to Holy Orders those that practice homosexuality, present profoundly rooted homosexual tendencies or uphold the so-called gay culture.” Therefore, if it’s detected that a seminarian is homosexual, should one proceed to expel him from the Seminary?
Father Castillo: The Seminary’s mission is to help to identify, in so far as possible, the vocation of each of the young seminarians, and especially to confirm the conscious option for commitment in the ministry to the presbyterate. On more than one occasion I have had the opportunity to help to reorient the vocational option of a candidate to the priesthood, while other intentions persisted that were not in accord with the specific mission that the Church would entrust to him. In the case of homosexuality, as the Church poses it to us at present, it is incompatible, because of its nature, with the priestly ministry. If admitted to the priesthood, perceived sooner or later would be the truth of his life in his sexual conduct. I would recommend the same for a heterosexual seminarian (separation from the seminary), who is unable to understand and to assume the gift of chastity and of celibacy. Moreover, I would take the opportunity to have him understand that it would be gravely dishonest of the candidate to conceal his homosexuality, to access ordination despite everything. This disposition is lacking in rectitude and does not correspond to the spirit of truth, of loyalty and of the willingness that must characterize the personality of one who believes he has been called to serve Christ and his Church in the priestly ministry” (Cf. Instruction of the Congregation for Catholic Education on the criteria of vocational discernment in relation to persons of homosexual tendencies before their admission to the Seminary or to Holy Orders, n. 3).
ZENIT: What might be the appropriate place in the Catholic Church for an ex homosexual seminarian?
Father Castillo: My attention is much called and I try every day to live a beautiful intuition of Saint Euphrasia. She said: “A life is worth more than the whole world.” The Catholic Church as Mother and Teacher, but especially as the Lord’s disciple and, as such, and in so far as possible, must seek the good of persons. The Church is the house of all. By separating a homosexual or heterosexual seminarian from the process of discernment, doesn’t exclude him from ecclesial communion, but helps him to think responsibly of his vocational situation. The appropriate place that corresponds to him is like that of all: to set out on the path of discipleship of Jesus and to follow Him to receive the novelty of his Word and the evident demands of His love.
ZENIT: What measures must a bishop or superior apply to a priest if it’s discovered that he is homosexual? Is it appropriate to suspend him from the priesthood?
Father Castillo: In this respect, a bishop or superior who accompanies his seminarians — within his possibilities and after the scrutiny carried out by the formators in the Seminary and the proclamations before the faithful people –, has the moral certainty of the suitability of the candidate, to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders. However, in this journey of love and risk, he can also meet with this human reality.
I think that the situation of the priest should be evaluated thoroughly, to stir effective sincerity about his personal life, assess the degree of incidence of his behavior not only in the community, but in the presbytery and in his perception of individual awareness. If the priest’s behavior is scandalous and puts in danger the moral values of the Christian community, it would be appropriate to call his attention to it seriously, to offer him spiritual support and assess his behaviour over time, without neglecting psychological assessment and support.
In case of relapse, where the inability to live his priestly promises, as a disciple of Christ, is notorious, it would be advisable for him to rethink his vocational option, as in the case of a heterosexual priest when he is conscious of his failures and inconsistencies in his life surrendered to God. He should be invited to opt for a path of conversion and purification, of profound trust in God, having chastity as a great value.
ZENIT: Do you see as feasible the possibility that one day the Catholic Church will admit the option of marriage for priests, despite maintaining the option of celibacy, and in addition to the already existing exceptional cases with priests of the Eastern Rite (the Greek- Catholic Church of Ukraine, the Egyptian Copts and the Lebanese Maronites), widowers, and the priests that come into the Catholic Church from the Anglican or Episcopalian Confession?
Father Castillo: In this argument, one must proceed always with the prudence of the sentire cum eclesiae. Today the Church asks for priestly celibacy because she knows it’s a gift of God, and a good for pastoral fruitfulness. I’m conscious that the Church isn’t born with me, but that I am part of her. I am within a great chain of witnesses of the faith. Thanks to the Church, I have received the gift of faith and of the priesthood in this stage of history, blessed and loved by God. In my 20 years of priesthood, I have been able to value the wisdom of the Church in asking me to live the consecration to God in a dynamic of celibacy. It’s a gift and a task. I ask the Lord every day: “Grant me the grace of celibacy.” It’s a grace of the Lord to renew each day the “yes” that commits my whole existence. The priestly vocation is a call that looks to totality; partial answers annihilate the renewing strength of love. And the moments of my inconsistencies and anti-vocational attitudes have helped me to understand that God dwells in all that is authentically human. Celibacy is a gift of God for his Church and we must promote and love it; it gives us an inner freedom that enables us to serve all without excluding anyone.
In regard to the possibility that at some time the Church might opt for married priests, I recommend not giving space to propagandist predictions but to leave room for the path of the Spirit in His history of salvation. If this step is taken it will be an option that the Church discerns and will be undoubtedly suggested by the Holy Spirit, because He acts in history and always in favor of the human being. Let us recall that, as an instrument of salvation for the whole human race, the Church is “auditor” of the Spirit’s voice. He himself will lead her to the full truth. (John 16:13).
ZENIT: The Synod of Bishops will be held over the next few days on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. From your experience, what challenges do the pastors of the 21st century have in accompanying young people and, concretely, the seminarians?
Father Castillo: Challenges for pastors and faithful of the one people of God:
- to look for creativity in our pastoral areas to listen to young people with parrhesia and without subterfuge. The Gospel illumines and transforms the cultural reality of our young people.
- To welcome the style of the Successor of Peter, Pope Bergoglio who wishes to build a synodal Church. To support the process of reform of the Church, which consists essentially in conversion to the Gospel.
- We, Jesus’ disciples of the 21st century, must live in fraternity, mercy and in permanent listening to the Gospel.
- We, Pastors, must reject any type of clericalism that fosters an anti-evangelical mentality, which is spelled out in any abuse of power, of conscience and sexual abuses.
- We must discover that there is much good, truth and beauty in people’s heart.
- The renewal of the whole Church depends also on the disciple who is a priest.
– To learn from Mary, Mother of the Church, docility to the Spirit and, from her divine maternity, the audacity of her tenderness.