VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2004 ( John Paul II urged U.S. bishops to ensure that candidates to the priesthood are receiving a "mature and balanced" formation in celibacy and a correct theological understanding of the Church.

The Pope made this appeal today when receiving the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Detroit and Cincinnati who concluded their five-yearly visit to Rome.

"I encourage you to make frequent visits to the seminary, in order to know personally those who may one day be priests in your local Churches," he said in his English-language address.

"Such direct contacts will also help to ensure that the seminaries form mature and balanced personalities, men capable of establishing sound human and pastoral relationships, knowledgeable in theology, solid in the spiritual life, and in love with the Church," the Holy Father said.

"Proper formation in chastity and celibacy remains an essential component of seminary training, together with the presentation of a solid and correct theological understanding of the Church and the priesthood," he said.

In particular, the Pope called for "a clear and precise identification of those positions which are not compatible with the Church's authoritative self-understanding, as expressed by the Council and the documents of the post-conciliar renewal."

"This is a personal responsibility that falls to you as pastors concerned for the future of your local Churches, and one that cannot be delegated," John Paul II reminded the bishops.

"Since priestly formation does not end with ordination, your ministry of sanctification must also include care for the ongoing spiritual life of your priests and the effectiveness of their ministry," he said.

The Pope added: "This calls for a continuing personal formation aimed at deepening and harmonizing the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral aspects of their priestly life."