By FATHER SHANE DEMAN
In light of the recent scandals that have again surfaced in the U.S. Church and in our own diocese, many faithful Catholics are asking questions regarding the screening and admissions process of our seminarians, so as to prevent future abuse by clergy. These questions are understandable given our profound resolve to prevent the abuse of any child again.
The screening process for each seminary applicant is extensive. Before a candidate ever approaches the vocations office, they are often in dialogue with a local pastor or youth minister about their discernment as they wrestle with questions about a potential priestly vocation. In those discussions, they are encouraged to pursue holiness, chastity, a faithful prayer routine and regular reception of the sacraments.
Following these preparatory discussions, my work with these candidates begins and typically involves discussions over a period of months or even years depending on their age, as I determine the seriousness of this candidate, their overall maturity and their suitability for the rigors of seminary formation.
Once the candidate is ready to begin the application process, we begin with a formal interview consisting of 17 pages of questions in which the candidate’s responses are documented. Based on the responses of these questions, a candidate’s suitability will be determined if the next step of a written application will be granted.
The written application itself is 41 pages and covers an extensive look into a candidate’s life, including the history of his family, religious, education, employment, military, legal, financial, social and dating background. He is also asked to complete two essays that consist of a spiritual autobiography and explanation as to why he wants to be a priest.
All canonical impediments that would prohibit him from being ordained are examined, and the candidate authorizes us to conduct a legal background check, once he registers to be trained in safe environment policies and procedures.
The candidate also undergoes a thorough psychological evaluation lasting approximately eight hours, in which his psychosexual development, mental health, personality traits, family of origin background and overall intelligence are examined. The candidate also undergoes a medical physical, eye exam, dental exam, drug test and HIV test.
With recommendation letters from previous pastors, employers, teachers, and friends, all of this information is compiled and sent to the bishop for his review before his own interview of the candidate, determining whether he grants acceptance to the candidate as a seminarian of the Diocese of Sioux City.
I believe that our screening processes are rigorous and give us a good assessment of a candidate’s suitability. Obviously, our assessment is only a snapshot of his identity at that point in his life, and greater maturity still must be achieved before he can be entrusted with the care of souls.
Fortunately, I am very confident in the work that our seminaries are doing for our men. While in seminary, the seminarians meet with a spiritual director every two weeks, a formation advisor each month and staff psychologists are available for personal counseling. They are also challenged in their course work and formation conferences to improve their mental and emotional health, examining any vulnerabilities that might trigger future anger, loneliness or insecurity.
Furthermore, they are also challenged to understand and appropriate the gift of their own sexuality, making sure that it is ordered toward a healthy lifestyle of celibacy that is full of love and strives to give of themselves each day toward those whom they serve.
I am very grateful for the professional assistance that so many provide to our seminarians. Their efforts are at the heart of the church’s mission to raise up healthy and holy men who are zealous for souls and shepherds after the heart of Christ Jesus.
Father Shane Deman is director of vocations for the Diocese of Sioux City.