Screening Candidates for Entry

The Tidings [California]
January 19, 2007

Psychological health as well as spiritual and academic aptitude is critical in determining a candidate's admission to St. John's Seminary in Camarillo.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the screening process of candidates seeking entry into formation at St. John's is among the most sophisticated and thorough in the nation. Indeed, before a candidate can be considered for admission to the seminary, he must undergo a series of in-depth personal interviews, a mental status examination and psychological testing.

"We pay close attention to the human formation of the individual, both in the application process and in the admissions process, as well as here at St. John's," says Msgr. Helmut Hefner, president and rector of St. John's. "Pope John Paul II used the phrase 'affective maturity,' which he called 'the result of an education in true and responsible love.' We use the term 'psychosexual maturity,' but both reflect a stable, firmly grounded sexual life. That is what we seek to determine in the interview process of candidates before they even set foot in the door."

Among the personal qualities that the Archdiocese looks for in men seeking to be admitted to the seminary are: a love for the Catholic faith; generosity; a desire to help other people; a personal relationship with God; a capacity and desire to learn; a healthy self-image; good social skills; and the ability to enjoy one's own company and a variety of friendships.

The first step in the screening process involves an extensive interview of the candidate by a clinician, usually a psychologist. In an interview lasting between two and three hours, the clinician seeks information about the candidate's personal background. The candidate is usually asked about his family's history and how his family members interacted with one another. The candidate's educational background and social history are also explored.

During this interview, the clinician assesses how the candidate describes his own history and how the candidate interacts with the clinician. The candidate's social history is crucial, as it provides the clinician information about how the candidate relates to others. This information is essential in assessing the potential of the candidate to function in a ministerial capacity.

A candidate's sexual history is also discussed in the interview. Questions include those focused on the normal patterns of psycho-sexual development: falling in love, romantic relationships, dating experiences, etc. Inquiries are also made into any possible trauma or sexual abuse that might have been experienced by the candidate. Sexual orientation is also explored.

With the data collected in the interview, the clinician examines candidate's current level of functioning through a Mental Status Examination. In this examination, the clinician looks for information regarding how the candidate interacts in their world. To maintain the effectiveness of this examination, specific details of what is asked cannot be disclosed here.

Following the interview process, a candidate is subjected to a series of psychological tests. The purpose of these tests is to gather objective data about the cognitive abilities (intellectual and thinking processes) and personality characteristics of the candidate. There are several components to the tests, which generally check for how honest and truthfully the individual who is completing the test is responding to the questions. This helps shed light on the character of the individual. This testing process is usually between three to five hours in length.

Through the interview process and psychological testing, the Archdiocese develops a complete psychological profile of the candidate which documents his strengths and weaknesses. If there are concerns regarding the candidate's emotional strength, these concerns, along with recommendations for addressing these concerns, are provided in the report made to the Vocation Office.

All of this is done prior to considering a person for entry into St. John's Seminary, as are background and fingerprinting checks on prospective candidates. During the school year the seminary requires VIRTUS® Awareness training for students and priest faculty (those who are or may be working with minors), and the subject of sexual abuse is addressed in class.

Additionally, "once they are here, we pay attention to how they relate with their peers," says Msgr. Hefner, "because people need solid, healthy friendships with their peers to handle the pressures of leading a celibate life."

The psychological screening process is critical in ensuring the People of God that, as much as humanly possible, a man selected for seminary formation and ordination will be: "The companion of Jesus who cares for the people of God through the preaching of the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments, and the selfless service of the people." (1)

(1) "Who is the priest?" From webpage of Vocations Office of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

This weekly series of feature stories, commentary and analysis is compiled and edited by an advisory group to the Media Relations Office of the Archdiocese, through which the articles are distributed. This article is adapted from two articles that previously appeared.


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