September 13, 2023 at 9:02 a.m.
Bishop announces the new Clergy Formation Advisory Board
“... As ministers of Jesus Christ, who appeared in the midst of the disciples as one who serves, do the will of God in charity from the heart ...” (from the Rite of Ordinations of Deacons)
By From the office of Bishop Scharfenberger
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Formation is an ongoing process before the Lord Jesus Christ, to listen to the voice of God who empowers us to serve God’s people with charity and devotion. Deacons and priests participate in a thorough initial formation process equipping them for ministry. Continuing formation for clergy is essential for healthy and faithful service to the people after ordination.
In our Diocese, various past and present bodies have offered the Bishop advice on aspects of this formation, including but not limited to the Diaconate Formation Board, the Priesthood Vocations Board, the Continuing Education Board, the Priestly Life and Ministry Council, etc. A holistic approach to initial and ongoing clergy formation is best realized by having one consultative body of advisors offer advice to the Bishop that integrates all aspects of clergy formation. The single board of lay people, deacons and priests on the formation of clergy has the big picture of continuous human, pastoral, spiritual and intellectual formation in mind.
PART ONE: THE LEADERS OF FORMATION IN JESUS CHRIST
Clergy Formation begins when a man answers the call to become a deacon or a priest and continues for the rest of his life. The Bishop of the Diocese is the Chief Formator and is assisted by those priests, deacons, religious and lay people whom he appoints to various offices and advisory committees and boards.
In “Pastores Dabo Vobis,” Saint Pope John Paul Il enumerates the following as agents of ongoing formation: the priest himself, the entire Church, families and the Bishop. The Bishop in communion with the presbytery should outline a project and establish a program that can ensure that ongoing formation is a systematic offering of subjects (No. 79). The means of achieving ongoing formation for priests include frequent meetings of the Bishop with his presbytery, spiritual gathering for priests, study/workshops, and sessions for reflection in common, priestly associations and spiritual direction (cf. No. 80-81).
The philosophy and the guidance for Formation, which is laid out in the Program for Priestly Formation #6 (USCCB, 2022), applies equally to priestly and diaconate Formation. The propaedeutic period, which is a required addition to priestly Formation, also enhances the discernment period for deacon candidates and their wives. This period for both priest and deacon candidates begins the process of building the foundation on the four pillars of Formation — Human, Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral.
The Director of Clergy Formation is appointed by the Bishop and serves at his pleasure. The Director of Clergy Formation has overall responsibility for all aspects of the Formation process in conformity with Church Law, the philosophical foundations, guidance and the norms of the Program for Priestly Formation #6 as promulgated by the Holy See, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and the Diocese of Albany. The Director of Clergy Formation advises the Bishop regarding all matters related to the formation of priests, deacons and seminarians, including the schools, seminaries and programs that will provide the best programs and assistance in forming the candidates of the Diocese.
PART TWO: THE NATURE AND FUNCTION OF THE CLERGY FORMATION ADVISORY BOARD
The Clergy Formation Advisory Board is appointed by the Bishop and serves at his pleasure. The Board is chaired by the Director of Clergy Formation, who directs the Board and to whom the Board is accountable. The Director may call upon individual members of the Board from time to time for their expertise and advice as needed. The Board meets at least quarterly to advise the Director or at other times as needed by the Director.
The ordinary role of the Clergy Formation Advisory Board is to advise the Director regarding the recruitment and formation of those who aspire to serve the Church and the Diocese of Albany as ordained ministers, as well as to advise the Director regarding the ongoing Formation of the ordained ministers of the Diocese. Additionally, Board members, individually and collectively, may be asked by the Director to assist in reviewing the requirements for admission to Formation and in planning the ordinary activities of the Formation year, for example, retreats, spiritual direction, evaluations, summer assignments and pastoral years.
The Clergy Formation Advisory Board shall be composed of at least eight people appointed by the Bishop on the recommendation of the Director of Clergy Formation. Board members should have a variety of experiences and professional and pastoral expertise. The Director of Clergy Formation, the Vicar for Clergy, the Director of Deacons, and their assistants shall be ex officio members of the Board. The Director, with the advice of the Board, plans at least two retreats for those in Formation (one at the end of each academic semester) and, also, plans in-house presentations and days of recollection throughout the year.
There is only one Rite for the Ordination of Deacons. The Rite does not make a distinction between those who may eventually be called to the priesthood and those who may serve the Church and the Diocese as deacons throughout their years of active ministry.
In the diverse and changing landscape of pastoral ministry, it is imperative that both priestly and diaconate candidates are formed in a similar manner so that they may collaborate well in their respective sacramental, pastoral and administrative duties. Collaboration is essential for the benefit of the people and the communities that have been entrusted to their pastoral care. In this collaboration, it is assumed that deacons will be asked to take on more responsibility as pastoral animators, as priests provide sacramental ministries for more than one “Church Community.”
The expertise and professional experiences of Board members assist in ensuring that candidates for ordained ministry are well-grounded and balanced psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, and have an open and welcoming disposition as servant leaders. There must be no canonical impediments that would bar a candidate from ordination.
Board members may be asked to advise the Director at various points during the application process by which a man is evaluated as a candidate for clergy formation. To ensure that candidates are well-suited for Formation, a psychological evaluation is required before entering the Formation process and, again, prior to diaconate ordination. Prior to being formally accepted into Formation by the Bishop, a candidate must prepare an application for admission. The application process, which the Board will review from time to time, includes all required canonical documents; an autobiography; a statement of intention to enter the Formation process; a medical evaluation which includes the gender of the man at birth; recommendations from the man’s pastor and spiritual director; and at least two recommendations from Board members. Upon reviewing the complete application, the Director of Clergy Formation then makes his recommendation to the Bishop.
The Clergy Formation Advisory Board also assists the Director of Clergy Formation working with other Diocesan offices and groups to promote a greater understanding of the life of ministry as exercised by priests, deacons, religious and lay ministers. In addition, the Director of Clergy Formation may seek advice, assistance and support from Board members to plan and provide opportunities for ongoing Formation for the priests and deacons of the Diocese, including days for ongoing Formation at least twice a year and opportunities for clergy retreats which are open to all priests and deacons.
PART THREE: THE FOUR PILLARS OF FORMATION FOR ORDAINED MINISTRY
Human Formation must be understood as the foundation of the Formation process. Those in Formation must feel safe enough to disclose those areas of their lives that would inhibit them from faithfully fulfilling the obligations of ordained ministry; these may include substances and process addictions, past trauma, a sense of being pressured into pursuing ordination, struggles with sexual identity, and living a celibate life. However, if through psychological counseling, spiritual direction, and/or programs of recovery the man is unable to come to a place of healing and peace, then continuation in Formation may not be possible. Every effort must be made to assist candidates for ordination in dealing with areas of Human Formation so that a life of balance is achieved prior to ordination.
Spiritual Formation builds upon a balanced life of those accepted into Formation. Each man is required to have an approved spiritual director, make at least one retreat per year, and participate in all aspects of Spiritual Formation including, but not limited to, the Divine Office, daily Mass, frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a daily Holy Hour and mental prayer. He must develop a robust life of prayer and devotions.
Intellectual Formation takes place through approved seminaries and academic institutions. Normally, those men accepted into Formation have an undergraduate degree and meet the requirements for admissions to seminaries and schools of theology approved by the Bishop upon the recommendation of the Director of Clergy Formation.
Pastoral Formation integrates the fruits of Human, Spiritual and Intellectual Formation. There are several different and varied pastoral experiences that assist with this integration: summer experiences, assignments during the academic year, a pastoral year, and the mentorship of priests and deacons.