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Q & A with Father Anthony



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Why do I need to take psychological tests and answer really personal questions?

Andrew asks:

Dear Fr Anthony,

Hi. I recently asked about the steps one takes toward the priesthood and learned that I will need to take a series of psychological tests. I also learned that the tests question EVERYTHING, including personal things like sexuality. The priest also told me they try to find out whether or not you're straight. Whilst have nothing to hide, I really don't like the idea of telling people whether or not I have had a girlfriend, who they have been, what I thought, how I felt, whether or not I am dating at present, whether or not its serious, etc. I haven't contacted VD, because I am young. I was straight last time I checked, but to ask somebody questions like this is impertinent. I am sure everybody else feels the same. I am amazed; I thought Jesus picked his apostles - I never read about a time when he put them before a board to be picked at. I want to know what other type of questions they ask, not specifically about one's sexuality, but all the questions, since this just seems unreasonable. Having people breathing down your prayer-life's neck is bad enough, but dragging up the past is plain cheek. Also, those people can't judge what type of a person somebody is unless they have met themelsewhere (i.e. when they are not being questioned over their virginity and are consequently astounded). Apart from this, I am fine about everything. This other stuff is just weird and seems irrelevant to the priesthood. If I have heard right, these are questions which my own family wouldn't even ask. It's just plain silly.

Dear Andrew,

Your question is very interesting. The reason for the psychological interviews is this: bishops and religious superiors have the duty in conscience to make sure that the candidates they accept are apt, normal all around, and show the signs of a true vocation - this includes spiritually, humanly, intellectually, and psychologically. It is not that they are breathing down your prayer-life's neck, it is just that they have to make sure that you have a workable basis for your spiritual life. They will ask about your studies and you will have to produce documents, because they have to make sure you have the necessary intelligence for the particular calling you wish to follow. They have to ask about your moral life, because they need to see if you are normal and make sure there is nothing in your past that would be a sign you should not pursue the priesthood. They will ask for psychological testing because they have to make sure again that you are in the normal range. You are mistaken in reducing the psychological testing to inquiries into your sex life. That will be covered, of course, but there is more to it than that one area.

Now, you say that Christ picked his apostles without a battery of tests or interviews. Well, yes and no. He knew what there was in the heart of man. He did not need the means we do, but he certainly did not pick anyone. You may say that in the past there was no psychological testing for vocations because psychology didn't exist. Yes and no. Personal formation in seminaries always included men with a deep knowledge of the human person, and a talent for penetrating spiritual direction, and gifted with the discernment of spirits. These were men who could "feel" if things were not quite as they should be for a vocation; they might not have had the word neurosis in their vocabulary, but they certainly could tell if a man was whole or in need of healing.

I have to grant you that some exercise of psychology is weird, stupid and silly. Some people exercising psychology do give advice that is simply wrong and morally damaging. Much depends on the psychologist himself and the particular school he was formed in and belongs to, and you can safely say that the psychologist himself can bring a lot of baggage or prejudice to the table. So the seminary has the obligation of making sure the person they choose to do the psychological testing and interviewing is balanced, possesses basic moral integrity, and understands the relation between grace and nature. The psychological part of the testing has to be taken only as one element in the testing process; it is an inexact science, the written tests themselves are based on statistics, and a great deal depends on the personal skill and background of the individual interviewer.

God bless,

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