The Pope with participants in the course for rectors and formators of Latin America The Pope with participants in the course for rectors and formators of Latin America  (VATICAN MEDIA Divisione Foto)

Pope Francis: Priests who don’t pray 'live in the bin of mediocrity'

In off-the-cuff remarks to seminary rectors and formators from Latin America, Pope Francis says they should teach student priests to pray constantly, and also warns of the dangers of “rigidity” in seminaries.

By Joseph Tulloch

Pope Francis has emphasised the dangers of “rigidity” in the formation of priests, and stressed that they should strive for “closeness” in four different ways.

Speaking to a group of seminary rectors and formators from Latin America on Thursday, the Pope laid aside his prepared remarks and spoke off-the-cuff on themes that he said were close to his heart.

The necessity of “closeness”

The first form of closeness Pope Francis identified was intimacy with God in prayer.

“You must know that a priest who does not pray goes into the rubbish bin. Perhaps he perseveres until he grows old, but in the bin, that is to say, in mediocrity.”

While “mortal sin scares you, and you go to confession right away”, he said, mediocrity is “a way of life” that a "priest who does not pray falls into.”

Next, the Pope turned to consider closeness with one’s bishop, which is “non-negotiable.” Perhaps "he is a wretch", the Holy Father said, but “you are also a wretch. That is to say, as two wretches, you’ll understand one other.”

The bishop “is your father”, so “look for him, be near him, not in order to flatter him, so he’ll give you that parish you like or that other one you like better. No. Feel the father, discern with the father.”

Thirdly, the Pope stressed the importance of closeness between priests. “One of the ugliest vices we, the clerical race, have is gossip … We speak ill of companions. They are your brothers! … There are too many gossips even in the Church; there are too many everywhere. Let's not educate more gossipers, because this ruins our life.”

He also said that priests must be close to their parishioners, to the people of God.

“I’m really sorry when I see priests who are so 'polished' that they have forgotten the people from whom they were taken. What Paul says to Timothy: 'Remember your mother and grandmother.' That is, think about where you came from, that you were taken from the flock. Don't forget about your people.”

“Teach the young to feel love for their people, where they came out from. They shouldn’t show off like they’re extraterrestrials because they’re studying philosophy, theology, or whatever, because they’re going to become priests who are separated. Don’t let them forget the smell of God's people, which is why they’re there.”

Dangers of rigidity

Pope Francis also spoke at length about the danger of “rigidity” in seminary formation.

“In my time, we were all put in a row, and the formation was by series: ‘Today we have this, this, this...’. And whoever lasted until the end was ordained, and the others would fall by the wayside or leave," he said. "At that time, excellent priests came out that way, excellent priests. Today this doesn’t work, because it’s a different time … there are other young people, other concerns; so, well, we are there to form those young people.”

He added: “One of the most serious temptations that the Church faces today, as you know better than me, is when they come to you with rigid formation schemes … Religious congregations have arisen that are a disaster, which had to be closed little by little, congregations of rigid ‘no, no, no, no...’. And that in the background, behind that rigidity, there is real rottenness hidden … Nowadays, ready-made answers are of no use to the young; we have to accompany them, with clear doctrine, of course, but we have to accompany them in different situations.”

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11 November 2022, 14:47