Abuse inquiry finds priests need more ‘in field’ training

The child sex abuse royal commission has heard Catholic priests need to spend more time in the field.

The child sex abuse royal commission has heard Catholic priests need to spend more time in the field. Photo: Getty

The training of Catholic priests is still too focused on academic formation when their real development comes from being out in the field, the child sex abuse royal commission has heard.

Diocese of Broken Bay vicar general Dr David Ranson says there needs to be greater emphasis on priests’ ongoing formation and it has to comprise more than the occasional conference or seminar.

Spending six or seven years in the seminary was counterproductive, he told the royal commission’s hearing into factors behind widespread child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

“The real formation of people actually begins in the field, so to speak, after they are ordained,” Dr Ranson said.

“It would seem to me that we needed to look at ways of reducing periods of initial formation rather than suggesting that all formation occurs during that period and placing a much greater emphasis on ongoing formation.”

Dr Ranson said the church still operated under a model of seminary life designed at the end of the 16th century that focused primarily on intellectual formation, although there had been progress in the areas of human and pastoral development.

The royal commission has heard the training many priests and religious brothers received historically was inadequate to prepare them for their vocation, and that they should have ongoing formation and supervision.

Dr Ranson said the ongoing formation of clergy had been limited to occasional conferences or seminars but needed to be far more systemic, such as devoting a couple of months to it each year.

“As it is we ordain people and send them out into ministry and then basically rely very heavily on their own personal responsibility to engage in their professional development.”

The inquiry will on Tuesday hear from rectors in charge of seminaries as well as the Jesuits’ delegate for formation.

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