Both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis have directed seminaries to offer a "detox" year before men begin priestly studies.
The last 50 years have painfully revealed many weak points in the Catholic Church’s preparation program for training men for the priestly vocation. Countless men have gone through seminary formation, are ordained to the priesthood, and then buckle under the influence of worldly temptation.
This revelation prompted St. John Paul II to write in Pastores Dabo Vobis of the need to offer an additional year of formation.
I ask that there be a sufficient period of preparation prior to seminary formation: “It is a good thing that there be a period of human, Christian, intellectual and spiritual preparation for the candidates to the major seminary. These candidates should, however, have certain qualities: a right intention, a sufficient degree of human maturity, a sufficiently broad knowledge of the doctrine of the faith, some introduction into the methods of prayer and behavior in conformity with Christian tradition. They should also have attitudes proper to their regions, through which they can express their effort to find God and the faith.”
John Paul II’s request was put into a document published by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy in 2016, supported by Pope Francis.
This stage of seminary formation is officially called the “propaedeutic stage,” and is being adapted by dioceses and seminaries around the world.
For example, St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colorado offers a “Spirituality Year,” that includes a total spiritual “detox,” in order to prepare the prospective seminarian for their possible vocation. An article by Mary Farrow from the Catholic News Agency gives a brief summary of this special year of formation.
Besides fasting from their phones and the internet, the seminarians also went on a commerce fast, where they were not allowed to make purchases. The only day the men did not observe these fasts was Saturday, when they could call friends and family or buy things they needed.
These sacrifices are meant to clean out any negative worldly influences that may be affecting the seminarian. Many men in today’s culture have an addiction to pornography, a habit which needs to be rooted out before a seminarian can progress on the road to the priesthood.
Additionally, the Spirituality Year contains opportunities for “spiritual direction and counseling, as well as spiritual retreats, culminating with a 30-day Ignatian retreat. There were classes, but no grades. Book assignments, but no reports.“
St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota offers a similar year, focusing on discipleship. Professor Jeff Cavins is among the faculty involved in this year, helping these men develop a relationship with Jesus Christ, before they move on to seminary studies.
It is hoped that this new “detox” year will foster personal holiness among the candidates, ensuring that the past does not repeat itself.