Picturing the Perfect Priest: Our Readers Have Some Strong Ideas about How to Build a Better Clergy-From Training to Ordination Requirements to Personal Traits That Make a Priest Great

By Gary, Heather Grennan | U.S. Catholic, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Picturing the Perfect Priest: Our Readers Have Some Strong Ideas about How to Build a Better Clergy-From Training to Ordination Requirements to Personal Traits That Make a Priest Great


Gary, Heather Grennan, U.S. Catholic


ALL YOU PRIESTS, SEMINARIANS, AND THOSE CONSIDERING the ordained life out there may want to sit down, put your feet up, and take a deep breath before you read any further. The results of our special survey, "What do you want in a priest?" are in. More than 800 readers and other Catholics weighed in with their opinions, and many of their wish lists make the Easter Vigil look short in comparison.

So what exactly are U.S. CATHOLIC readers looking for? Overwhelmingly the most frequently mentioned quality people want in a priest is spiritual depth. Being able to provide spiritual inspiration and guidance is essential, says Norma Minneman of Clayton, Ohio. "They should take time to pray every day."

"If their personal spirituality is well developed, the other necessary traits should flow from it," writes Laurel Wilson from Ocala, Florida.

Of course, spiritual depth isn't the only thing on people's lists. Other traits that rank high are, in order, kindness and sensitivity, the ability to communicate well, and a collaborative style of management. The least important qualities respondents cite are a gift for hearing Confessions, devotion to Catholic schools and religious education, and, at the very bottom of the list, strong administrative skills.

"Focus less on being CEO," suggests a reader from Casper, Wyoming. "Church employees and other laypeople have the education and ability to manage finances, but they can't hear Confessions or say Mass."

Still, it's a tricky balancing act. All parishioners want "Father" to have some level of understanding, skill, or talent in theology, spirituality, scripture, management, communication, leadership, compassion, and sociability. And seminary training is only so long and can only do so much.

Richard Siefer of DuBois, Pennsylvania, himself a priest for 31 years, says the next generation of priests would be wise to concentrate on honing their pastoral and preaching skills as well as recognizing the importance of the role of women.

Father Jack Arlotta of Highland Falls, New York says the most important area for new priests to focus on is "the need to work collaboratively and deal with people sensitively. Too often the recently ordained don't have a team approach and tend to be a bit arrogant, believing they know much more than they do."

Liam Seaton of Quakertown, Pennsylvania says he'd like to see priests focus on continuing education. "Priests, like all adults, need lifelong learning in many areas--not just about church rules and regulations."

Although we didn't specifically ask, dozens of respondents comment that they want ordination opened to women and married men. "This discussion is incomplete until the church is willing to open the definition of priesthood to recognize the gifts and contributions of women and married men," says Joan Finder of St. Louis, Missouri. Julie Marie Totsch of Racine, Wisconsin says that without taking this step, "there probably won't be much of a church in the next 50 years or so."

Part of the appeal of opening up the priesthood is to have clergy who understand the complexities of married and family life--something many readers feel is too often missing. Essie Reilly of New Albany, Indiana wants priests to know the importance of "knowing their parishioners--married, divorced, wealthy, poor--and what their real concerns are. …

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