Priestly Formation in Korea, Re-envisioned

UCA News has reported that two forward-looking changes are being made in the guidelines for priestly formation in Korea.

The first is the practical implementation of lifelong learning into the system, so that seminary formation and ongoing clergy education will be integrated.

The second is that education in abuse prevention and training in how to handle crimes will be included in seminary education.

To my knowledge, the abuse crisis has not been exploding in Korea particularly, yet they are being pro-active in addressing it. I give them high marks for this.

I am also intrigued by the incorporation of a lifelong learning perspective into formation. This is right, I believe, and guards against the all-too-familiar phenomenon of complacency after ordination — something which can also contribute to clericalism.

The principles of lifelong learning are enshrined in all the church’s catechetical documents, yet it’s my impression — at least here in the U.S. — that they are only weakly observed when it comes to clergy. Perhaps if these principles are experienced in and among church leaders, they will better understand its value and promote this experience for the whole Catholic people. That would be a good thing.

These may seem like rather modest changes, but I believe that it’s steps such as these that lead to greater integrity in the training and ongoing formation of Catholic clergy today.

The UCA News story can be found here. 





  1. Ongoing clergy education at present can easily be seen as convocations of the priestly fraternity: No deacons, no women religious, and no lay leaders.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jack, and for raising this issue.

    I think you are quite right, though I have encountered a couple of exceptions in small dioceses (Gaylord Michigan and Shreveport Louisiana come to mind). For a few years I presented on a team at a lot of priests’ gatherings and they were usually offered through the continuing education programs of dioceses, so I got a general picture.

    The sad thing to me is that in quite a few instances it seemed that the men really did not have any interest in ongoing formation or continuing education, and came in mainly to check a box. The attitude that “we know it all” was not universal, but it was pretty prevalent. You felt that they almost would “lose face” if they admitted to themselves that they were continuing to learn, and that this process continues all the way up to death!

    So the structures were in place, but there wasn’t what you’d call a “culture of lifelong learning” that you see in other professional groups, especially among the sisters and lay pastoral workers. Perhaps for that reason, whenever we had a mixed group, the energy in the room was better. Your observation is well taken.

    What I hope the Koreans succeed in doing is in fostering that culture of learning, in preference to feeling “it’s all done” once the oils have dried.

    1. Rita–I find that this can be prevalent in all groups. I see it in my private sector job, and admit that I often go into these obligatory continuing ed classes with the same attitude. “I have to be here and am sitting here to get the credit, check the box, etc. There’s a pile of work back at my desk that I need to be doing and yet I have to be here.” And sometimes, the classes are just not relevant, just plain boring, or badly presented. There’s a lot of reasons why people are resistent to continuing ed.

      1. Hi John,
        I agree that it’s in the nature of adults to want to learn things they will use, and on their own schedule. A bureaucracy that doesn’t treat people like adults, and does not ask them what they need in the first place, is likely to be met with indifference at best or resentment at worst. But I think there is something about lifelong learning that is important, spiritually important, in the church, and if the way it is handled does not set a spark on fire for this sort of learning, we need to ask why.
        I flatter myself by recalling that by the end of the events at which I presented the organizers frequently said they were amazed at how the guys stayed to the end, or took notes, or even stayed late to write evaluations, which were always very high. But why should this amaze them? When I go back to my alma mater for a lecture or event, I am always fed and come home thinking — even if I didn’t like some of the presenters or agree with all of them — “this was worth doing.”

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