With the so-called new normal in the offing due to the coronavirus pandemic, church leaders in the Philippines are considering what was once unimaginable: online formation of future priests.
Catholic bishops, however, assured that seminary training will not be done fully online, especially “the other pillar of priestly formation requiring personal accompaniment in the context of community.”
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Seminaries, said “intellectual formation” is not the only the factor in seminary formation.
He said future priests have to be “accompanied in their pastoral, spiritual, and human formation.”
“It is an integrated formation that takes place in the context of community accompaniment,” said the prelate in the “Guidelines for Seminary Formation” during the pandemic.
The new rules said that in “extreme conditions,” academic deans “may study prudently” which minor subjects may be taught online.
“The major subjects are best taught with physical presence of the teacher and with interaction among the seminarians,” said Archbishop Villegas.
“In fraternal charity, we must consider the situation of extern seminarians enrolled who may really need to take their classes online,” he said.
Seminaries have also been affected by the government-imposed lockdown in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Life in formation will not be the same again for future members of the clergy when seminaries open in August.
There will be limited free time outside seminary premises, there will be no personal contact with visitors, and interaction with seminary staff will be restricted.
“The seminary administration under the direction of the diocesan bishop must adhere to the instructions of the civil authorities regarding proper conduct during this pandemic,” said Archbishop Villegas.
Seminarians will have to observe social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and the practice of proper hygiene.
Seminaries will have to employ the regular services of psychologists and mental health experts to help seminarians cope with the rapid changes that the will have to go through.
“To ignore the changes now can harm the future,” said Archbishop Villegas.