Priests in training face difficult time for Catholic Church

Priests in training face difficult time for Catholic Church

SBS World News Radio: The training young men receive on their journey to the priesthood, could by influenced by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses Childhood Sexual Abuse as it prepares to hand down its finding this year.  

It's just after 7 o'clock in the morning at Corpus Christi seminary, a training college for Catholic priests.

A third-year seminarian, 21-year-old Olek Stirrat, is among those starting the day with prayer and mass.

(Leader:) "The seed is the light of God, Christ is the soul. All who come to Me will live forever."

(Group:) "Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ

(Stirrat:) "Sometimes, it's 6am, I hear the alarm, and I think to myself, 'Oh Jesus, here we go again.'"

(Reporter:) "'Oh, Jesus!'"

(Stirrat:) "So, I suppose like a little prayer." (laughs ...)

Olek Stirrat is one of 57 seminarians at Corpus Christi.

It is a seven-year journey to become a priest, and it involves a vow of celibacy.

So far, so good, for Olek Stirrat.

"I remember one priest saying to me like, someone asked him a question, 'When does the difficulty (of celibacy) end?' He said, 'Oh, five minutes after you're dead.' (laughs ...) But I think, you know, you grow in awareness of yourself and who you're called to be and what makes you happy, and I think that's what draws me on. And it's not a burden. It's something ... you know, it's a source of joy as well, with strength from ministering."

The overall make-up of the college includes men born in Australia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and South Korea.

A 29-year-old fellow seminarian, Jaycee Napoles, is halfway into the seven-year journey.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't feel as confident as I am now today. So I look forward to the rest of the formation, and I look forward to the ordination, and I suppose the priests who are forming us are looking forward to seeing us getting ordained."

Father Denis Stanley took over as rector of the college in January.

He says he has encouraged the seminarians to take note of what has emerged during the child-abuse royal commission.

"The work of the royal commission is now a part of the context in which we live. It's part of our time and place. We must take it seriously, because it's our story. It's our story of the woundedness and the irresponsibility and sometimes lack of formation that's gone on in the past."

A 25-year-old trainee, Anthony Beltrame, says the seminarians want to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

"We really empathise with the victims (of clergy sex abuse), but I think we see ourselves as part of the solution of sort of making sure that this never happens again and sort of moving forward from here in the right direction. And so we definitely see ourselves as part of that solution."

Father Stanley says a clear picture has emerged at the commission regarding what needs to occur but he does not want to pre-empt its findings.

"I think we need to look at the hearings themselves. We need to listen to the voices of those who've been hurt. We need to look at what we are doing to respond to that, how that's integrated into the formation of future clergy, and then see what the royal-commission recommendations say."

One key question facing all institutions is how they can be better equipped to prevent abuse.

Child Wise has been working to reduce the impact of child abuse and exploitation since 1991.

Its director of programs, Michael MacKay, says organisations must have clear policies and procedures for preventing, detecting and responding to child abuse.

But he says they also need to ensure their culture is open and aware.

"Absolutely crucial and critical, and I can't stress this enough, is making sure that children and young people in organisations have a voice and that that voice is heard and that they are supported to speak up, that they're taken seriously when they raise concerns and that organisations make the effort to talk to them about their own personal safety and protective behaviours, the things they can do themselves in terms of recognising concerns and speaking up about them."

The royal commission is due to deliver its findings in December.

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