The Latin term “viri probati” means “tested men”. The suggestion that viri probati be ordained as priests is often misinterpreted as ordaining married men. That is not inherent in the term. And it need not be the application of that term in practice.
One of the main roots of various problems in the seminaries today is that young men are immature. They’ve been in school almost their entire lives. They might be in their late teens or early twenties, but they are not so much men as they are still boys. They are too easily influenced by whatever the culture is in the seminary, good or bad. They cannot stand up against evil, if they encounter it.
And when those immature men become ordained priests, especially due to the shortage of priests, they quickly find themselves with more authority than they have maturity. This is part of the problem of priests who misbehave in various ways, not only child abuse or other sexual sins. They were too immature when admitted.
The Church has many single adult mature men, who are fit for the priesthood. They are not gay, or child abusers. They are not womanizers. They have a mature spiritual life, and have learned much about the teaching of the Faith. With some additional training, and without any live-in seminary time, they could be ordained and would serve the Church well.
This approach has already been tested in the case of the permanent diaconate. These deacons are not necessarily married men. They tend to be much older than would be the case in the viri probati suggestion above. But they are trained without needing to live in a boarding school type seminary. They are ready to serve without needed to obtain a degree in theology or a related field.
Some of the child-abuser priests were not abusers when they entered the seminary. Some were not abusers when they left the seminary for the priesthood. They became abusers as they matured in the priesthood, partly because of the isolation, the unfettered unsupervised power, and the mask of holiness — by which I mean that everyone assumes a priest is holy. And as he sins more and more in private, no one notices. The mask protects him. He develops a double life, and that can extent to various types of grave sins, not just abuse.
If you try to screen out abusers from the seminary, you will have only limited success, because many men are not abusers when they enter the seminary. They become abusers later. But if you screen viri probati, if they are not yet abusers, it is much less likely that they will become one, as they are already mature.
Here’s hoping that the Amazon Synod will take up a plan such as this.
Another possible controversial decision of the Synod would be to approve of non-ordained women deacons. This would represent a revival of an ancient practice and custom in the Church, and is inarguably within the authority of the Pope.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.