ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) — At a panel discussion on seminary admissions, Father Shawn McKnight told a group of Catholic psychotherapists that “we have to be careful not to hold our standards so high that nobody can get in.”

“It’s not about finding the perfect guy. It’s about who’s called. If God is calling a man, we have an obligation to heed that call and to nourish that man,” said the priest, who is executive director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

Father McKnight was moderator of the Oct. 24 panel discussion titled “The Use of Psychology in Seminary Admissions: A Need for Guidance,” held during the Catholic Psychotherapy Association’s annual conference Oct. 23-25.


The panel addressed those involved in seminary assessment, counseling or teaching on the matter of conducting psychological evaluations for admissions purposes.

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist, and Msgr. Rob Panke, rector at St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, also were on the panel.

Other conference panel topics included psychological understandings of the Catholic vision of personhood, the nature of human suffering, theology of the body and atheism, all within the context of applications for clinical practice.

For his panel Father McKnight illustrated the importance of respecting the “human element” in Catholic psychotherapy by showing a picture of “The Calling of St. Matthew,” a 16th-century oil painting by the Italian master Caravaggio. The painting invokes the moment when Jesus called Matthew to follow him. Matthew was not the perfect man, Father McKnight explained, but he was the perfect man for the role.

Father McKnight stressed that every seminary and diocese must devise a written admissions policy and put it into effect. This policy should cover legal, canonical and psychological issues. It should require that any previous formations be consulted and that an applicant wait at least two years after dismissal from formation before reapplying.

He advised that the screening process involve interviews, letters of reference, academic records, a criminal background check and medical and psychological evaluations.

Father McKnight also encouraged “open and frank discussions of life experiences,” stating that psychologists have an obligation to report evidence of an inclination toward criminal and same-sex sexual activity. They should note a dysfunctional family background and a sense of entitlement.

He also urged seminaries to look into the debt potential candidates may be carrying, college or otherwise, and to ask recent converts to have at least two years in the Catholic faith before enrolling. Father McKnight said, “Your role is to inform us of a man’s attachments and impediments.”

Established in 2002, the Catholic Psychotherapy Association aims to support mental health practitioners “who can bring Christ’s healing into our profession in order to serve his church.”

The group’s conference, which drew Catholic mental health practitioners from across the U.S. and some foreign countries, began Oct. 23 with tours of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the St. John Paul II National Shrine, both in Washington, and confessions at the basilica’s Our Lady of Hostyn (Czech National Chapel).

The opening Mass was celebrated by Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington in the basilica’s Crypt Church.

In his homily, titled “Catholic Psychotherapists: Witnesses to Hope,” Bishop Loverde said, “In your role as Catholic psychotherapists, you heal the brokenness in the mind and heart. … In your healing mission you drive out the demons of anxiety, despair and depression.”

Objectives for conference attendees included understanding how Catholic principles influence therapy; becoming familiar with St. John Paul’s vision of the new evangelization “as a response to the cultural condition of the West”; understanding how “a faithful Catholic clinician” can help clients who may see divorce and remarriage as a solution to a painful situation; and identifying the basic characteristics of an Individual Placement and Support person — someone with severe mental illness who, with proper assistance, can hold a full- or part-time job.


Stoddard is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.