My good friend and brother deacon who occupies "The Deacon's Bench" over at Patheos, Deacon Greg Kandra, has a very interesting post today about psychological testing as part of the process of applying for admission into formation programs which may lead to possible ordination as a deacon or presbyter. Here's what Greg wrote about it, and from there you can read the full reflection by the original blogger on this issue.
First, psychological testing is only one part of the overall application process. If you look at the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, you'll find that Chapter Four deals with "Vocation, Discernment, and Selection." The chapter is divided into five sections: 1) Promotion and Recruitment, 2) The Mystery of Vocation, 3) The Discernment of the Call, 4) Admission and Selection Procedures, and, 5) Admission into the Aspirant Path in Formation. I list all of these to put the specific issue of psychological testing in perspective. Notice that the process of assessing the suitability of applicants begins long before we get to the administration of psychological tests, and that we begin with the far more fundamental issues of vocation and discernment of God's presence and action witnessed in the applicant's life by all of those around him: his family, friends, church community and so on. We try to make sure that, unlike a "job application" for a secular position, the process of discerning a possible vocation to ordained ministry is interested in the whole range of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral elements of a person's life and character; the psychological is only one aspect in making such assessments.
Second, let's turn to Section IV in more detail. There, we find information about the role of the pastor, the parish and the diocesan staff in reviewing a person's suitability, and the means of doing this involves a series of interviews by and with a variety of people, and these interviews usually involve the whole family of the applicant to some degree. In paragraph 177, we read that "appropriate psychological consultation may be included as part of the application process, but always with the written consent of the applicant. Those selected as psychological consultants must use psychological methods in harmony with Christian anthropology and Catholic teaching, particularly with respect to the theology of the diaconal vocation, the various states of life of the deacon and the basic human qualities expected of a mature deacon."
Third, notice what is NOT included in that paragraph: a required list of the psychological tests to be conducted! In earlier drafts of the National Directory, such a list was offered; however, further research indicated that the resources available around the country varied greatly, as well as the professional opinions of psychologists about the best instruments to use. This means that what one applicant might experience in one diocese will undoubtedly vary from what is used in the neighboring diocese. As a result, those of us who are involved in this process are constantly assessing the psychological test batteries in use.
Just a final note: People should realize that, in a process as complex as this is, only rarely is a person rejected from the formation process based on a single issue alone. Obviously, if it is discovered that a person has a serious psychological, medical or other issue; that's one thing. But what we most often discover is a pattern of issues that need to be addressed. Ultimately, decisions about whether or not to accept a person into the formation process, and leading all the way to decisions about whether or not to ordain a person at all, rest with the bishop and his assessment of the common good of the diocesan Church. No one is ordained simply because they're a good and holy person (we hope!); a person is called to orders only when the bishop is convinced that the People of God can be served, and served well, by a particular person. Psychological testing can be one important tool in that overall process, but it is never the only one, nor is it necessarily the best one.