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‘Forming kids is the key’

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Greg Bottaro, Sr Moira DeBono, and Jonathan Doyle. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The Catholic Church’s greatest problem is not a lack of vocations to priesthood and religious life but the human formation and mental health of its young people, a Catholic clinical psychologist has warned.

Dr Greg Bottaro is the New York-based founder of the CatholicPsych Institute and works with his local diocese to screen seminary candidates. He is also at the forefront of steps by Catholic institutions in the US to better screen candidates for priesthood and religious life in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal. He visited Sydney this month as the keynote speaker for a two-day conference for national leaders in Catholic education and marriage formation.

“The crisis in the Church is a manifestation of the crisis in our culture, and the crisis is one of formation,” Dr Bottaro told The Catholic Weekly. “There is a lot of talk about the vocations crisis but I don’t think we have a vocations crisis. I think we have a formation crisis. It starts with the breakdown of the family, with moving away from family values and as part of that children are not being formed into healthy human beings.”

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This leads to seminary candidates, for example, “having come into the priesthood who are lacking basic human skills”.

“They’re not relatable, they’re not comfortable with themselves, they don’t know who they are, they don’t have self-awareness. They’re trying to fit into a role that requires not only normal human skills but super-natural skills because it is a super-natural vocation, particularly the vocation to celibacy.”

Conference co-convenors Byron and Francine Pirola. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Dr Bottaro says parents have a “grave” responsibility to foster basic life skills and virtues in their children, particularly by limiting or eradicating their access to social technology before the age of seven or eight. “Smartphones in particular are nurturing addiction in kids’ brains and removing from them the ability to relate as a human being to other human beings,” he said.

The Renaissance of Marriage Conference held at the University of Notre Dame Australia brought together 200 educators, leaders, and advocates to discuss the education of young people and support of engaged and married couples.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher celebrated the opening Mass and presenters included Sr Moira DeBono of the University of Notre Dame, Jonathan Doyle of Choicez Media, Bishop Michael Kennedy of Armidale, US speaker Christina King, Robert Falzon of MenAlive,  and conference convenors Fran and Byron Pirola of the Marriage Resource Centre.

While in Sydney Dr Bottaro also addressed Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Randazzo and vocational leaders at a roundtable discussion in Sydney, and ran a workshop on Catholic mindfulness.

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