Milan Archbishop Mario Delpini has approved an overhaul of seminary formation amid plunging numbers of candidates in Europe’s largest Catholic archdiocese.
A seven-page document outlining the changes noted that in the five years from 2017 to 2022, the annual number of new entrants to priestly formation in the archdiocese fell from 24 to 6.
Delpini, who signed the document March 25, announced the “reconfiguration” of seminary training at a Chrism Mass in Milan Cathedral April 6.
“I would like to inform this particular assembly that I have approved, on a trial basis for a three-year period, a reconfiguration of the seminary path, according to what has been prepared by the seminary formators and discussed with the Milanese episcopal council,” he told archdiocesan clergy, referring to the new document.
Delpini, who succeeded Cardinal Angelo Scola at the archdiocese’s helm in 2017, said that seminarians will spend their third year living in small groups in parishes, while attending daily classes at the seminary. They will be connected with families, which will offer them support.
Delpini stressed that “the main motivation guiding any choice referring to the seminary is and will remain to foster, accompany, and instruct some young people in the archdiocese in discernment and docility to the Spirit.”
Milan archdiocese, which dates back to the 4th century and has its own liturgical rite, has around 2,000 diocesan priests, 800 male religious, and more than 6,000 female religious. Its 1,107 parishes serve an overall population of more than 5.4 million people.
According to the new document, there were a total of 150 seminarians in the year 2013-14, 139 in 2017-18, and 78 in 2022-23.
There were 24 new admissions in 2017, 19 in 2018, 18 in 2019, 16 in 2020, 11 in 2021, and 6 in 2022.
Formation at the Milan archdiocesan seminary consists of a two-year period focused on spirituality and a four-year period dedicated to theology. Under the new plan, which will be introduced in September, seminarians will study at a single location, rather than separate sites for the two-year and four-year periods.
Seminarians in the Milan archdiocese have previously worn clerical dress from the start of their third year. But they will now wear it from the time of their ordination as deacons, at the beginning of their sixth and final year. The new document indicated that this would bring the archdiocese in line with other Italian dioceses.
Seminary rector Fr. Enrico Castagna said in an interview published April 6 that the primary motivation for the changes was the “reduced number of admissions compared to the past.”
“To the primary and compelling reason are added others: experiences lived in recent years (including during the pandemic), various perplexities in the face of some steps of the path, opinions that emerged in diverse meetings with priests and laity convinced us of the need for a broader rethink,” he said.
“Moreover, it seems to us that, in this way, it is possible to make evangelically propitious (and not just live as ‘a retreat’) the situation providentially placed before us.”