The formation of priests has received significant attention in recent months. This attention is due in no small part to issues surrounding the most recent revelations of abuse in the Church, though the work of continually reforming priestly formation is not solely a response to this crisis.
In 2016, the Vatican released a new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis (“The Gift of Priestly Formation”) to provide guidelines and norms for the formation of priests, from which each bishops’ conference then develops the priestly formation program for its region. In the United States this means the crafting of a sixth edition of the Program for Priestly Formation (PPF).
Though this stage of reform would have taken place even without the recent crisis, what the crisis has brought into sharper focus are matters relating to personal relationships and accountability. The question of formation is about more than what priests are trained to do; it is about who they are formed to become.
Priests are not functionaries; they are whole persons. In the words of the Ratio Fundamentalis, “The concept of integral formation is of the greatest importance, since it is the whole person, with all that he is and all that he possesses, who will be at the Lord’s service in the Christian community” (No. 92).
What generally is underrepresented in current discussions about seminary formation is just how much this concern for integral formation has taken root in formation professionals, in seminaries and other schools of ministerial formation. Formation professionals from across the country note that the relational dynamics and communitarian character of seminaries comes across as a critical context for this integral formation, which indeed may be more important now than ever.