The Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis finds its origin in the first article of the conciliar decree Optatam Totius. It establishes general norms that will subsequently be applied to different cultural contexts, according to the reality of each country. The focus is on the dialogue between the universal view of the Holy See and the specific perspective of the Conference of Bishops. The raison d’être for this dialogue lies in the conciliar determination that envisages priestly formation with a pastoral objective.
It is not intended to standardize training, but to set forth those fundamental principles, the implementation of which would be determined by respective Episcopal Conferences.
Five years after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, the first version of the RFIS was published. In the context of those times, that initial document laid greater emphasis upon the spiritual and intellectual dimensions of formation, to the detriment of the human and pastoral perspective.
During a long period of thirty years, many documents tried to complete and balance the doctrine about priestly formation, taking various specific arguments. I must add that this movement occurred at the general level, through the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and at the local level of the Episcopal Conferences. Observing the chronological sequence of these documents, we observe that each of them shed light on important aspects of priestly formation: The Teaching of Philosophy (1972); The Ministries in the Church (1972); Priestly Celibacy (1974); Adult Vocations (1976); Priestly Identity (1979); Liturgical Formation (1979); Spiritual Formation (1980); Human Mobility and Formation (1986); Admission of seminarians expelled from other institutions (1986); Teaching the Fathers of the Church (1989); and the Propaedeutic Stage of Formation (1987).
The Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (1990) marks a turning point in this history, because the Synod of Bishops vivaciously considered the theme of priestly formation, now with an integral vision and a broad view of priestly ministry. At that time, for a variety of reasons, a new version of the Ratio was not made. During another 16 years, the Roman Dicasteries and the National Conferences continued to publish documents on particular topics related to priestly formation: Pastoral Care of Vocations (1992); Training of Formators (1993); The Pastoral Care of Marriage and the Family (1995); Admission of seminarians expelled from other institutions (1996). The Scrutinies for Sacred Orders (1997); The Propaedeutic Stage (1998); Indigenous Vocations (1999); The Priestly Mission (1999); Popular Piety (2001); Migration and Vocations (2004); Homosexual Tendencies and Priestly Vocation (2005); Psychology and Formation (2008); Studies of Philosophy (2011); Priestly Vocations (2012); and the Directory for Priesthood (2013).
The beginning of the pontificate of Pope Francis marked another important milestone, since the Holy Father, from the outset, was interested in developing the selection and formation of priestly vocations, by instituting a Secretary for Seminaries with the view to undertaking the revision of the RFIS, which was assiduously undertaken by the Congregation for the Clergy.
This beautiful historical panorama highlights the necessity for a carefully review of the Ratio Fundamentalis, in order to synthetize the whole reflection on priestly formation, combining the canonical exigencies with a pedagogic proposal.