BALTIMORE — The U.S. bishops heard Nov. 11 of plans to revise the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ existing Program of Priestly Formation for U.S. dioceses.

The revision was introduced by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, on the first day of their Nov. 11-13 fall general assembly in Baltimore.

Known among the bishops as “the PPF,” the Program for Priestly Formation had been due for an updating.

The Vatican’s recognitio, or approval, on the fifth edition of the PPF expired in 2015, according to Tobin in a message to his fellow bishops. That year, though, the Vatican extended the recognitio for five-years, through 2020.

In 2016, a working group was selected by the committee to begin work on a sixth edition. In 2017, that group, run by Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, Michigan, began its deliberations. In 2018, input from bishops was sought given the Vatican’s issuance the year before of the new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis (“The Gift of the Priestly Vocation”).

“The draft has been reviewed by the designated (U.S. bishops’) collaborative committees,” Tobin said, citing the committees of Doctrine, Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, Child and Youth Protection, Divine Worship, and Cultural Diversity.

“In July 2019, having revised the draft document based on the recommendation of the doctrine and (Canonical Affairs and Church Governance) committees, the (Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations) Committee approved the Program of Priestly Formation, sixth edition, and recommended that the draft be presented to the body of bishops.”

The PPF sets forth the nature and mission of the ministerial priesthood, norms for the admission of candidates, norms for the formation of candidates, and norms for the governance and administration of seminaries.

“It is not an entirely new document,” Tobin said of the proposed revision Nov. 11. “It retains and builds on those aspects of PPF 5 which have proven to be the most effective.”

Based on “the overwhelming feedback we received” from bishops when they were queried, the proposed sixth edition “calls for flexibility while adhering to the ratio’s insistence on not less than a year and not more than two years,” in any one aspect of formation, he said.

The document, Tobin added, “allows latitude for individual dioceses, provinces and regions” so bishops can “adapt this to individual circumstances.”

“The PPF’s focus is on benchmarks — the outcomes that must be achieved by the seminarian before advancing to the next stage in his formation , rather than on chronological times,” the cardinal said, adding that “new weight is given to stages rather than years.”

He said the document is “the least prescriptive as possible due to the vast diversity of circumstances around the country.”

Tobin added his belief that the revisions, should they be approved, will lead seminarians more surely through the stages of formation, “and ultimately, please God, to ordination.”

If approved by the bishops, the sixth edition of the PPF will likewise need to receive the Vatican’s recognitio before it can be applied in the United States.

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