Outline of Pastores Dabo Vobis

The full text of Pastores Dabo Vobis, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II, 25 March 1992 - is available on the Vatican website.

The full text designed for printing is available here: Pastores_Dabo_Vobis.pdf [318.12 Kb]


{slide=Summary - Introduction}

Without priests the church would not be able to live the fundamental obedience which is at the very heart of her existence and her mission in history, an obedience in response to the command of Christ: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19) and Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:10, see 1 Cor 11:24), that is, an obedience to the command to announce the gospel and to renew daily the sacrifice of the giving of his body and the shedding of his blood for the life of the world. - PDV 1
The formation of future priests, both diocesan and religious, and lifelong assiduous care for their personal sanctification in the ministry and for the constant updating of their pastoral commitment is considered by the church one of the most demanding and important tasks for the future of the evangelisation of humanity. PDV 2

{slide=Chapter 1}

When Jesus lived on this earth, he manifested in himself the definitive role of the priest by establishing a ministerial priesthood with which the apostles were the first to be invested. This priesthood is destined to last in endless succession throughout history. In this sense the priest of the third millennium will continue the work of the priests who, in the preceding millennia, have animated the life of the church. (5)

{slide=Chapter 2}

The priest’s identity,” as the synod fathers wrote, “like every Christian identity, has its source in the blessed Trinity,” which is revealed and is communicated to people in Christ, establishing, in him and through the Spirit, the church as “the seed and the beginning of the kingdom (LG 5). (12)

{slide=Chapter 3}CHAPTER 3: SPIRITUAL LIFE OF THE PRIEST (19-33)
Today, in particular, the pressing pastoral task of the new evangelisation calls for the involvement of the entire People of God, and requires a new fervour, new methods and a new expression for the announcing and witnessing of the gospel. This task demands priests who are deeply and fully immersed in the mystery of Christ and capable of embodying a new style of pastoral life, marked by a profound communion with the pope, the bishops, and other priests, and a fruitful cooperation with the lay faithful, always respecting and fostering the different roles, charisms and ministries present within the ecclesial community. (18)

{slide=Chapter 4}CHAPTER 4: PRIESTLY VOCATION (34-41)
A genuinely theological assessment of priestly vocation and pastoral work in its regard can only arise from an assessment of the mystery of the church as a mysterium vocationis. (34)

{slide=Chapter 5}CHAPTER 5: FORMATION OF CANDIDATES (42-69)
The exhortation looks at the different areas of formation – the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral areas – as well as settings and the persons responsible for the formation of candidates for the priesthood. (42)

  • Human (43-44)
  • Intellectual (51-56)
  • Spiritual (45-50)
  • Pastoral (57-59)


  • WHENCE ? (70)

“I remind you to rekindle God’s gift within you.” (2 Tim 1:6)
Dynamism ‘within’ the sacrament of priesthood itself: Jesus’ saving power, ministry and pastoral love, that calls for ongoing faithfulness and continual conversion.
Right of the People of God to receive the word of God, the sacraments, and the service of charity. Ongoing formation is an intrinsic requirement of the gift and necessary in every age.
Also Human Reasons: the nature of Personal Growth, Professional Development, Human History.
It is particularly urgent today, not only because of the rapid changes in the social and cultural conditions of individuals and peoples among whom priestly ministry is exercised, but also because of that ‘new evangelisation’ which constitutes the essential and pressing task of the church at the end of the second millennium. (70)

  • WHAT? (71-72)

Intrinsic link between formation before and after ordination, but formation after ordination involves relatively new content and especially methods.
Instead its aim must be that of promoting a general and integral process of constant growth, deepening each of the aspects of formation – human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral – as well as ensuring their active and harmonious integration, based on pastoral charity and in reference to it. ( 71)

  1. Human development (43-44): fuller development is first required in the human aspect.
  2. Spiritual formation (45-50): foster Spirit consecrating and configuring to Christ.
  3. Intellectual formation (51-56): a commitment to study God in Christ and modern culture.
  4. Pastoral formation (57-59): pastoral activity that is relevant, credible and effective.

“Pastoral charity” coordinates and unifies these four diverse aspects.

  • WHY ? (73-75)

To discover himself through his pastoring presence and activity in the church, understood and experienced as Mysterium, Communio, and Missio:
(1) Mystery: minister of Christ and steward of mysteries of God (1 Cor 4:1).
(2) Communion: leader ‘in’ the church co-responsible for mission, in a graced presbyterate.
(3) Mission: aware of his share in the church’s saving mission (2 Cor 6:3-10).

WHEN? (76-77)
As ongoing or continuing formation, it will always be part of a priest’s life: when a young priest, during midlife, and in old age.

WHO? (78-79)
Responsibility of the Entire Local Church whose communion the priest serves, of the bishop, of the presbyterate, but the individual priest has the primary responsibility.

WHERE? (80-81)
Variety of moments, forms and means of continuing formation, but first of all in meetings of the bishop with his presbyterate for liturgy, pastoral reflection and theological study.

Dear brother priests, you do this because our Lord himself, with the strength of his Spirit, has called you to incarnate in the earthen vessels of your simple lives the priceless treasure of his good shepherd’s love.(82)

Summary by John Reilly sj
November 2000.


{slide=Four Aspects of Ongoing Formation for Priests}


Pastores Dabo Vobis, # 72
“Through his daily contact with people, his sharing in their daily lives, the priest needs to develop and sharpen his human sensitivity so as to understand more clearly their needs, respond to their demands, perceive their unvoiced questions and share the hopes and expectations, the joys and burdens which are part of life: thus he will be able to meet and enter into dialogue with all people.”
Sharing especially the human experience of suffering.
Mindful that Jesus Christ is the most genuine expression of what it means to be human.
Priest is to be one who increasingly matures in human sensitivity.

[Further details in PDV, 43-44]

“In this bond between the Lord Jesus Christ and the priest, an ontological and psychological bond, a sacramental and moral bond, is the foundation and likewise the power for that “life according to the Spirit” and “radicalism of the Gospel” to which every priest is called today and which is fostered by ongoing formation in its spiritual aspect.”
Need for meditation that precedes, accompanies and follows all our actions.
Prayer-life that needs to be continually reformed.
Personal encounter with Jesus, trusting dialogue with Father, deep experience of Spirit.

[Further details in PDV, 45-50]

“As one who shares in the prophetic mission of Jesus and is part of the mystery of the church, the teacher of truth, the priest is called to reveal to others, in Jesus Christ, the true face of God, and as a result the true face of humanity.”
Especially for ministry of the word.
To help the people give an account of their Christian hope.
To assimilate genuine richness of authentic church tradition.

[Further details in PDV, 51-56]

“Just as all he Lord’s activity was the fruit and sign of pastoral charity, so should the priest’s ministerial activity be. Pastoral charity is a gift, but it is likewise a task, a grace and a responsibility to which we must be faithful.”
Discern real situation of the men and women to whom he is sent.
Discern call of the Spirit in his circumstances.
Seek most suitable methods and most useful forms for his ministry.

[Further details in PDV, 57-59]

“The path to maturity also demands above all that the priest be able to combine ever more harmoniously all these aspects, gradually achieving their inner unity. This will be made possible by pastoral charity.”
Integrated ongoing formation prevents the reduction of one’s ministry to activism and provision of impersonal services or business functions.
Integrated ongoing formation safeguards the “mystery” the priest bears in his heart for church and humanity. {slide=Human Formation - further details}[1] Further Details of Human Formation [PDV, 43-44]

  • Foundation of priestly formation. (43)
  • Reflection of Christian humanness in his attitudes towards others.
  • Human personality that is a bridge, not an obstacle, to Christ.
  • Ease of meeting and conversation with people.
  • Capacity to relate with others.
  • Affective maturity. (44)
  • Freedom to give oneself.
  • Formed conscience.

{slide=Spiritual Formation - further details}[2] Further Details of Spiritual Formation [PDV, 45-50]

  • Completion of human formation. (45)
  • Relationship and communion with Triune God.
  • Core of priestly identity and activity.
  • Seeking mystery of Christ always in prayer, sacrament and the people he is sent to serve.
  • Friendship with Christ. (46)
  • Familiarity with Scriptures. (47)
  • Experience the genuine meaning of Christian prayer.
  • Discovering the eucharist as central moment of each day. (48)
  • Deepening a “sense of sin”, especially by sacrament of penance.
  • Cultivating a spirit of sacrifice and self-denial and acceptance of hard work and the cross.
  • Seeking Christ in others, especially the poor. (49)
  • Live the grace of celibacy for evangelical, spiritual and pastoral motives. (50)

{slide=Intellectual Formation - further details}[3] Further Details of Intellectual Formation [PDV, 51-56]

  • The necessary expression of both human and spiritual formation. (51)
  • Seeking for sake of people an ever deeper knowledge of the divine mysteries.
  • Integrated with a spirituality marked by a personal experience of God.
  • Philosophical understanding of person, truth, freedom and existence. (52)
  • Sociology, psychology, education, economics, politics and social communication.
  • Theology as sharing in thinking of Christ, from faith of the church and for this faith. (53)
  • Scripture, Fathers, liturgy, church history, magisterium, and person called to believe. (54)
  • Relation of theology to magisterium, its pastoral aims, and its inculturation. (55)
  • Facing competently the questions about meaning put by people today. (56)

{slide=Pastoral Formation - further details}[4] Further Details of Pastoral Formation [PDV, 57-59]

  • Aim of all priestly formation is communion with the pastoral charity of Christ. (57)
  • Formation for the threefold ministry of word, worship and pastor.
  • Theological reflection on the church as the “universal sacrament of salvation”.
  • Evangelical discernment of current social, cultural and ecclesial situations.
  • More than acquiring some pastoral techniques. (58)
  • Pastoral sensitivity in evaluating problems, establishing priorities, seeking solutions.
  • Exercise of authority as a service in the church.
  • Pastoral action that enlivens the church as “mystery”, “communion” and “mission”. (59)
  • Cooperating with lay people to recognise with them the signs of the times.


John Reilly sj, Canberra,
10 December 2001.

  • Created: 20 August 2008
  • Modified: 16 February 2012