Since the early years of this millennium, the influence of digital means of communication on the world of formation and teaching has drawn attention to the broad category of “distance learning”. This is not only a technological innovation that has been introduced into the world of university formation: it is also something capable of profoundly changing academic culture and of rewriting practices for how to educate and learn, as well as the goals of formation.
Therefore, even before the publication of the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium, the Holy See has shown an interest in this way of teaching. Indeed, some years ago the Congregation for Catholic Education granted to certain Higher Institutes of Religious Sciences license to teach some courses by distance learning, as long as certain conditions were fulfilled as regards the students’ formation as part of a community. In fact, Catholic education is never a mere process of passing on facts and intellectual skills: rather, its aim is to contribute to the person’s holistic formation in its various aspects (intellectual, cultural, spiritual, etc.), including, for example, community life and relations within the academic community, in close contact with the teachers, administrative and service personnel and the other students.
A further step forward took place with publication of the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium. Ecclesiastical Faculties and Universities now have the possibility, with the previous consent of this Dicastery, of drawing up Plans of Studies where “part of the courses can be realized by distance learning” (VG, Norms of Application, art. 33 § 2).
The aim of this Instruction – the result of a wide-ranging consultation of all Ecclesiastical Faculties and Universities (q.v. Circular Letter n. 1, of 8 December 2018), expert contributions from international specialists in the field, as well as proposals from the Members of this Congregation and from various administrations of the Roman Curia – is to offer guidelines and rules for using distance learning in Ecclesiastical Faculties and Universities.