Sunday, December 04, 2011

Priest, Pastor and Leader?

Last week at a funeral reception I got talking to two rather agitated laymen. They wanted to tell me about what was happening in their parishes. They both had the same complaint. A new parish priest had come in and, they said, closed down everything. Parish councils had been dismissed and many other committees. Not even social events were allowed any more. I found it hard to believe a parish priest would not want parishioners to enjoy social activities. For my part, I have always had a parish council as I find it on the whole a useful sounding board for ideas. I, of course, said that a parish council is optional unless the bishop, having listened to his Council of Priests, considers it opportune to mandate their creation in every parish which to my knowledge, has not happened in this diocese. I also pointed out that a Parish Council is essentially consultative and that while it may offer advice a parish priest is not bound to follow it although one would hope he would be able to give good reasons for not doing so.

However this did little to calm the rage. They had heard of a parish where the new parish priest on his first Sunday had told the congregation that he was in charge and he made the decisions so as to get things clear from the start. They said the Church needs to be brought up to date and that it is still in the nineteenth century. I`d never thought of the modern day Church as having anything remotely nineteenth century about it! I did mention Vatican Two and that bishops seem very keen nowadays to involve the laity at all levels of church life and how at priests` meetings the answer to problems always seems to be to hand things over to the laity. However this did nothing to restore peace. `Why do priests insist on looking after the finances when there are laity in a parish who have professional experience which the clergy lack?` So too with looking after buildings and grounds. Priests should hand all that over to the laity and thus be able to concentrate on being a spiritual leader. I have never looked after the parish book keep keeping so I don`t know if that wins me any gold stars.

While I can appreciate the point of this sometimes it is not unusual to find laity who think they should be allowed to preach as well. No doubt they would also want a liturgy commitee to oversee every aspect of worship. At this point it seems to me, as I mentioned to a senior cleric recently, the only job left for the priest to do is to be the caretaker, making sure the doors are open, unless of course, as often happens, they have keys to the building already.

Of course there are documents. There was the 1997 document, Ecclesiae de mysterio, a rare collaboration between eight Vatican dicasteries, which said that lay people should not have the title chaplain amongst other things. Also relevant is the Congregation for Clergy`s document `The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community` which talks among other things about parish councils and erroneous thinking about them. I think it fair to say I never hear these documents referred to much in local discussions on the matter of the role of the laity. My laymen complained that decisions were made by a lot of old men in Rome and therefore were, I presume, self-evidently ridiculous.

However the issue is important as priests are unsure what they are meant to be doing. A priest may feel he is doing the right thing if he hands over the running of his parish to committees of parishioners who then give the pastoral lead. On the other hand a priest is a pastor with a role of guiding the flock and as such has the duty to mould his parish life according to the mind of the Church and have the resources to achieve this. While seeking to avoid a stifling clericalism, which treats the laity like children and which even clergy of a `progressive ` bent can fall into, it seems we have a new problem these days in a certain type of laity who can regard the very existence of the priest as an affront to their participation in the life of the Church.

11 comments:

MT said...

There would appear to be a few agitated laymen about?

1569 Rising said...

I wonder if the problems in certain parishes arises when a new PP is appointed, and takes over from a succession of what can only be described as short-term incumbents?

Take a hypothetical parish which has had 3 different priests in a short period, say 8 years. Each one knew that he wouldn't be in post for very long, and was more than happy to hand practically all functions - property, finance, liturgy etc to what could be described as a self-perpetuating small group of lay members. Very quickly the impression is created among certain people that they are the parish, and the priest is merely an adjunct to the real power base in the parish.

There has been a lack of guidance from the Diocese in cases like this. There has been a reluctance to lay down strict guidlines for parish councils, and subsequently the self-perpetuating parish elite have taken on powers far in excess of their actual duties.

Em said...

I am not even going to get started on this but thanks for an interesting post Father.

Seeker said...

Interesting post Father. In essence the PP has two different hats to wear, one with the care of souls uppermost and the other to be a good steward of the parish. In both the way the tasks are done depends very much on the resources of the priest, and those of the parish and parishioners. In the first he must take the lead, it's really what he's all about, but with sensitivity. Do you change everything when you go into a parish? That depends on what's there! Sometimes a settling time is good, let everyone weigh things up, then discuss and ease into change. It really depends on circumstances and judgement.

On the adminstrative side, I would suggest the PP is nearer an MD. He should delegate tasks to those that can help, but delegation is often misunderstood, in delegating one retains responsibility, and it should be clearly understood that those taking the tasks need to work within the boundaries given, and have a responsibility to report and consult back, just as would be expected in any well run company. [Particularly on finances, any PP, just as any MD, should understand the numbers and know exactly what's happening even with a professionally capable parishioner helping out].

Giorgio Roversi said...

"It seems we have a new problem these days in a certain type of laity who can regard the very existence of the priest as an affront to their participation in the life of the Church". Spot on Father. Perhaps these people don't know what the word "Church" means. If they did, the time they spend moaning about "participation" they would spend it in prayer.

Fr said...

Having taken over a parish where the laity ruled, I am now "Fr Nasty" for, amongst other things, decreeing that the 4th December was too early to put Christmas decorations into the church (or anywhere else for that matter) and that we should really be getting on with Advent.

Righting various liturgical abuses has given me several sleepless nights. Most people don't seem to mind or notice, but the (formerly) all-powerful brigade seethe with resentment at every effort to implement the Roman Rite.

It is hard not to criticise one's Reverend predecessors for allowing this sort of thing to happen.

Sixupman said...

The Parish Priest of my last parish actually believed that the laity, selected of course, should be afforded the pulpit to air their views. He also preached criticising both Pope, Magisterium and much else.

EFpastor emeritus said...

Interesting post. However some of the laity, when performing a role in a parish, seem to regard themselves as having a God-given right to hold the position FOR LIFE and woe betide anyone else who enters on "their" territory!
Seems to me there is much to be said for having fixed terms of office....even in parishes with few members! People learn by doing.... and it is worth putting up with mistakes while they learn!
In some places the laity seem to be clericalised, while the clergy are laicised.

1569 Rising said...

Father...

EFPastor Emeritus makes some very germane points. He has identified a problem which occurs when a self-perpetuating small group of parishioners are given too much responsibility. Of course, that may suit some priests, but it is hardly what the Bishop would sanction.

Father, have you left Em speechless? I am amazed.

Anonymous said...

I think the role of the priest is very clear. We call him Father and that is what he has to be. He fulfils the role that I have to fulfil for my family. Protecting them, feeding them, loving them, enabling them to develop their talents in the service of God and the community. This also involves laying down the law and enforcing the rules as well as acting as moderator. It's a big job and sadly there are many priest out there who just aren't up to it.

ScepticalBeliever said...

Extraordinary, the priorities people have at funerals!