Pastors and Stability of Office

The canonical provision for stability has been set aside in favor of the frequent changing of pastors as a positive good in itself.

A common complaint heard from pastors and laity alike these days has to do with the frequent transfer of pastors from parish to parish.1 It is a phenomenon found in many dioceses already, as a matter of policy, and it may well increase as the shortage of priestly vocations begins to be felt more and more. However, this phenomenon cannot be attributed simply to the shortage of vocations. It also clearly seems to be the result of a deliberate policy adopted for various reasons by many bishops. Among the reasons suggested are that such changes may prevent certain negative effects of long-term appointments such as the loss of zeal or personal stagnation, that such changes can provide stimulation and greater satisfaction from new challenges or that such changes can provide a graceful exit from difficult situations in a given parish. 2

However, there are also potential problems with this new policy, 3 among which the most serious are without a doubt the lack of stability it causes for the office of pastor and the potential this has for degrading the office of pastor in the life of the Church with all the practical consequences that can follow from that reductionism, especially for the people they serve. This policy ultimately raises serious theological questions about the nature and role of the pastor as such. Is he, in practice or even in reality, a true sacrament of Christ’s own relationship to the whole Church? Or is he merely a functional extension of the office and ministry of the bishop, a kind of managerial figure who oversees the various aspects of the parish? Without a real stability of office, can a pastor be a true pastor, or a true father in any real sense, one who has a deep, personal relationship with the people that makes him a shepherd who exercises a ministry in his own name, even if under the authority of the bishop? In short, is the pastor today a true shepherd and father of the portion of Christ’s flock entrusted to his care?

These questions are of great importance for the Church of the Third Millennium and not simply in some abstract sense of interest to ecclesiology professors but in the most practical sense as well. What is at stake in these questions is the whole relationship of the pastor to his people and the pastor to his bishop. It is not simply a question of morale, although it certainly touches that vital issue, but a question of how the Church is to live and grow as an organic yet hierarchically ordered body. The approach to this problem will begin with an analysis of the same issue of stability in relation to the office of bishop, and it will do so by recalling a debate that began in Rome on this very question back in the late 1990s. Then we will move on the issue of transferring pastors and see what Vatican II and the new Code have to tell us about this issue. It will conclude with a short analysis of the present state of the problem and a few possible corrections that might help to correct the imbalance that emerged between the bishop’s need for freedom in appointments and the Church’s need for stability in the pastoral office.

The debate in the Roman Curia over careerism in the episcopacy

Let us begin, then, with a debate regarding the stability and role of bishops themselves and their relation to their Churches that took place in the Roman Curia in the final years of the last century. Cardinal Vincenzo Fagiolo published an article in L’Osservatore Romano on March 27, 1999 in which he called for a greater stability in the office of the diocesan ordinary in order to avoid a kind of careerism in the episcopacy and to deepen the spiritual bond between the bishop and his people. 4 Cardinal Gantin gave support to his proposal during an interview with the Italian magazine 30 Giorni. He put it this way:

“When he is appointed, the bishop must be a father and a pastor before God and to the people. And when one is a father, one is so forever. Therefore, in principle, once appointed to a particular see, the bishop should remain there forever. This must be clear. The relation between a bishop and his diocese is akin to matrimony and, according to the evangelical spirit, indissoluble. The new bishop must not have other personal plans” 5 [emphasis added]

The Cardinal’s position was not only pragmatic, aimed at avoiding a debilitating careerism and personal ambition in the college of bishops, but it was also theological, an attempt to understand the profoundly nuptial relationship between the pastor and his flock which generates his role and character as father and spouse. Gantin in that same interview called for the Church to return to the ancient practice of minimizing episcopal transfers from diocese to diocese, a policy which was aimed at curbing the temptation to “social climbing and careerism” in the college of bishops. The magazine also published a letter written in 380 by Pope Damasus to the bishops of Macedonia in which the Pope wrote: “Donot allow someone to be transferred from one city to another, abandoning the people who have been entrusted to him, going to another Church because of ambition, contrary to what was established by our Fathers.”

The positions of the two Cardinals served to spark some heated controversy, including both support and opposition, among theologians and also within the college and the Roman Curia. Some fuel was added to the fire when then-Cardinal Ratzinger did his own interview with 30 Giorni in the following month in which he substantially sided with the position enunciated by Gantin and Fagiolo, though not going quite as far as to support their practical suggestions related to changing Canon Law to try to correct the problem. Cardinal Ratzinger bluntly stated:

“I totally agree with Cardinal Gantin. In the Church, above all, there should be no sense of careerism. To be a bishop should not be considered a career with a number of steps, moving from one seat to another, but a very humble service. I think that the discussion on access to the ministry would also be much more serene if the Episcopate saw it as a service, and not as a career. Even a poor see, with only a few faithful, is an important service in God’s Church.” 6

In addition, the future Pope Benedict basically agreed with the theological understanding of the bishop enunciated by Gantin: “The view of the bishop-diocese relation as matrimony, implying fidelity, is still valid… Sadly, I myself have not remained faithful in this regard.” In short, we may see some changes in the way Pope Benedict XVI handles episcopal appointments in the years ahead.

However, not everyone in the Curia itself was as positive about the Gantin and Fagiolo proposals. For instance, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Holy Father’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome and president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), took a somewhat different stance during a televised debate on the CEI’s channel Sat 2000 in July of 1999. Cardinal Ruini basically argued that transferring bishops from diocese to diocese should not necessarily be “classified as careerism.” He went on to say:

“I can say that to have been a professor for many years, and the Auxiliary Bishop of Reggio Emilia for three years, helped me a lot when I became the CEI’s secretary; it also helped me when I became Cardinal Vicar of the Pope and CEI’s president. This seems quite normal to me, quite logical.” 7

However, what may seem quite normal and logical to a member of the Roman Curia does not really address the issue of whether a damaging careerism exists in any significant way in the contemporary Church among the body of bishops as a whole. Nor does it address the issue of how such careerism can undermine the true nature of the relationship of the bishop to his people or the way it can carry over into the life of the Church at the level of pastors of parishes and reduce the sacramental character of the priesthood to a pure issue of power—power to confect the sacraments, power to rule, etc.—with all that this implies for the spiritual life of the Church.

Stability on the level of parish pastors

The two issues of stability, first on the level of the episcopate and then on the level of parish pastors, cannot ultimately be separated. If a bishop understands his own office primarily in terms of his powers and if he gives a practical or even theoretical primacy to his relationship to the college rather than to his diocese, then careerism seems inevitable. With a diminished view of the office of pastor, stability will not seem very important. The careerist bishop is likely to feel little compunction over the frequent transfer of pastors and quite likely will end up somewhat oblivious to the practical consequences for parishioners and pastors alike of the instability it generates in parishes.

Whenever pastors are moved, four certain consequences follow: the pastor will have to adjust to a new parish, the people of his new parish will have to adjust to him, the people of his former parish will have to adjust to their new pastor, and he in turn will have to adjust to them. These adjustments are often no small matter given the diversity in parish life today. When such changes take place every five or six years, or even every ten years, it should not surprise us if some, perhaps many, pastors suffer from the lack of stability in their personal lives and their role as pastor. Likewise, it should not surprise us that many parishioners no longer feel confident to entrust their personal and spiritual needs to such a transient spiritual guide. One retired pastor recently made the observation that in reality it makes less and less sense to call us Father anymore because no true father can have such a brief relationship to his family. For the people, on the other hand, who wants to entrust themselves to such a transient father figure?

Christus Dominus

Moreover, in the whole tradition of the Church, stability is certainly not a minor issue. There are many witnesses to the conviction of the Church that it touches upon the practical reality of the pastor exercising a true spiritual fatherhood, being a true shepherd of souls. Most recently, both the teaching of Vatican II and the 1983 Code of Canon Law recognize this essential characteristic of pastoral care. Canon 522 8 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law asserts that the pastor is to have stability of office: “It is necessary that a parish priest have the benefit of stability.” This stability is clearly called for because it is connected with the ability, or perhaps the availability, of the priest to fulfill his role as pastor both adequately and properly. The reasons for this are made crystal clear in the pastoral constitution Christus Dominus of Vatican II.

The role of the pastor of a parish is detailed in Section 30 of Christus Dominus. There we learn some important things about the role of pastors. First of all, the pastor is the true shepherd of his parish, the true pastor of that portion of the flock entrusted to him by Christ through his bishop. Christus Dominus says this: “Pastors, however, are cooperators of the bishop in a very special way, for as pastors in their own name they are entrusted with the care of souls ….” The pastor is a pastor in his own name. 9 He is a cooperator in a very special way, and he is so precisely because he represents Christ in his own name and not simply as an extension of the bishop. Even though he exercises his pastoral care under the authority of the bishop and as a cooperator with the bishop, nonetheless, he does not simply represent the bishop in his pastoral office but Christ himself.

Already in Section 28 of Christus Dominus, the Council fathers state that all priests, diocesan or religious, are “providential cooperators” of the episcopal order. It then singles out diocesan priests as having “a primary role in the care of souls” and gives two reasons, both of which are connected with the notion of stability: (1) they are incardinated to a particular church (diocese) and (2) “they are wholly dedicated in its service to the care of a particular section of the Lord’s flock ….” Incardination is above all a provision for stability in pastoral care, and it contributes greatly to the pastor being “wholly dedicated” to the care of a portion of Christ’s flock. Thus, the diocesan parish priest has a primary role only because he has a greater stability in the diocese than do religious.

In short, the pastor of a parish is, as Canon 519 clearly states (practically lifting that first sentence of CD 30), a pastor in his own name: “The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop ….” The notion of proper pastor, or pastors in their own name is significant here, and the official commentary of the Canon Law Society of America also makes this clear:

Although the parish priest is sent by the bishop and depends on him in the exercise of his office, he is not merely a kind of extension of the bishop. On the contrary, the parish priest is the spiritual head of the parish and truly represents the invisible Lord, and it is his duty to unite the individual faithful in a community founded in and for Christ.

The fact that both the Council and the Code emphasize that the parish priest is a proper pastor, a pastor in [his] own name, should alert us to the great importance of this fact and give us a clue as to why stability of office is important. True pastors are shepherds of the flock and spiritual fathers to their people. Thus, like the bishop who is shepherd of the diocese as a whole, pastors ought to have “the benefit of stability of office” (Canon 522) in order to carry out effectively their role as true fathers and shepherds representing the Lord in a portion of his Church.

Christus Dominus also provides a very practical reason for the stability of office called for in the Code. The Council recognizes the multiple tasks of the pastor in his roles related to the care of souls, and thus it states that pastors need the help of other pastors, of other priests assigned to the parish to cooperate with him, the help of the laity, etc. If such is his burden in fulfilling his office, it must also require a lengthy time also to fulfill effectively all the various roles of shepherding. For instance, the pastor is said to have a serious duty to teach, “to bring the faithful to ‘a full knowledge’of the mystery of salvation through a catechetical instruction which is consonant with each one’s age.” Surely the pastor needs a great deal of help but, likewise, he needs a great deal of time, no matter how much help he has, since the people being catechized can only be fully formed over time.

Moreover, if pastors are really to be the primary teachers of their people, since they have the primary duty to educate, and if the flock is to grow to a full knowledge of the faith proper to their age, then real continuity is obviously necessary. Frequent changes of pastors either means frequent, new starts in catechetical instruction and programs or the principle of stability must be shifted to a lay member of the parish staff, leaving the pastor once again a mere administrator. The same rule can apply to the liturgy or to the devotional life of a parish.

Another very important practical ground for the canonical requirement of stability can be seen in Christus Dominus 30: “In fulfilling their office as shepherd, pastors should take pains to know their own flock.” Realistically, in the modern parish, even in what many dioceses would consider a relatively small parish—for example, 500 families—how can the pastor get to know his flock in any significant way and still carry out all his other concrete duties if he is being moved so frequently? To really get to know even fifty families a year would surely require visiting their homes. To make a single home visit a week would be a daunting task, given that the pastor typically must hold evening parish meetings, marriage preparations, education programs, etc., because most parishioners work during the day. It would take, therefore, ten years just to visit each home once, and does one really get to know people with that minimal one-time home contact? Unless a pastor becomes fairly permanent, such talk about him getting to know his people is just talk.

Additionally, Christus Dominus clearly desires to create greater flexibility for the bishop in relation to his role as chief shepherd. Immediately following the statement about the need for stability of office for pastors, the document adds this in Number 30:

The distinction between removable and irremovable pastors is to be abrogated and the procedure for transferring and removing pastors is to be re-examined and simplified. In this way the bishop, while observing natural and canonical equity, can better provide for the needs of the good of souls.

The Council fathers clearly wanted to free bishops from previous canonical provisions regarding so-called irremovable pastors 10 by removing all such privileges and also by simplifying the procedures for transferring and removing pastors. But this simplification logically had to be consistent with the principle of stability mentioned just in the previous sentence. The text itself suggests this in qualifying the right of such moves by insisting they had to be done according to principles not only of canonical equity but also of natural equity. This sentence seems to balance the “flexibility” provisions given to the bishop by making reference, first of all, to canonical equity which surely has to take into account the stability of office necessary for the pastor to accomplish his role as pastor. The mentioning of natural equity seems, however, to contextualize this right of the bishop by recalling the commitment of this Council to requiring the Church’s leaders always to act in accord with man’s natural dignity, which obviously has to be applied to the pastor as well as to the people he serves.

The new Code of Canon Law and the U.S. Bishops

However, when the new Code was promulgated in 1983, Canon 522 allowed the national conferences to establish term limits to the office of pastor, a provision which in itself raised a serious question about the exact meaning of “stability” in the Code itself. The American bishops in their Fall meeting that same year immediately voted to allow bishops to establish whatever term limit, and whatever provisions for renewing the term, they decided upon for their diocese or to have no limit at all if they so chose. When the decree was approved by Rome, the Holy See insisted only that the term be at least for six years and stated that it could be renewed. It was clear that this provision was to be seen as a minimum, in keeping in some way with the Code’s own provision for stability of office, and not as an ideal of some kind rather than a provision to meet serious needs in certain circumstances.

But, in hindsight, we can now see that by allowing such a short term Rome had in effect called into question exactly what was to be understood by the notion of stability in Canon 522. Was it being seriously suggested that a pastor could actually accomplish the tasks set out in Christus Dominus 30 and the Code itself for a proper pastor in a brief term of six years? Surely, the Holy See did not foresee bishops creating a regular policy of transferring pastors every six years, which would seem impossible to reconcile with any true sense of stability of office. Imagine the Holy See adopting a policy of transferring bishops from diocese to diocese every six years. This would contradict any rational understanding of the bishop as a true father to his diocese, as Gantin would point out years later, and just as surely any such policy would do the same for a pastor in relation to his parish.

Thus it seems likely that this had to be a concession to pressure from the United States, and term limits have now been adopted by many dioceses as a standard policy for regularly transferring pastors. In fact, this regular changing of assignments is now seen as self-justifying, regular transfers being in themselves for the good of souls or the necessity or advantage of the Church, the reasons mentioned in Canon 1748 as the grounds for transferring pastors. In reality, this means that the provision for stability has been set aside in favor of the frequent changing of pastors as a positive good in itself. Bishops move from diocese to diocese and, in turn, move their pastors from parish to parish on a regular basis. The end result, however, is that the bishop becomes more like a CEO than a father in relation to his diocese, and the pastor is reduced to a manager of parishes. Moreover, and this has significant ecclesiological implications, the principle of continuity in parish life now necessarily and easily shifts to the lay employees, much as the continuity of the State Department resides in the career officers more than in a current Administration’s political appointees.

This is only possible, first of all, because a theological shift, perhaps not yet fully articulated on a conscious level, has taken place in the way bishops view the pastor in relation to his parish. In reality, he is no longer really understood to be a father or spiritual shepherd as much as an administrator of ecclesial goods. Pastors are now like lower-echelon military officers who are moved every few years “to keep them sharp.” No one can seriously believe that a true spiritual relationship can be established in such an unstable situation or that anyone is seriously going to entrust his spiritual welfare to a man who may be moved at any time.

Secondly, it is also significant that this rather recent innovation of such frequent changes of pastors can only really take place because Roman Catholic priests are celibate. Try to imagine a situation where a bishop, and one who frequently moves his priests, has an exclusively married clergy, such as in the Eastern Churches. Can we envision him moving married men and fathers of families as he moves the celibate pastor? Does this not suggest once again that the celibate pastor is no longer truly seen as a father in any real sense, even a spiritual father, and that the name “Father” in practice is just a name? More importantly, will we be surprised if the exodus of celibate men in the future, men who are given no real opportunity to experience any kind of fatherhood in the priesthood, is even greater than in the past when such fatherhood was at least possible because pastors had real stability of office?

Moving away for a moment from the effects of such instability on the pastor himself and his practical role as pastor, it should be noted that Christus Dominus establishes the need for stability of the pastor as primarily for the sake of the people. This makes the call for stability even more rational and more poignant, for stability effectively enables the pastor to fulfill the duties of the pastorate not simply for his own sake but, above all, for the welfare of the parishioners.

Number 31 presents this parishioner-oriented argument for stability very logically. First, it proclaims that “[T]he parish exists solely for the good of souls.” Then in the next paragraph it makes it absolutely clear why pastors should have stability in office: “Pastors should enjoy in their respective parishes that stability of office which the good of souls demands.” [Emphasis added.] The parish exists solely for the good of souls and, likewise, the stability of pastors is directed first of all to the good of souls. When pastors are transferred frequently within a diocese the instability this creates affects the sole reason for the existence of the parish—the good of souls.

It is interesting, moreover, that this same language of the “good of souls” is used in Canon 1748 11 governing the transfer of pastors: “If the good of souls or the necessity or advantage of the Church demands that a pastor be transferred ….” As mentioned above, the reason for transfer is qualified to include the necessity or advantage of the Church but, in the end, necessity and advantage of the Church have to refer finally to the sole purpose for which the Church herself exists, which is the same as the parish: the good of souls. Even the word “demands” is supportive of the primacy of the principle of stability and the need truly to justify the disruption of parish life by a removal or transfer. However, there is also little question that the language is broad enough to justify legally just about any reason the bishop might have. However, the good of the Church is the good of souls, and the issue of transfer cannot prescind from the issue of stability, a fundamental requirement for the good of souls.

Thus the question has to be asked whether it is consistent with the intention of the Code and the teaching of the Council to undermine stability by embracing a policy of transferring pastors as a matter of course and justifying this policy by considering such frequent transfers as being in themselves for the advantage of the Church, without any serious need to demonstrate how this transfer truly is necessary to achieve the good of the Church, the people of another parish, or the whole congregation of the local church.

In fact, the provisions for appeal in the case of removals or transfers also make it clear the bishop is not free to make arbitrary or unnecessary changes. Specific grounds for the removal of pastors are listed in Canon 1741. The bishop must demonstrate that the removal is in accord with canonical equity by giving evidence that such causes exist, or similar causes of equal gravity, in relation to the well being of the parish. While no such list exists for the transfer provision, it would be irrational to suppose that the bishop does not have to have serious reasons for overriding the stability provision of the Code and would not have to prove that the new post requires the services of this particular pastor (some administrative talent, educational capacity, language ability, etc.), which makes this transfer truly for the good of souls. To simply have a policy that transfers as such are for the good of souls seems contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Church’s doctrine and law.

This line of argument in favor of stability and requiring justification of transfers by reasons other than the good of transfers as such can also be seen in another canon. Canon 524 speaks of transfers in relation to providing for vacancies:

A diocesan bishop is to entrust a vacant parish to the one whom he considers suited to fulfill its parochial care, after weighing all the circumstances and without any favoritism.

Appointments or transfers are inevitably necessary because new parishes are established and old parishes become vacant for some reason. Pastors die, pastors abandon the priesthood, and some pastors need to be transferred because another priestly task demands their particular ministerial abilities, either in a non-parochial role or in another pastoral situation. Thus, their parish becomes vacant. That is what seems to be envisioned in the Council and in the Code. Today, parishes become vacant simply because the bishop has a policy of transferring pastors on a regular basis. This becomes especially apparent when dioceses adopt the policy of sometimes delaying the appointment of a pastor and merely appointing an administrator for an indefinite period.

Thus the parish is caused to be vacant by the transfer of the pastor for whatever reason or by the appointment of an administrator rather than a new pastor.

The justification of such a policy is that it gives the bishop a period of time to test the suitability of the priest, who has not yet been a pastor, to be a pastor and to be a pastor of this parish. It is something like a trial marriage, only here it is a trial “pastorate” since the candidate has almost all of the powers of the pastor without the office. The policy may sound rational, but it really undercuts the right of the laity to have a true pastor with some urgency. At least, it suggests that there is no urgency since the new administrator is really a pastor in everything but name, thereby reducing the office to a name more than a true office. Either way, it cannot be good for the People of God.

Summation and suggestions

What all this suggests is that the intention of the Council in giving the Ordinary greater freedom in the appointment of pastors, which is now encoded in Canon Law, surely was not intended to generate yearly, wholesale transfers of pastors as a matter of policy, which is hard to reconcile with any real stability in the office of pastor and the good of souls this stability was intended to promote. It certainly was a good and necessary change of policy that the Council proposed and the Code enacted so that the bishop’s hands were no longer effectively tied in the appointment of pastors to his parishes and the necessary transfer of pastors required for the greater good of the diocese.

Today, in some dioceses, the regular transfer of pastors after relatively brief terms has become self-justifying; the transfer itself is seen as being for the greater good of the diocese and no further justification is required by the bishop to move his pastors in the same way bishops have moved their associates all along. Not only does this destabilize the pastoral leadership of the parish, but its effect is to transfer the pastoral role at least partially to the lay leadership who provide the only real continuity and stability in the life of the parish. 12

Above all, however, this policy of regularly transferring priests after a very limited term destabilizes the spiritual life of the faithful in these parishes and makes the laity hesitant to really engage in any serious spiritual relationship with transient pastors. That is the ultimate harm and, since the Church itself exists for the spiritual welfare of her children, there is need for a reconsideration of such policies

It is time for the bishops to re-examine the provisions that have led to this new instability in the life of the Church. This could begin with a broad survey of the policies that actually exist in dioceses today, as well as the compilation of data on actual transfers. The study should determine how often each parish in a diocese has had a change of pastor in the twenty years since the U.S. norms were established, broken down by categories of parish size. What is the average length of a pastor’s tenure in a parish?

Next, a survey of deeply committed and faithfully practicing Catholics should be undertaken to evaluate the effects of these changes on parish life in general and on their own personal spiritual relationship to the pastors who have served in their parish. Comparisons should be made between the responses of parishioners who have had a single pastor, at least for most of those years, and the responses of those who have had a number of pastors over the same time span.

The bishops should also do their own internal study of the frequency of the transfer of bishops and its impact on dioceses, on the bishop’s own identity and on his relationship to the diocese as a father. Then proposals should be developed for balancing the need for a genuine stability in their particular Churches with the need for transfers to meet the spiritual needs of the dioceses. The policies of transfers for their own sake should be rejected. An effort should be made to spell out what is meant in concrete terms by “the good of souls or the necessity or advantage of the Church” in Canon 1748. Perhaps the bishops could spell out some typical reasons for transferring pastors, just as the Code in Canon 1741 gives a list of typical reasons justifying the removal of a pastor. That in itself would serve to stress the controlling principle of Canon 522 which states that pastors are to have stability of office.

Perhaps it is also time for the Holy See to undertake a similar study of this in the Church worldwide. The debate begun in 1999 should not be allowed to pass without any action on the part of the Vatican. Our new Pope was against changing the 1983 Code to accomplish the goals set out by Cardinals Fagiolo and Gantin, but he firmly agreed with their basic thrust of struggling to eliminate in a reasonable fashion careerism and the instability it creates for dioceses. Changes in the way bishops are transferred in the future could do a great deal to encourage bishops to moderate the transfer of pastors and assure that the cooperation of the laity in pastoral functions does not become the transfer of pastoral leadership and the creation of a new ecclesiology. 13

  1. Church petitions Vatican to keep priest,” Eileen E. Flynn, The Austin American Statesman, July 30, 2004. “ ‘We feel that (Romanski has) done a great job. He’s made a tremendous difference in people’s lives, and moving him at this time would be disruptive to the parish,’ said John Mannix.” 
  2. See The Code of Canon Law: A text and Commentary, James Corriden et. al., Paulist Press, 1st Ed.,1985, P. 23, Col. 1. 
  3. The very notion of a limited term is something quite new in the life of the church. “However, the term of office for pastors has never been limited before by the general law of the church. Stability in the pastoral office has always been the norm so that the pastor can exercise the parochial office, get to know his people well, and receive adequate sustenance.” Ibid. p. 422 Col. 1-2. 
  4. “A bishop cannot say, ‘I am here for two or three years and later I shall be promoted because of my ability, talents and gifts ….’” L’Osservatore Romano, March 27, 1999. 
  5. Interview with Cardinal Bernard Gantin, 30 Giorni, May 1999. 
  6. Interview with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 30 Giorni, June 1999. 
  7. ZENIT, July 19, 1999 – The World Seen From Rome,
  8. It is necessary that a parish priest have the benefit of the stability, and therefore he is to be appointed for an indeterminate period of time. The diocesan bishop may appoint him for a specified period of time only if the Episcopal Conference has by decree allowed this. C. 522Q 
  9. This point is made emphatically by the Diocese of Spokane in a recent lawsuit: “… {A}lthough the bishop of the diocese is the final decision maker for the diocese as a separate juridic person, under canon law, the parish pastors are the final decision makers for the parishes which are separate juridic persons under canon law, with the decision-making having been exercised in communion with the bishop, in accordance with canon law.” See “The Catholic bishop of Spokane’s statement of specific facts for summary judgment” re. Committee of Tort Litigants vs. The Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Et Al. No. 4 p. 4. “Once in the office of pastor, the priest has similar responsibilities toward the parish as a bishop does to a diocese. The pastor is responsible for ‘teaching, sanctifying, and governing.’ The pastor is not to be considered an employee of the parish, but as holder of the office he is the juridical representative of the parish ….The status of the pastor is primarily one of holding office, rather than as employee.” Ibid. N. 32, p. 16. 
  10. It is a bit of a misnomer since there always were procedures for removal of these pastors but the procedures were complicated, requiring recourse to Rome, and they in effect tied the hands of bishops trying to deal with problem pastors. 
  11. Can. 1748: If the good of souls or the necessity or advantage of the Church demands that a pastor be transferred from a parish which he is governing usefully to another parish or another office, the bishop is to propose the transfer to him in writing and persuade him to consent to it out of love of God and souls. 
  12. This problem of confusion of roles was addressed in Rome in 1991. “(Certain practices have often been developed which have had very serious negative consequences and have caused the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion to be damaged.” Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding The Collaboration Of The Non-Ordained Faithful In The Sacred Ministry Of The Priest, Congregation for the Clergy and Seven Other Roman Dicasteries, 15 August 1997. 
  13. “Since the tasks {certain charges more closely connected with the duties ofpastors} are most closely linked to the duties of pastors (which office requires reception of the sacrament of Orders), it is necessary that all who are in any way involved in this collaboration, exercise particular care to safeguard the nature and mission of sacred ministry and the vocation and secular character of the lay faithful. It must be remembered that ‘collaboration with’ does not, in fact, mean ‘substitution for.’” Ibid. 
Fr. Mark A. Pilon About Fr. Mark A. Pilon

Fr. Mark A. Pilon, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He is a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary, a former contributing editor of Triumph magazine, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at