Christ is Risen! Truly he has risen!
Last week we considered some of the pros and cons surrounding the transitioning of priests. It is always a difficulty time, but one also filled with opportunity.
As part of that consideration I noted that the Code of Canon Law was updated to allow for term limits for pastors and that, in our area, a pastoral assignment is generally for 6 years. Some people have asked themselves; “then why do so many of our priests move so often?” For example, Fr. Ratuiste was only with us for two years and Fr. Kuttner only one.
As we know, there can always be exceptions to such norms as term limits. However, that is not the case in these examples. Generally, priests can be assigned to a parish in one of three capacities. They can be assigned as pastors, administrators, or parochial vicars.
An assignment as pastor is the most common and familiar to us. Those priests who served for a long time in Walla Walla were all assigned as pastors. Such priests had extendable 6 year terms when assigned.
The second manner in which a priest can be assigned is as parochial administrator. Administrators have the same duties and responsibilities as pastors, however they do not have a term. Priests are often assigned as administrators when first given the responsibility of leading a parish community. Since they have no terms, it gives the bishop greater flexibility to reassign them if it turns out that the fit is not good for the priest and community. After a year or two, if the fit is good and things go well, these quasi-pastor are generally made full pastors. After this first trial period as an administrator, priests are typically assigned as pastors immediately in their subsequent assignments.
The final way in which a priest can be assigned to a parish is as a parochial vicar. A vicar, according to Webster’s is “one serving as a substitute or agent.” Therefore a parochial vicar is one who is an agent or substitute for the pastor when he is not present. Fr. Gaines, for example, has been assigned as my vicar and is therefore able to take on my responsibilities when I am absent. Like administrators, parochial vicars do not have terms. Without terms, vicars are rotated more frequently to address emerging needs in the diocese.
These are the three ways in which a priest is generally assigned to a parish. However, priests can receive non-parish assignments. This is called specialized ministry. This is how Fr. Smedley was assigned to DeSales this year. He is not my vicar, but has been given specific duties, directly from the bishop, within our Catholic High School. Though he will help out with Masses and confession in Walla Walla, he will not be serving as a parish priest, but as a chaplain, teacher, and administrator in our school.
Hopefully that helped answer the questions that many had regarding different ways in which priests are assigned. God bless!
Praised be Jesus Christ, our risen Lord, now and forever!