ASK FATHER: Moving priests every 6 or 12 years

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

As you mentioned in one of your other posts, it’s the the season of ordinations. It’s also the season for priest transfers. Our pastor of 12 years is being transferred to a different parish in another city of the diocese, and I’m absolutely devastated. He is such a wonderful priest, so vibrant and engaging. The youth just love him. We’ve all become really attached to him and don’t want him to leave. Why do priests have to get transferred so frequently? This doesn’t seem like something found in the history of the church. Also, what can we do to either stop him from being transferred, or make this process as painless as possible for both our priest and the parish?

It seems that bishops have the right to appoint pastors stably, or to six-year terms in the US.  Within that framework, they have flexibility.

Is it a nostrum to tell people to love their priest, no matter who he happens to be at the moment, and to focus on Christ rather than the individual priest?  That might seem callously dismissive of people’s natural affection for one priest.

They should certainly give the new priest an opportunity to be who he is, without constant comparison to the priest who is leaving.  The new pastor will have strengths and weaknesses that might not line up with the outgoing pastor.

Meanwhile, I think we can have grave doubts about the wisdom of these 6 or 12 year terms.  First, they seem merely to permit bishops not to have work out problems or difficulties with priests.  They can just wait them out, all the time avoiding dialogue or potential conflicts.  Also, the policy undermines a priest’s ability to shape a parish in the long term.  No sooner does he figure out where all the keys are, but he is worrying about being moved.

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52 Responses to ASK FATHER: Moving priests every 6 or 12 years

  1. Imrahil says:

    The standard in canon law is appointment for life (see can. 522). If that means something…

    There surely are problematic effects of an “embourgeoisement” or what not (though I personally have great sympathy for the “as always” mentality), yet the traditional way to deal with that was to have a “mission to the flock” (lit. “people’s mission”) every once in a while, for example by orders specifically erected for the purpose such as St. Alphonsus’ Redemptorists.

  2. YorkshireStudent says:

    I haven’t noticed any unofficial terms over here in the UK, but moving after 12 years – assuming there are no problems – does sound like a burden to put on a parish. Especially, if this moving between cities is common. (in my Diocese I’ve it’s usually switches within cities, or to the surrounding area; e.g. it’s not uncommon for parts of congregations to follow favoured priests around, and they do so without too much extra travelling)

    I suppose it is best (and, after all right) to focus on Christ, no matter which priest offers Mass to Him, though I do miss a few particularly humorous priests! Luckily, our Bishop is regular with his re-arrangements (Shake-up September is my name for it), so we’ve got a few months yet – plus my home parish is the Cathedral, with a new Dean, and at University it has just been given to the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, to set-up a new Oratory.

  3. Papabile says:

    And all this “transferring” is used to professionalize and bureaucratize the Priesthood, by creating ideal assignments for Priests, and then giving the Bishop the authority to hold these out to those who please him.

    We have all seen how this works — and it can work both ways — but always for the worse.

    If the Bishop is supposed to be married to his Diocese, the Priest images this to his Parish. What becomes of this image? If there is no image of marriage, one should expect either the Diocese or the Parish to be less fecund … particularly with respect to the call to religious life, and the stability of actual Sacramental Marriages.

    If the Church is supposed to image the Marriage of the Lamb, it’s not hard to understand why – and the connection between- regular Sacramental Marriages that are under attack, when the Church refuses to image Marriage corporately.

  4. wanda says:

    Would that it were 6 or 12 years. We recently had one priest for 3 years and another for 2.

  5. sw85 says:

    Didn’t one of the early Church councils condemn the practice of transferring pastors around regularly? (Or was that only the practice of shuffling bishops around?)

  6. Vecchio di Londra says:

    When in an inner-city parish you see a really good, active and effective parish priest ‘promoted’ to a less onerous, largely admin job in a Cathedral, say, or to a ‘better’ (ie posher, more complacent) parish – replaced by a less capable and more inactive pastor, say, an elderly priest sitting it out to retirement: it does make one question the whole basis of diocesan appointments. And it happens repeatedly.
    For this and other reasons I decided some time ago it was better to avoid diocesan churches and attend those of independent orders with a built-in stability of tenure, safe from episcopal tinkering. They also (not coincidentally) tend to be sounder in terms of the teaching of faith and morals, and in their liturgy.

  7. Imrahil says:

    Dear sw85,

    they meant bishops. Note that “pastor” or shepherd principally means the bishop (despite the US and Northern German use to refer to the parish-priest as “the Pastor”). A parish-priest is an aide to the bishop to help him shepherding a specific parish (which means “district”). So, parish-priests are pretty much a matter of positive law, and there would be nothing to stop a bishop shuffling them around at will except the law of a yet higher authority (which we, at least in some sense, have).

  8. This is part of the secularist spirit that has taken hold in the Church: parishes and dioceses are to be run along business lines, and a pastorship is just another job. It is also part of the devaluation of fatherhood. Parishes now resemble many households: a parade of stepfathers instead of one father who has a deeply personal stake in the well-being of the children.

    Also — and I have been saying this for years — it’s a way to provide cover for abuser priests.

  9. Gregg the Obscure says:

    In Denver stated policy is for the pastors to get six year terms (two terms isn’t uncommon) and other priests to get three year terms. However I can think of a few cases in each category where terms were ended early in the past few years. One young priest who was ordained in 2009 is starting his fifth assignment this spring. With that much travel I guess the model for him is more like St. Paul than St. Peter.

  10. Most of the more convincing arguments seem to favor stability of pastors. But a contrary argument–in an era when so many priests are of those troubled generations that were not well-formed for the priesthood–is that for the people of a parish to be saddled indefinitely with an inadequate pastor (for instance, one who imposes poor liturgy or doctrine on them) is a form of abuse from which they deserve relief sooner than later.

  11. In many dioceses, like ours, most parishioners welcome the change. People simply never get excited about any pastor anymore. The bureaucracies of pastoral councils are out of control of even the pastor and they are firmly in the grips of entrenched throwbacks from the 1960′s and 1970′s who will never relinquish their grip of steel on their pastoral positions of power. Simply, pastors are never really being allowed to make any meaningful changes anyway, until one comes in that just cleans house, but that never happens.

  12. Magpie says:

    In my parish in Ireland, a good priest was swapped with a more liberal priest. The bishop simply had them switch parishes. The good priest was faithful to the Magisterium, but many parishioners didn’t like that, so they were happy when the liberal priest took his place, and the good priest sent from the large town to the small quiet country parish.

  13. aemmel says:

    We have had 5 different priest in our church in the past 14 years. Apparently we’re not following a 12 or even 6 year cycle.

  14. midwestmom says:

    I live in a very small parish which, for years, has been a dumping ground of sorts for ‘lesser’ priests, i.e., approaching retirement, disorganized, personality disorders, lost faith, catastrophic illnesses and so on. We will never have a “rockstar priest” because our numbers apparently don’t warrant it regardless of our equally immortal souls. We nonetheless remind ourselves that the Mass is the Mass and the Real Presence comes to dwell in us no matter who the priest is or how much we like him personally. Barring extraordinary circumstances, it’s selfish for Catholics to pressure a bishop to keep a priest at their parish beyond the commonly applied timespan. Your 12 years of spiritual wonderment (or maybe it has nothing to do with spirituality?) usually means 12 years of spiritual dearth for another parish.

  15. jflare says:

    “First, they seem merely to permit bishops not to have work out problems or difficulties with priests. They can just wait them out, all the time avoiding dialogue or potential conflicts. Also, the policy undermines a priest’s ability to shape a parish in the long term.”

    Unless I’m gravely mistaken, this is a polite way of stating that the bishop does not want to deal with issues of poor priestly formation or related behavior, as Henry suggests.

    In a way, it seems to me that this could be a good reason for why a priest ought remain in a parish where he begins, the better to teach his flock from year to year. On the other hand, I notice that many families move from place to place much more than they might have done some 50 years ago. Such practices, which the bishop obviously doesn’t control at all, would tend to undermine the idea of a parish family that a pastor would guide “from cradle to grave”. As an example, I learned not long ago that my cousin, whom I’d thought firmly planted in New York, had moved to Seattle, for a different job.
    For that matter, I notice that I’m somewhat surprised to have been in the same job in the same place for 5 years myself. I’m working on an advanced degree to improve my marketability, but I don’t know if I’ll be wanting to remain in this area after I complete this degree. I might be interested in moving someplace more friendly to serious Catholic faith.
    I understand that Blessed (Mother) Theresa’s order of nuns didn’t want to come here because this area is “too Catholic” already. I disagree. I’d like to see a greater degree of traditional Catholic culture take hold in this area. People might actually be required to view others as human beings with dignity for a change.

  16. Elodie says:

    While it is sad to see the good, faithful priests move on, there is some wisdom in this. A parish should be Christ-centered, with healthy attachment to – or healthy detachment from – the resident priest. And, happily, I’ve never experienced it, but I understand what midwestmom is saying, above. It is a real problem for some parishes!

    Think about where long-term assignments go horribly wrong, i.e., The Cult of Fr. Pfleger whose parish seems more of a Protestant congregation occupying space and using money from the Archdiocese of Chicago. That parish needs a new pastor. Desperately. And Fr. Pfleger should never have been able to become so ingrained there.

  17. I have seen Parishes that have men who are priests for themselves and not priests for Christ. In our case, our priest is a priest for Christ, and one who puts himself last and does all he can for his “children”. We call him “Father” because he is a teacher and he takes care of our souls.; this is what fathers are supposed to do. To move him would be like a woman changing husbands every so many years which would confuse her children. When a parish has a faithful priest, with tons of vocations sprouting from it, I think it is an injustice to move him. Just my two cents.

  18. midwestmom says:

    Also, our six-year rotation for priests is mostly obsolete due to limited vocations. The numbers of priests retiring is eclipsing the numbers of newly ordained. Throw in an early death, unexpected illness or lost vocation and nearly every priest in the diocese is shuffled around or given another parish in order to take up the slack.

  19. M. K. says:

    I can affirm Fr. Z’s point about the wisdom of allowing pastors to “shape a parish” in positive terms by staying for more than 6-12 years on the basis of personal experience. My home parish had the same pastor for 18 years, which allowed him to put his stamp on the place but particularly helped to ensure a certain consistency (and, in our case, orthodoxy) in the catechesis provided to children and young people growing up in the parish. He also kept up a lot of traditional practices that had been abandoned in nearby parishes – we had a real confessional and not a “reconciliation room,” bells at the consecration, altar boys in cassock and surplice, a preference for communion on the tongue, simple but traditional music, etc., a lot of which were lost under later pastors, none of whom stayed more than six years. I’ll admit that not all long-term pastors are dynamic or orthodox, and I’ll admit that some pastors can do a lot of good in a short time, but my experience of a pastor serving beyond the 12-year “limit” was a positive one.

  20. Peter J. says:

    Many good thoughts here both pro and con regarding terms for pastors. I am firmly in the camp of those pastors who serve their parishes for years. How can any pastor have long term goals for the authentic renewal of his parish if he knows that his time will be limited? Having barely started the implementation of excellent ideas, he is removed because his term has come to an end. The presence of a stable, committed and orthodox pastor is certainly a cause of great blessing to his congregation. It is the ideal but sometimes the ideal is not possible.

  21. APX says:

    Also, what can we do to [...] make this process as painless as possible?

    Aside from excelling in the virtue of detachment and perfect conformity to the will of God, I don’t think it’s possible to make these things particularly painless. Furthermore, the more of an attachment there is, the more painful it will be.

    Having recently gone through this, and now just re-opening an old wound and pouring salt into it, I can only pass on what worked for me.

    At that time I stumbled upon something St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote in his “Conformity to the will of God” regarding the loss of people who are useful to our spiritual well-being.

    “This is a point in which many devout people fail seriously in that they are not resigned to what God brings about. Our sanctificaton does not come from spiritual directors but from God. [...] [W]hen He takes them away from us it is His will that we accept this and increase our confidence in his goodness. At such times we should say: “Lord, You have given me this help, and now You have taken it away; may Your will be done always. Now, I ask You Yourself to help me and guide me as to what I must do to serve you.”

    I also strongly discourage priest following. Aside from not being God’s will, it’s also kinda weird. It’s one thing to attend the odd Mass at his new parish, it’s another thing to just switch parishes. What are you going to do? Switch parishes every time he moves? Again, weirdness factor.

    On a more practical note, when those particularly tough/trying moments come when you really start to miss your old pastor, what I found helpful was offering a decade of the rosary for: a) myself, that I may accept God’s willl; b) our new pastor; c) our old pastor.

    We will never have a “rockstar priest”
    Do you really want one? I have a real difficulty with priests who have an “engaging personality”. You know the ones. Parishioners become attracted to the priest’s personality and fool themselves into hanging on to everything he says.

  22. Matt R says:

    Canon law provides for the stability of parish priests. The episcopal conference is allowed to set term limits and bishops can rotate priests, but the priest can appeal to the Roman Rota if he feels it necessary. I read that under the Pio-Benedictine Code, every priest who appealed a transfer to the Rota won his case. Now, it could very well make things worse, unless the bishop has done something irregular and that’s not an impossibility.
    As far as rotation goes, priests who are trouble-makers (in the unorthodox way) might cause less trouble if kept at one parish, even if that trouble is still enormous. Imagine if Fr. Pfleger was moved to every inner-city parish in Chicago. This seems to be the Holy See’s attitude to certain bishops in this country…
    On the other hand, there is a real chance of a cult of personality developing, and I find that many priests who stay well past the usual six years are priests of the warm and fuzzy variety…

  23. midwestmom says:

    @ APX:

    Regarding “rockstar priests,”….they are a dangerous animal which explains my comment about the possibility that one’s attachment to a particular priest may have nothing to do with spirituality. Fr. Wonderful can quickly develop a cult of personality which often times results in an overblown ego (Williams, Corapi, Cutie, Roberts). I’ve seen something odd on Facebook lately: instead of a plain old personal page, priests establish a “public figure” page. Noooooo!

  24. Titus says:

    The six-year-term option in the US (and this is particular law for the U.S., so readers from other parts of the world won’t have the same experience) is the juridical equivalent of carpet bombing a place to kill a fly. You can get problems when an administrator stays in one place too long, sure. You can get bigger problems when a nutcase stays in a particular place for much of any time at all.

    But the set rotations destroy the ability of parishioners, particularly young parishioners, to have real relationships with priests. You grow up in a parish, you receive your First Holy Communion from a priest, and by the time you’re old enough to have a conversation that isn’t simply penance for the other conversant, the priest is moved on and you never get a chance to know him. I think that’s the most tragic part, worse than the bureaucratic problems.

  25. Juergensen says:

    I wonder if the transfer policy is applied consistently to all priests, or is it a tool selectively applied when needed to transfer an orthodox priest?

  26. APX says:

    Midwestmom,

    What really irks me about people’s attachment to priests’ personalities is that some people can’t handle a priest who does not have an out-going social personality and see it as a defect. I’ve had people go so far as to say that priests who are not very social (ie: introverts) should not be parish priests, but would be more suited to such vocations as monastic life or eremitical life. I think some people are just very ignorant and self-centered. If the priest’s personality doesn’t suit their liking, well then he’s not a very good priest. Doesn’t matter how much time he spends doing his priestly duties, if Father’s not willing to be besties with the parishioners, he’s not much of a parish priest. *sigh*

  27. Cathy says:

    I hate it. It places “the parish council” ahead of the priest as the stability of the parish. In the case of Fr. Pfleger, moving him will not make him better, if there is a problem it needs to be corrected through the direction of his bishop, and if the bishop’s direction is snubbed, the possibility of removing him from the parish or removing his faculties is not inappropriate. Ultimately, the priest, as pastor or preacher, will have to answer to Our Lord. Pray much for them!

  28. Brian2 says:

    Some people have mentioned that regular transfers are part of the secular mentality creeping into the Church, going a step further, I can’t help but be suspicious that this policy of regular transfers of every priest was designed during the days of the cover up to hide the transfer of abusive priests. If every priest gets transferred periodically, the laity will get used to the idea, and won’t ask too many questions when Fr. So-and-So leaves for another parish on the far side of the diocese. On the other hand, if it was the norm to keep Father in place for decades, moving Fr. So-and-So would immediately raise red flags

  29. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Aside from excelling in the virtue of detachment and perfect conformity to the will of God, I don’t think it’s possible to make these things particularly painless. Furthermore, the more of an attachment there is, the more painful it will be.”

    There are many excellent guides towards conformity to God’s will, St. Alphonsus’s being one of them:

    http://www.psalm40.org/conformity.html

    but there seems to be a mistake among some people that conformity = passivity. One cannot conclude that because your store was just robbed that this is anything other than God’s immediate will. It, certainly, may not be His final will. Likewise, if one is a student and a problem on an exam that is correct is marked as wrong, it is not detachment to say that this must be God’s will and accept the wrong grade. Things happen in life and our responses to them are every bit as much doing God’s will as the actual event that triggers them. Thus, while it is God’s permissive will that your store got robbed, it is almost certainly, in this situation, his desired will that you call the police and try to get your money back, since the well-being of your family might depend on it. Likewise, for the student, the mis-grade might be God’s immediate permissive will, but God is a God of justice and you certainly do no wrong, and, in fact, probably His will, by pointing out the error. Should every person arrested incorrectly for murder just accept the death sentence as being God’s will? There are always two moral aspects to a complete appraisal of God’s will: the act and the response. Sins can be committed on either end.

    St. Alphonsus, in the pamphlet cited, gives an example of a priest who arrived at a monastery after the door was closed for the night. It was snowing.

    “1. In external matters. In times of great heat, cold or rain; in times of famine, epidemics and similar occasions we should refrain from expressions like these: “What unbearable heat!” “What piercing cold!” “What a tragedy!” In these instances we should avoid expressions indicating opposition to God’s will. We should want things to be just as they are, because it is God who thus disposes them. An incident in point would be this one: Late one night St. Francis Borgia arrived unexpectedly at a Jesuit house, in a snowstorm. He knocked and knocked on the door, but all to no purpose because the community being asleep, no one heard him. When morning came all were embarrassed for the discomfort he had experienced by having had to spend the night in the open. The saint, however, said he had enjoyed the greatest consolation during those long hours of the night by imagining that he saw our Lord up in the sky dropping the snowflakes down upon him.”

    St. Alphonsus commends the priest for accepting this as God’s will. He says that the priest will gain both in statue and in virtue when he is discovered hunkering down outside the door the following morning. What he doesn’t mention, and, sadly, why this example is cherry-picking, is that, in an alternate universe, St. Francis Borgia died from hypothermia. In other words, St. Francis may have gotten lucky. There is a fine line, sometimes, between detachment and the sin of presumption. In the case of St. Francis, he might come close to crossing that line, since the reader can not be certain that God would sustain him through the night (at least it is not stated in the story) and deliberately not taking responsible action (and there were many more things he could have done besides just banging on the door), but presuming on the mercy of God, is to act presumptively. It all depends on whether the act, itself, is sinful. If St. Francis could be reasonably certain that to stay outside would result in his death and if there were other reasonable alternatives possible to try, then, he would be guilty of either suicide or presumption if he did not try them. What stature would he have gained or merit if the Prior opened the door the next morning to find a frozen corpse? Thus, I think that in order to justify this particular story as a proper example of someone conforming themselves to God’s will, St. Francis has to flesh out the story much more than he did. We would have to know that St. Francis were in reasonably good health (imagine if he were diabetic in these pre-insulin days) and that the weather were not too cold, etc., before one could see St. Francis’s actions as being reasonably in conformity to God’s will. I, for one, am not comfortable in reading this information into the story.

    I have a friend who was told by doctors after knee surgery that he should keep his legs stiff during the healing process, but he thought something was wrong and flexed his knees, anyways. We know, now, that the stiff leg advice was exactly wrong. Likewise, on the pilot episode of a really horrible medical show currently on the air called, Black Box, a patient was diagnosed with schizophrenia and told to go home and take his meds. Should he have accepted that as God’s will? Eventually, they might have discovered that he actually had a brain tumor, but only after it had grown to an inoperable size. Thankfully, his parents did not accept the doctors diagnosis as being God’s will.

    My point is that conformity to God’s will comes both in accepting that an act has been committed and that a response is required. There are always two sides to God’s will: the act and the response. Sometimes, that response is not passive acceptance. In chapter 15 of the Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila gives a few criteria that her nuns might actively respond against a false accusation (normally, they are to stay silent in the face of it, as an act of humility):

    “I beg you, then, to study earnestly to do so, for it brings great gain; whereas I can see no gain in our trying to free ourselves from blame: none whatever–save, as I say, in a few cases where hiding the truth might cause offence or scandal. Anyone will understand this who has more discretion than I.”

    As for the case of priests being moved, well, be glad for the time you had him as either a cross to bear or a blessing to rejoice in, but the bishop has his rights under existing Canon Law and since no scandal or reasonable offense can be taken when the bishop uses his proper rights, one must reason that if God wishes to change the bishop’s mind, He is more than capable of doing so. If He does not, then what is that to you? I am sure that St. Teresa would have wished that St. John of the Cross continue to be her spiritual director, but he was moved by proper and moral acts to another position. Such is life. An exception might be if the priest is moved because of an accusation of impropriety and the move violates justice by either shielding a guilty priest or preventing an innocent priest from defending himself.

    Dr. Who, in the Tom Baker days, had a line that I think comes close (but, not perfectly) to defining proper detachment:

    what cannot be cured must be endured.

    If we are falsely accused, St. Francis de Sales, in the Introduction to the Devout Life says that we may state the truth, once, because we are entitled to a good reputation (similar to St. Teresa’s advice about not giving scandal), but if our statement is not accepted, then we must accept the condemnation in humility. So, cure when you need to and you can, but if there is more merit in the suffering or if the impossibility of changing the situation is forced on you, then accept that God is allowing you to gain merit from the humble acceptance of the situation.

    As Cardinal Newman wrote:

    “The Mission of My Life

    God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

    Let St. Teresa have the last word, in a letter she wrote:

    IN THE HANDS OF GOD
    by St Teresa of Avila

    I am Yours and born for You,
    What do You want of me?

    Majestic Sovereign,
    Unending wisdom,
    Kindness pleasing to my soul;
    God sublime, one Being Good,
    Behold this one so vile.
    Singing of her love to you:
    What do You want of me?

    Yours, you made me,
    Yours, you saved me,
    Yours, you endured me,
    Yours, you called me,
    Yours, you awaited me,
    Yours, I did not stray.
    What do You want of me?

    Good Lord, what do you want of me,
    What is this wretch to do?
    What work is this,
    This sinful slave, to do?
    Look at me, Sweet Love,
    Sweet Love, look at me,
    What do You want of me?

    In Your hand
    I place my heart,
    Body, life and soul,
    Deep feelings and affections mine,
    Spouse — Redeemer sweet,
    Myself offered now to you,
    What do You want of me?

    Give me death, give me life,
    Health or sickness,
    Honor or shame,
    War or swelling peace,
    Weakness or full strength,
    Yes, to these I say,
    What do You want of me?

    Give me wealth or want,
    Delight or distress,
    Happiness or gloominess,
    Heaven or hell,
    Sweet life, sun unveiled,
    To you I give all.
    What do You want of me?

    Give me, if You will,prayer;
    Or let me know dryness,
    And abundance of devotion,
    Or if not, then barrenness.
    In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
    I find my peace,
    What do You want of me?

    Give me then wisdom.
    Or for love, ignorance,
    Years of abundance,
    Or hunger and famine.
    Darkness or sunlight,
    Move me here or there:
    What do You want of me?

    If You want me to rest,
    I desire it for love;
    If to labor,
    I will die working:
    Sweet Love say
    Where, how and when.
    What do You want of me?

    Calvary or Tabor give me,
    Desert or fruitful land;
    As Job in suffering
    Or John at Your breast;
    Barren or fruited vine,
    Whatever be Your will:
    What do You want of me?

    Be I Joseph chained
    Or as Egypt’s governor,
    David pained
    Or exalted high,
    Jonas drowned,
    Or Jonas freed:
    What do You want of me?

    Silent or speaking,
    Fruitbearing or barren,
    My wounds shown by the Law,
    Rejoicing in the tender Gospel;
    Sorrowing or exulting,
    You alone live in me:
    What do You want of me?

    Yours I am, for You I was born:
    What do You want of me?

    The Chicken

  30. norancor says:

    I am fairly certain this was not in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, but is a post-conciliar practice. Perhaps @DrPeters can chime in if he sees this thread.

  31. coeyannie says:

    It’s called “detachment” folks. Frankly, I don’t think a priest should stay any longer than 6 years. It becomes very cliquey. New blood and new ideas are always refreshing, as long as it is always the truth. It is also a way of getting some of these dissenting priests out of parishes they have driven over the cliff.

  32. Elizabeth M says:

    Having the priest move every 6 years or so can be refreshing. Different sermons, different advice in the confessional, and lessens the chance of forming any attachment to a style or personality.

    We get the priests we need, when we need them (even if we don’t realize it at the time). Or should I say, we get the the priests we deserve!

  33. mrshopey says:

    I don’t think they should be moved but I realize it is up to the Bishop. One priest described it as a divorce, feeling like one.

  34. CDNowak says:

    As a seminarian, I can see some benefits to the rotation. It forces priests to live a little more simply (moving tends to mean purging, at least to a degree), prevents problem priests from completely ruining a parish, allows parishes to experience more than one approach to the faith (in an age where the question is not how many priests per parish, but how many parishes per priest).

    All that being said, however, I think the instability is harmful to the priest. There is loneliness in being the only priest in town, this is accentuated when you are also always new in town. You spend 1/6 of your life doing things the way the old pastor did it (if you follow the no changes for a year advice), and know that the next priest may well dismantle any or every positive change you make (and former parishioners will make sure you know about it!)

    The parish suffers from instability as well: besides the example for married couples (seven year itch? Well, Father left after six!), lack of connection with their priest, tension between priest and staff (hired by previous pastors who will outlast this one as well) , 1/6 of any given parishioner’s life is spent making priest aware of local challenges/needs/desires.

  35. Bea says:

    We call them “Father”.
    They know our weaknesses and strengths.
    They have plans for our growth.
    For better or for worse, they are our spiritual fathers.
    And then….
    And then….
    They are gone.
    It is like a father abandoning his family.
    Told by the grandfather (the bishop) that they must go elsewhere and “father” another family.
    We are left orphans, awaiting a step-father.
    That is our view.

    What of the priest’s view?
    Be a good boy. Kow-tow to the Bishop’s whims.
    If you do you will get rewarded and move up the “corporate” ladder.
    If you don’t you will get re-assigned to “Timbuktu”
    The priest learns to worry about pleasing the Bishop instead of God, Himself.

    What of the Bishop’s view?
    “I call the shots”
    “Do as I say and you will move up the “corporate” ladder.”
    “Question me and you will be sent to “Timbuktu”.
    They automatically get surrounded by sycophants.
    They will never hear the truth of what goes on around them.
    They will learn to believe that all is well because that is what the sycophants tell them.
    They will learn to believe that all the laity loves them and they can do no wrong.
    They can become arrogant and tyrannical in their agendas, believing they can do no wrong.
    There is no room for their own spiritual growth and consequently the spiritual grown of their “children”, the priests and laity that they are supposed to shepherd to heaven.

    I remember one of our recent popes (either P.JP2 of P. E. B16) stating that priests and bishops presence in their respective assignments should be a lifetime vocation to foster the atmosphere of family in their parishes and dioceses. I wish I could find the reference to when this was said.
    Anybody?

    IMHO this would curtail the idea of “careerism” and more attention would be placed on their lifetime commitment of saving souls.
    Perhaps only assistant priests should be transferred as a way to learn what is called from them until they eventually get permanent assignments as pastors, where a bishop can feel he will do the most good for the salvation of his new fold of sheep and for his own salvation .

  36. frjim4321 says:

    “Meanwhile, I think we can have grave doubts about the wisdom of these 6 or 12 year terms. First, they seem merely to permit bishops not to have work out problems or difficulties with priests. They can just wait them out, all the time avoiding dialogue or potential conflicts. Also, the policy undermines a priest’s ability to shape a parish in the long term. No sooner does he figure out where all the keys are, but he is worrying about being moved.” – Congenial Host

    Yep.

    Happily I am not term limited nor are my confreres in this diocese.

    But in my view the 6/12 limitation is all about control and keeping as much power centralized as possible. It’s all about distrust of priests by the bishops.

    That being said I have no interest remaining in situ for 45 years . . . I have seen too much damage result from such arrangements. The primary mission of a parish should NOT be preserving the glorified retirement of a non-functioning elderly pastor for many years past their viability.

  37. Marie Teresa says:

    @midwestmom; “I live in a very small parish which, for years, has been a dumping ground of sorts for ‘lesser’ priests, i.e., approaching retirement, disorganized, personality disorders, lost faith, catastrophic illnesses and so on. ”

    Gee, if you weren’t from the Midwest, I’d think we attended the same parish. We’ve had a parade of broken men who parade the most unpriestly behaviors.

  38. LarryW2LJ says:

    Another circumstance that comes into play regarding rotation, I think, is whether or not the parish has a school. At least that factor comes into play here in NJ with regards to appointing pastors. I personally know some priests who would rather not be considered to be the pastor of a parish that has a school – too much of a headache supposedly. Conversely, if the parish has a school and it is doing well, the Bishop is not likely to want to upset the apple cart if he doesn’t have to.

  39. frjim4321 says:

    “I personally know some priests who would rather not be considered to be the pastor of a parish that has a school – too much of a headache supposedly.” Larry

    With the morality oath required in my brother’s diocese now the headaches for pastor’s with schools have multiplied. I always wanted to be a pastor with a school, but that has changed.

  40. midwestmom says:

    The headaches have increased or the times when the pastor has to act as a…pastor? When did so many priests turn in their man cards? You are the father to your parish and fatherhood isn’t easy, it’s a vocation. Remember that word?

  41. coeyannie says: It’s called “detachment” folks. Frankly, I don’t think a priest should stay any longer than 6 years. It becomes very cliquey. New blood and new ideas are always refreshing, as long as it is always the truth. It is also a way of getting some of these dissenting priests out of parishes they have driven over the cliff.

    If it’s such a good idea, why wasn’t it done up until recently? And where is the charity in just moving dissenting priests over to new parishes where they can wreak more destruction, instead of dealing with them where they are and not inflicting them on someone else?

  42. frjim4321 says:

    “If it’s such a good idea, why wasn’t it done up until recently? And where is the charity in just moving dissenting priests over to new parishes where they can wreak more destruction, instead of dealing with them where they are and not inflicting them on someone else”

    Not often I agree with Anita.

  43. acardnal says:

    I have mixed feelings on the subject of frequent reassignment of pastors. There are pros and cons.

    I believe that a priest can become too attached to his parish and parishioners, and the parishioners can become attached to the pastor! And both of those issues can be a bad thing. For one, the pastor can become too comfortable and complacent. Detachment has always been thought of in the spiritual life as a virtue, and pastors can become attached to their parish and the parishioners. Sometimes moving priests and pastors periodically is a good thing for their souls and the souls that they are responsible for caring for.

    If I remember correctly from reading a biography of St. Jose Maria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, he got rid of the photos of his deceased parents. He eventually realized that he was attached to the photos! The nostalgia associated with the photos was distracting him from growing in holiness and detrimentally affecting the mission he was given by God to promote Opus Dei.

    Diocesan priests make solemn promises to live simply and to be obedient to the bishop and his successors. If the bishop feels a priest is needed elsewhere for the spiritual good of the mission, he needs to humbly comply just as a military person follows the orders of his commander in order to win the war. This is one reason a priest makes solemn promises (or vows) of celibacy, poverty and obedience ….mobility!

  44. trespinos says:

    In the archdiocese I came from there was this variation on the 6-yr. policy: as the 6-yr. anniversary approached, a short questionnaire was distributed to parishioners, asking among other things whether the pastor should be re-upped or moved on. I doubt that any guarantee was given–I can’t recall, since this was 1991–that the personnel director / Archbishop’s decision would necessarily be guided by the poll’s result, but at least the appearance of wanting to have the parishioners’ input would be given. It was also stipulated that the pastor would not be bound to stay on, if it was his own preference to be moved, despite the parish’s support for him to stay. In the one case that I was involved with, the pastor was very popular, received something like 89% approval to stay and agreed to stay. (I had been in the minority, but could not complain that the process was anything but fair to all concerned.)

  45. Diogenes71 says:

    I think the bishops, as shepherds, should be the ultimate decider in the posting of the clergy. One priest may get “rusty” being in one place for 6 years. Another may have skills and experiences that will better serve another or larger parish/office.

  46. Uxixu says:

    Seems like two separate issues are conflated in this. Moving of unpopular priests and/or discipline is a different issue from reassignments of those are very popular in their parishes. I myself would like to see parish priests a bit more secure, if not permanently at least for 10 year periods perhaps, though I also think a bishop should have a way to… discretely keep tabs on things behind the public facade that mark his formal appearances, if not have a pulse on the trends in the parish. The consideration of an individual priest’s own inputs should also be sought and it shouldn’t be bad if he wants a reassignment for his own reasons.

    What better way to do that than through the diaconate, who ostensibly serve the bishop directly vice the parish priest, no? I think many diocese in the US, especially in the west tend to be too large for a single bishop to effectively manage. To deal with that, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has “pastoral regions” that could probably be diocese themselves suffragan to the archdiocese. Diocese of San Bernardino has huge geographic dispersion (about twice the geographic size of the Archdiocese of LA). Perhaps archdeacons could be revived to go with the diaconate as personal representatives reporting direct to the bishop to cut to the meat of a parishes local politics to better inform a bishop’s decisions.

  47. Imrahil says:

    It places “the parish council” ahead of the priest as the stability of the parish.

    Interesting. Reminds me immediately of the well-known observation that it, in the military, is the nco’s that run acompany. ["the backbone of the army". An alteration of that saying which leaves the refinement due to this combox adds: "yeah, the prolongued one".]

    I was merely enlisted and thus unbiased, and I did see, without offence, that there’s still some particular training of officers which gives them some deeper insight that nco’s, in general, don’t necessarily have. Then they get their assignment and in practice have to play second fiddle to the (undoubted) better practical experience of those who are supposed to be their subordinates.

  48. Norah says:

    If the priest is a good, holy and orthodox man with good people skills I think he would be an asset to the parish if he is the father for many years. On the other hand if the priest is self centred, intent on establishing his own personal fiefdom than this person should not be left in a parish to scandalise the Faithful and attract the dissidents. There have been priests of both types in Australia – Peter Kennedy is one who comes to mind. The latter type is the priest who is the darling of the media here. I don’t think that the answer is to move the dissident priest on to another parish – it would be better if his bishop corrected him and placed him where he could keep a close eye on this priest.

  49. Lin says:

    “It is also a way of getting some of these dissenting priests out of parishes they have driven over the cliff.”

    Our parish got saddled with a spirit of Vatican II pastor. I pray he retires before he drives everyone out of the parish! It’s been two years. Four more seems like an eternity! Pray for him and pray for our parish!

  50. ChristendomJoe says:

    I think that there would be a viable solution, if it weren’t for the shortage of priests. Every priest should have a period, coming right out of seminary, when he was an assistant at a parish with an older, more experienced priest, and could be reassigned at the bishop’s discretion. Then, after proving himself a worthy, orthodox pastor, he would be given a parish that would not be taken away from him unless for a serious problem or ongoing complaints from a multitude of parishioners, not just a couple of whiners. He would remain at this parish, getting his own assistants, until he was unable to continue his priestly ministry. At that time, he would retire to the Chancery, doing light paperwork and stuff, until he was at such an age as he could retire.

    Under this system, priests do not get their own parishes until proving themselves worthy of one to the local bishop. This period can continue indefinitely, with a really good priest only staying an assistant for a short time, while a shaky priest would remain an assistant until he gets it together. It would also provide stability for the good priests, and for the parishioners, by not moving them so frequently once they have proven themselves.

    Unfortunately, this system will never work, because there are barely enough priests to go around. In my diocese, most priests have more than one parish to deal with, and there’s no way we could put two in one place.

  51. incredulous says:

    The quickest way for them to get punished by leadership is for them to embrace the Extraordinary Form of the mass.

  52. Fr. Erik Richtsteig says:

    The switch to term pastorates removed yet another protection of priest from capricious (ab)use of authority by bishops. Under stable pastorates, pastors could still be moved, but it had to be voluntary or with cause.