ASK FATHER: The authority of pastors, parish priests, over people

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Dear Father,
My family and I regularly travel to a different parish, in a different diocese, to attend Mass at an FSSP Mass centre. The FSSP Mass centre is served by priests from a nearby personal parish, where the senior FSSP priest is parish priest. We are regulars there, I sing in the choir and so on.

My local parish is orthodox but un-traditional in its liturgy.

If parish priests truly have authority over the baptised Catholics in their territorial parish, are we erring by going to Mass elsewhere without seeking the local parish priest’s permission? If he really is our spiritual father, are we wrong to pass up on his paternal care and go elsewhere?

I consider it a positive good for me and my family to attend the traditional Mass wherever possible and it would be a big sacrifice for us to go to the typical local Novus Ordo instead, but this question of the parish priest’s authority over us bothers me.

GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson

It’s been centuries really since the Church spoke of the role of a parish priest as having “authority” over his parishioners. The preferred terminology speaks of the pastor’s “care of souls” rather than his authority over them. Certainly, within that umbrella of “cura animarum” there is something to be said of the pastor’s authority over those he cares for. He is, or should be, truly a “pastor” – a shepherd of sorts. Canons 528 and 529 speak expansively (and beautifully) of the role of the pastor – these canons should be part of every pastor’s regular prayer and meditation. The pastor is exhorted, for example, “to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care. He is therefore to visit their families, sharing in their cares and anxieties and, in a special way, their sorrows, comforting them in the Lord. If in certain matters they are found wanting, he is prudently to correct them…”

Absent from the canonical description of a pastor’s duties: coming up with a parish mission statement, filling out endless forms from the chancery office, selecting napkin colors for the next parish social.

In our modern and very mobile world, people regularly choose to worship in places apart from their canonical parish. That’s simply a fact of life today. Very few pastors (if any) put up a fuss when their “subjects” choose to go elsewhere. Is it the ideal? No. Is it the reality today? Yes.

I would say, since your territorial pastor is orthodox, it might be beneficial to set up a meeting with him. Introduce yourself, and explain why you’ve chosen to take your family to a nearby parish for the Extraordinary Form. You needn’t ask his permission to do so, but informing him of your reasons might start a healthy conversation. Since the FSSP church is across diocesan boundaries, it would also be good to establish at least some sort of relationship with your territorial pastor in case, down the road, issues come up with regards to permission for confirmation, marriage, serving as godparents and the like.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Canon Law and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to ASK FATHER: The authority of pastors, parish priests, over people

  1. mepoindexter says:

    I always take a “think globally, act locally” approach. So when we wanted to start a Latin Mass in our town, first place we looked was the parish in our own back yard. Doesn’t matter if our priest would or wouldn’t be interested in that (he wasn’t) or did or didn’t like it (he didn’t) but in the chain of command, that’s where you start and you work up from there.

    We figured it out.

  2. mysticalrose says:

    I am still confused. What happens when you register in an FSSP parish in general? Who is the rightful pastor, the FSSP priest or the priest of the geographical parish? Can there be two pastors? My family has justed joined our new Latin Mass parish — does it function like an old fashioned “ethnic” parish? Can anyone answer? Thanks.

  3. hwriggles4 says:

    Years ago when I finished college, I was in my late 20s. Young adults were advised to register at a parish. Why? Because many dioceses are unaware of how many young adults exist, and registering at one parish (even if you attend Mass at other parishes – on Holy Days I attend closer to work) the diocese knows that you are counted somewhere. Many young adults do not bother to register ( okay, I did live in my current diocese for a few years before I did register) so they are not counted.

    It’s also good to register for other reasons, such as marriage. Most young adults (and good pastors and parochial vicars know this) float around, because some parishes may have a Holy Hour or an event that caters to young adults regularly, (we had Holy Hour and Rosary on Wednesday night, and once a month had Mass, a pot luck dinner, and a talk) and many young adults will go to Mass at friends parishes, or if they are dating someone, they will go to Mass with their date. Therefore, I registered at a parish that I often attended, and I was counted somewhere.

  4. Dismas says:

    Some dioceses don’t even provide territories anymore.

  5. Imrahil says:

    Chesterton once wrote a series of articles, later published collectively as “The Defendant”, with the titles “In Defence of Rash Vows, of Penny Dreadfuls, of Detective Stories, of Nonsense, of Ugly Things” and so forth. One of these days, I might, in this spirit, put one or two little texts together and call it In Defence of Parish Hopping and/or In Defence of Event Catholicism.

    (The latter – I had perhaps even now better explain – because many better Christians use as an admonishing anti-example the Christians “whom you see at every weekend retreats” (orthodox ones) “they can get but who then go home and live a worldly life”. And that would really be a bad thing, if such people existed en masse and if you didn’t, if you asked with precision, get to hear that going to Church every Sunday, keeping the other Church commandments and trying to keep off mortal sin is apparently not enough for a life to be called unworldly.)

    In the meantime, please do not take offense, but this kind of question evokes the reaction in me: Why do people always have to try to make it so hard for themselves?

    The forbidden things are forbidden;
    the allowed things are allowed.

  6. Riddley says:

    Imrahil: I know, I know, perhaps I was over-thinking it (I being the asker of this question)!

    But this is perhaps the price I pay for being a keen reader of the excellent and sorely missed Zippy Catholic (RIP), who was forever telling us that the authority of fathers, priests and rulers is real and substantive, and that you can’t just disregard it.

    If it was in fact the case that one day I was going to have to explain why I didn’t somehow submit to the authority of my parish priest, the one whom God had by Providence placed over me, I thought it was worth knowing.

    But… that doesn’t seem to be the case, so it’s an allowed thing that’s allowed, as you say.

  7. We deserve good liturgy and spiritual direction and if we have children or just our spouse, we have an obligation to make those available to them if possible. I have been liturgically malnourished for the past 3 and a half years due to having moved to a different state. The FSSP chapel I attend is 4 hours away, so it’s a rare blessing for me, but a magnificent one. Fr. Z asked us if there was a good point mad in this past Sunday’s sermon at our local parishes. The sermon I heard was a disaster and a dangerous one for children, young adults or anyone who is not well informed or strong in their Catholic faith. We were instructed that some people are born homosexual! That was only the worst comment the pastor made. I will never consider this priest my pastor or his parish my parish. If fact I have no choice now but to attend Mass elsewhere from now on. Unfortunately, my nearest two options are 40 and 60 minutes away and My wife, who teaches children after one of the local Masses, won’t be to able to attend Mass with me. Every Sunday I carry a cross to Mass and throughout the Mass itself and have to constantly remind myself that it is nothing compared to the one Christ Jesus carried for me (with the weight of my sins upon it). Do protect yourself, your children and your spouse.

  8. mo7 says:

    I guess I still belong to my local novus ordo parish. Its the place I educated my children and where they received all their sacraments; I only go there for morning Mass. On Sundays we travel a short distance for a Latin Mass in which a diocesan priest comes from his NO parish and offers for us the Mass in the EF. Then we all go back where we came from. It would be so nice to have a fully traditional parish. I live in a densely populated diocese, there are no FSSP or any similar orders or priests within 50 miles.

  9. TonyO says:

    I would say, since your territorial pastor is orthodox, it might be beneficial to set up a meeting with him. Introduce yourself, and explain why you’ve chosen to take your family to a nearby parish for the Extraordinary Form. You needn’t ask his permission to do so, but informing him of your reasons might start a healthy conversation. Since the FSSP church is across diocesan boundaries, it would also be good to establish at least some sort of relationship with your territorial pastor in case, down the road, issues come up with regards to permission for confirmation, marriage, serving as godparents and the like.

    Father Ferguson, this raises a question I heard recently, perhaps you can clarify. What I heard is that not only do you need to interact with your territorial pastor on those points (confirmation, marriage, etc), you cannot even get these sacraments without his permission. For example, if you did not get your pastor’s permission for marriage, and (somehow) got another priest to receive the vows, it wouldn’t even be valid. Is this true? (Let us presume that that other priest does have faculties to do weddings in his parish, and it was in his parish that he received your vows.) Thanks ever so much if you can clarify how this works.

  10. Cafea Fruor says:

    The pastor is exhorted, for example, “to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care. He is therefore to visit their families, sharing in their cares and anxieties and, in a special way, their sorrows, comforting them in the Lord.

    Yeah…that’s never happened in my entire life. Reason? I’m single and without kids. Priests will visit families, but not the single people. Other than during a handshake after Mass or when I’m volunteering, I have no contact with the priests in my parish. The only priest who’s ever asked me anything about myself or shared in any of my sorrows or cares or offered me a whit of comfort is my spiritual director, but he’s several parishes away from my parish. In the parishes in which I’ve lived (and been registered), the singletons are generally treated as free help for unpleasant tasks (a la midnight trash cleanup after the parish festival before a work day), and not much more. Maybe there’s a young adults group, but it’s led by other young adults, and the pastor’s never involved with it, so there’s no outreach. In one parish I was in, the pastor invited the young adults group to the rectory “for a party,” and we thought, “Finally! Time with the pastor!” Well, it was really that he wanted free Christmas decorating, and we had no actual time to talk with Father. This has a lot to do with why a lot of single folks, especially the young ones, don’t register – even if they do register, they often don’t feel connected to the parish at all. It’s also hard for us to get involved in anything but the singles/young adults groups, like we’re a subclass of parishioner. It’s much, much easier for families to feel a part of the parish, as far as I’ve seen, especially if the kids are in the parish school. A few Epiphanies ago, the parochial vicar was handing out blessed chalk (for the Epiphany blessing of doors) in the vestibule, and when I asked for some to take back to my apartment, Father said, “Oh, you want chalk, too?” in a tone that said, “But why would a single person bother with taking blessed chalk home?” Like, “Blessings at home are only for families.” It’s like there’s this assumption that we don’t really have homes or want to know our pastors or something. If you want singles to register, reach out to them and treat them like full-fledged parishioners.