QUAERITUR: territorial parishes

A reader sent a question.  I consulted a canonist for the answer:

Can you discuss the role that parishes play for most Catholics in worship?  In particular, I wanted to know the duty that people had to join their territorial parish, the responsibilities people have to their parish, etc.  Did this change in the 1983 Code of Canon Law?  Often, those of us who care about liturgy become nomads.  That’s clearly not what the Church wants.  Yet, we have some truly awful parishes out there.  What are our responsibilities here?

Many years ago I remember hearing the late Msgr. Richard Schuler talk about this topic.  He reflected on the fact that the new, 1983 Code described a parish as a "portion" of the people of God.  Since Msgr. Schuler was pastor of a "national" parish rather than a territorial parish, he paid attention to these things.

In many places in the wealthy, developed world we are very mobile.  We are not so restricted anymore to the nearest church.  Given that people have the right to the Church’s worship according to the book and sound teaching, they often seek what meets their needs.

Still… there has to be some way of figuring out jurisdiction.  Right?  In the 1983 Code parishes are mainly territorial.  The lines are drawn on the world’s map.

Here is where I start working from what the canonist sent.

People belong to the territorial parish in which they reside unless they belong to a personal parish. These later can be national or ethnic or for some chaplaincy such as military, university students…. TLM goers….
The canonist pointed out that there is nothing about the obligation of the faithful to attend or support their territorial parish.

Canon 222 provides that the faithful have an obligation to provide for the needs of the Church – not specifically their parish Church, and, of course, c. 214 establishes that the faithful have the right to worship according to the legitimate provisions of their own rite.

The canonist continues with my emphases:

All of the obligations that speak about parishes are geared towards the obligations of a pastor – he is to ensure that the faithful living in his parish (and indeed EVERYONE living in his parish) have the Gospel proclaimed to them, that the faithful receive religious instruction, that the sacraments are celebrated worthily and frequently, that the sick are visited and comforted – canons 528 and 529 are, in my opinion, two of the most beautiful canons in the Code – and two canons which every pastor of a parish should read on a daily basis.
So, for all the liturgical nomads … there’s no reason to feel guilty for not attending one’s territorial parish, particularly if it is a locus of liturgical abuse. Yes, there can be heroism in suffering in silence, and there can be great virtue in being a leaven to bring about change in one’s territorial parish, but the canonical burden is upon the pastor – not the faithful (who are often guilted into feeling that they should stay worshiping in a parish that fails to provide for their legitimate spiritual needs). I think there can be a balance between a consumerist approach, wherein one shops for the parish that best fits one’s needs, and a martyr approach that says I need to stay put, even though I leave Mass every Sunday more angry and depressed than when I entered.
I would think it a salubrious action to inform one’s territorial parish that one will be attending and participating in the parochial and sacramental life of St. Fidelissimus parish rather than St. Smileyhugs parish, and to give the specific reasons (more faithful liturgy, orthodox preaching, better catechetical programs for the kiddies, specific devotions), and maybe copy it to the bishop or vicar forane. The pastor should be aware of how many parishioners he’s losing out on by letting Sr. Go-Go Boots do liturgical dance. As always, letters should be carefully thought out and crafted, and not done with high emotion – scripta manent!

Very sound reflections.

"But Father! But Father!" some of you… yes, I can hear you … are exclaiming, "You can’t leave us hanging!  What are those canons you mentioned?  Tell us now, for we are too lazy to look them up ourselves!"

Can. 528 §1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christian faithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.

      §2. The pastor is to see to it that the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful.  He is to work so that the Christian faithful are nourished through the devout celebration of the sacraments and, in a special way, that they frequently approach the sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and penance. He is also to endeavor that they are led to practice prayer even as families and take part consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy which, under the authority of the diocesan bishop, the pastor must direct in his own parish and is bound to watch over so that no abuses creep in.

Can. 529 §1. In order to fulfill his office diligently, a pastor is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care.

Therefore he is to visit families, sharing especially in the cares, anxieties, and griefs of the faithful, strengthening them in the Lord, and prudently correcting them if they are failing in certain areas. With generous love he is to help the sick, particularly those close to death, by refreshing them solicitously with the sacraments and commending their souls to God; with particular diligence he is to seek out the poor, the afflicted, the lonely, those exiled from their country, and similarly those weighed down by special difficulties. He is to work so that spouses and parents are supported in fulfilling their proper duties and is to foster growth of Christian life in the family.

     §2. A pastor is to recognize and promote the proper part which the lay members of the Christian faithful have in the mission of the Church, by fostering their associations for the purposes of religion. He is to cooperate with his own bishop and the presbyterium of the diocese, also working so that the faithful have concern for parochial communion, consider themselves members of the diocese and of the universal Church, and participate in and sustain efforts to promote this same communion.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Tina says:

    I wish I would have known about these canons about 8 months ago. My cousin’s pastor refused to let me be a godmother because I wasn’t registered in my territorial parish, but am registered at the Catholic Center where I attend Mass. It caused no end of grief.

  2. Jayna says:

    This is something I’ve been wondering about too. I’m a registered parishioner in a parish that I am not within the boundary lines for, but it’s a couple of miles closer to my house than the other church. I know that’s not that far, but I’m lazy. Thing is, the one I’m at now is one of those St. Smileyhugs parish and the other is, as I’ve been given to understand, a St. Fidelissimus parish. My problems with my current parish are definitely that I feel “guilted into feeling that [I] should stay worshiping in a parish that fails to provide for [my] legitimate spiritual needs” and that I “leave Mass every Sunday more angry and depressed than when I entered.” I am reticent to go “parish shopping” as I feel as though I’ve committed myself to this parish even if I am not technically within that parish’s territory (it is literally a matter of yards how far away I am from the boundary line). I have involved myself in parish life, and I run the parish website, so I kind of feel trapped. Socially, I’m fine (as long as theology never comes up in conversation), liturgically, I am at my wit’s end.

  3. Andrew says:

    In response to Tina, registration in a parish – which I know to be big in the US but mercifully almost non-existent in the UK – has no canonical effect whatsoever. It is a nonsense. You do not have to be registered in your territorial parish, since you are a parishioner there purely because that is where you live; there are no further requirements.

    If you are a parishioner of a personal parish, you remain a parishioner of your territorial parish; it is both/and rather than either/or.

  4. Perhaps this will add some light on the subject. I have been in a Traditional FSSP chapel for ten years while some of my adult children prefer the local Novus Ordo parish. My grandson received his First Communion in the Novus Ordo parish recently and the homily to the children (and to the adults) was that we received the Eucharist to receive the strength to help people. This was stated three times. I can’t believe this is the result of two thousand years of Catholicism. Rotary has been doing the same thing since 1905, i.e., helping people.

  5. CDN Canonist says:

    I like the response of the canonist, but I’d like to point out that this can become a complicated issue beyond matters of conscience. What if the person who attends his neighbouring parish (for noble or not so noble reasons) wants to become a member of the Parish Pastoral Council, or seeks to have his child baptised in the parish, or wants to get married there? What is the parish priest’s obligation to permit this? Since one’s parish is determined by domicile and not “registration” or frequent attendance, this raises important questions. The “bleeding” or movement of parishioners can cause division in the diocese and among the presbyterate.

  6. Woody Jones says:

    Thank you for this very helpful discussion, Father Z. As a member of an Angliocan usage personal parish, I made the journey away from the territorial parish a long time ago, and faced up to most of these issues then, but this is still helpful for all to see and read. While much of the “guilting” about the territorial parish seems to come from the prgressive side, I have also experienced it from the more “conservative” side, so there is plenty of half-formed information floating around out there on this point, as on so many, the emphasis, in the N.O. lectionary, on the Good Shepherd and the sheep is apropos of this, I think. We have heard a lot about the skittish habits of sheep the last few days, and this matter seems to bring it out as well, inm some.

  7. Father, thank you for this post and thank you for checking with a canonist. Of course I was looking up every canon you cited while reading your post. So, when I got to:

    “But Father! But Father!” some of you… yes, I can hear you, are exclaiming. “You can’t leave us hanging! What are those canons you mentioned? Tell us now, for we are too lazy to look them up ourselves!”

    I started laughing so hard that I nearly spit pepsi all over my monitor. Funniest thing I’ve read in awhile. :-)

  8. Woody Jones says:

    “Anglican Usage” is supposed to be there in the above. Still can’t work these dang comboxes.

  9. a catechist says:

    Thank you for this post, Father! Most helpful. In my own case, my territorial parish has various imperfections, but we don’t go because of the effect on my young son. My boy has had a strong interest in the Eucharist since his toddler days, and a lively curiosity about church art, which we use to teach him. Our territorial parish has no art at all & the tabernacle is concealed to one side. We strongly felt that, all other issues aside, nurturing our son’s interest in the Eucharist (and perhaps a priestly vocation eventually?) was an obligation that trumped other concerns. It’s a relief to know that following our sense of parental duty doesn’t conflict with canon law.

  10. teresa says:

    Sadly enough I have only very negative experiences with my local parishes, and that already from the time I decided to become a catholic.

    I asked first the secretary of the deacon of the city where I studied a few years ago that I would like to be a catholic, she told me to go because it was Eastern and the deacon very busy. Then I wrote to the pastor where I was then living, asking for baptism, he didn’t answer me for days, so I had to call him, and he hesitated because he didn’t know what to do with me. He is a kind man, but only not very eager in mission. But he did teach me over a year, mainly talking about innovations in NOM. So I asked a very kind and pious Monk to teach me during the catechumen period about the faith and prepare me for the baptism, and he agreed very kindly without any payment, although he is old and very busy (because of the shortage of priests), God bless him. I was baptized by the pastor of the parish as it had to be so.

    I also tried to speak to our student pastor, a Jesuit, but he was never in his office room.

    Then I moved to another city, the first parish is O.K., but the preaches were poor, done by a lay man, so I went into the cathedral.

    Then I moved to another parish in the same city, and went to the parish church, the pastor there has preached against the Latin Mass, so I went away again.

    Now I visit our TLM-Mass in the city, and I am very very happy. Not only that I feel a solidarity towards my fellow Christians there, but also because they are very very kind to me. Their nod and greetings are so hearty that I feel that I am a member of the Holy Mother Church. And we pray together, and what can promote the feelings of unity more than the prayers done together?

    And the priests there are so kind, they take time to hear our confessions, and they are very friendly to us.

    It is a kind of paradise on earth. So happy am I, and Deo gratias.

  11. Cath says:

    I am not even sure where my territorial parish is, since there are three in our area, each about 10 miles from my house. We have belonged to one for around 14 years and three years ago we got a new priest and things have not been good since. Our whole parish is suffering and we have lost people to other parishes or some, sadly, have just stopped attending Mass. My family attends one of the other parishes most of the time, only going to our own when necessary. My problem is I teach the Confirmation class and these kids needs sound catechesis more than ever. If I leave the parish, even though the DRE said I could still teach, I am thinking that would be a good way for father to say I could no longer teach. This article has eased my conscience a bit though, so thank you for that.

  12. salubrious

    Great word! Thank you anonymous canonist!

  13. Karl says:

    Many years ago in my Catholic, married days my wife and I became involved in the \”Charismatic Renewal\” in a \”covenant community\”, patterned after the \”older and larger\”, People of Hope, in New Jersey and the \”Word of God\” in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We became more deeply involved and made an \”underway commitment\” to become more closely associated with this group, the \”Word of Life\” in Newburgh, New York.

    The teachings were quite on the conservative side of things, which we found generally appealing and consistent with our \”fundamentalist Catholic\” ways we saw things. This activity drew us more and more away from our local parish, which we had attended for a few years. It was the parish of my youth. Of course, we were in our twenties during these \”Renewal\” days so the parish of my youth was quite immediate. We lived a fifteen minute walk from the parish. The Church we attended as part of the \”Word of Life\” was more than half-an-hour away by car, but we found it \”life-giving\” and we increasingly left behind our \”old ways\”. Some aspects of life in this group were a bit too much but we accepted them as \”God\’s will for us\”.

    Close friends of ours, at the time, withdrew from the \”community\” and this was quite disconcerting for us as we were not \”encouraged\” to maintain relationships with them. This turmoil spilled over into our relationship as we were torn in various ways, each of us. In the \”Catholic New York\” newspaper I read an article in which Pope John Paul II discussed these \”Catholic communities\” and their relevance/effect upon the parish structure of the Catholic Church. In short, the Pope found them very positive in situations where there was no cohesive parish structure, perhaps do to great distances or other legitimate factors. He, however, made it clear that if these \”communities\”, even though specifically Catholic, disrupted/weakened the existing parish structure(s)or competed with it/them, they were not to be supported. We had noticed that part of the plan of the \”community\” was to \”target\” leadership in the local parishes to attempt to draw \”the best\”, \”the leaders\” into the \”community\”.

    To me, this was a clear direction from the Pope and it was seen in the same light by my wife, although this further put stress into our relationship and into our \”community\” life. After a time, together, we decided to \”step back\” from our commitment to the community. Almost all of our friends had been in that community. We lost almost all our friendships as a result of our \”returning\” to our local parish. We were very shaken. We never adequately recovered from the trauma which resulted from these circumstances. Ultimately, a few years later the \”community\” itself disbanded and we lost all contact with those who had been our closest friends, including some godparents to our children. We never found the \”fellowship\” again, which did very much support our marriage. Although, such \”lack of depth\” to suddenly jettison \”friends\” so easily after a few years of relationships does call into doubt just how \”supportive\” this group was.

    These circumstances began the distancing in our relationship which eventually, years later, contributed to our divorce and my leaving the Catholic Church.

    I would have done the same thing in the same circumstances over again. John Paul II was correct.

    I have difficulties with the onus falling mostly upon the pastor, though, unless he is getting strong support from above. What kind of parish is there to administer and lead if there is no parishioner commitment?

    Interesting post, Father Z. Food for thought, even from this former Catholic.

    My sentiments as well, WHOLLY, great word that is seldom heard.

  14. Tom says:

    It does not seem to be a problem to receive the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony outside one’s territorial parish in either England or Switzerland.

    My adopted parish in England, provided all the paperwork, for the Swiss parish, my wife was registered in, so we could get married in a small pilgrimage chapel in a nearby Swiss parish.

    Two of my children have been Baptized at our adopted parish, the third was Baptized at a FSSP chapel.

    We have not set foot inside the door of the church of the last 3 parishes we have lived in, I have no idea if they even knew about us. Even though my Parish church is 5 min’s walk from my house, the Traditional Liturgy, and my committee and choir commitments at my adopted parish make it very unlikely that I will even enter my territorial parish church.

  15. Maureen says:

    Thank you very much for this info. It is good to know. I am happy with my parish, but my parents have been going to the university parish for the last ten years instead of our home parish. The distance is about equal, but there was a lot of stuff going on at our home parish which they wanted to get away from. It’s turned out to be a good thing, since that was just the beginning of a lot more changes which were… um… not well thought out. But it was something that kinda worried me.

  16. James the Less says:

    Several years ago I actually called the Archdiocese of New York and requested
    permission to register at Father Rutler’s parish in Manhattan, I was living in the
    Bronx at the time. Someone had told me permission of the Bishop was required.
    They said fine. I now attend a national/ethnic parish in the Bronx that offers
    the TLM. When I registered, the front desk thought I couldn’t because I lived
    outside the territorial confines. Fortunately, a priest was there and reminded
    them that it was a national parish. I have since moved 30 miles away but I still
    attend Mass there, am still registered and I am involved with the parish and the community.

  17. Ken says:

    The way it’s set up in Washington, D.C. where the TLM is offered is a shrine (instead of a parish) with an associate parishioner status open to anyone.

    I couldn’t imagine ever going to the Josephite church that is my territorial parish.

    Let’s remember the applicable precept is to support one’s pastor.

  18. Laurinda says:

    I’ve never heard of territorial parishes and I’ve lived in Kentucky, Connecticut and now Texas. The parishes were so happy to have people register that no one ever said anything about where you lived and if it was in the territory or not. I have heard in other religions (such as LDS) that they have territorial restrictions but I didn’t know we had that in our religion.

    As a teenager I worked at my parish in the office and I know there were lots of parishioners who would drive from very far just to attend Mass at our parish and no one seemed to think that was wrong or abnormal. This is the first I’ve heard about that!

  19. pelerin says:

    I no longer attend my territorial parish having discovered my St Fidelissimus. At first I felt very guilty even though the priest told me I was welcome there and that this was ok. Seeing the Canonist’s confirmation in black and white above does help although I have to admit that I have not yet informed my territorial parish of my ‘desertion.’

    I rather like the term ‘liturgical nomad’ although having found my St Fidelissimus I am no longer a nomad. My new parish has given me a new start in a difficult period of my life for which I shall always be grateful.

  20. MargaretMN says:

    For years I went where I was supposed to go and just went along with whatever was going on there. I thought of it as of a piece with participation in the community surrounding my home. When we moved to North Minneapolis 6 years ago, I found that I had no “home” parish. The geographically closest one was just across the city line and it was as if there was a barricade there. We were one of the only families from the city, the rest were all suburbanites. Needless to say, I felt like I could have been attending a place across town, though it was within walking distance. The nearest church to me in the city (a few miles away) was moribund and soon after was converted to a community ministering to the Vietnamese population of the city. I became resigned to the fact that my neighborhood was built in the 20s and 30s as a Jewish neighborhood and became a black neighborhood in the 50s and 60s. While Northeast Minneapolis has a Catholic Church on every street corner, it seems, North has a paucity.

    So there may be built in geographical reasons why a parish doesn’t fit, not just worship/practice. Since moving to my new Parish-by-choice I feel much more spiritually enriched. It doesn’t have TLM but rather a kind of hybrid Traditional NO with significant amounts of Latin and a phalanx of altar boys every Sunday.

    I know that this kind of voting with feet leads to economic dislocations for parishes and there has been talk that our new Archbishop is going to try to find a way reallocate some resources based on home addresses vs. Mass attendance. If he does, it’s likely to anger lots of people, both orthodox and “progressive.” His only alternative though, is shuttering Parishes that are economically unsuccessful as has been done elsewhere. That will also cause an uproar. I hope he can navigate that minefield.

  21. Tina says:

    I think the emphasis on territorial parishes is more pronounced when there is a school attached. If the school actually starts to fill up, then people who are Catholic that live within parish boundaries have first priority.

  22. I tried to find out from the chancery office in my diocese which was my territorial parish, but they couldn’t tell me. I wasn’t able to talk to anybody who even knew there were territorial parishes.

  23. magdalene says:

    I drive past a parish every day on my way to Mass. This parish uses bread chunks for Communion. There are other reasons but this begins my reasons for not attending there. The first time I saw this, and I thought this sort of thing had died off, I left because I did not know if it was valid matter or not. I called and got the recipe. I called the pastor who said to check with the chancery if I had any questions. I did. I got the Archbishop! And when I relayed the recipe he said he would look into it immediately. I assume he did. Someone told me that the recipe was changed. But I do not know. I did what I could do but I will not go there where crumbs fly and the Eucharist is treated so irreverently. After all, I am fortunate enough to have a choice.

  24. Ken says:

    I enjoy looking at the three (!) parishes I drive by on my way to the TLM. They are beautiful churches from the outside.

  25. Fr. Benedict says:

    Exactly why a Pastor should have no more than one parish – it is impossible to do all that the Canons ask if you are the Pastor of two or three parishes.

  26. Fr. JAK says:

    As the pastor of a territorial parish,I can certainly testify that the old neighborhood loyalty had a great deal going for it. In the few parishes where a census is still taken people can dismiss the priest at the door by saying he belongs elsewhere. In the old days, this excuse was not valid. Every Catholic on the street belong to the neighborhood, territorial parish. This was much more orderly. It also bred camaraderie and a sense of support. The new way is much too diffuse. Of course people can get stuck with a priest or a style they don’t appreciate, but this is symptomatic of the individualism (on both sides of the altar rail) that pervades society and the church nowadays. It is ironic that a generation that thrives on “building community” should endorse parochial separatism.

  27. a catechist says:

    With all respect to Fr. JAK, those territorial parishes are awful to move into. Stable, neighborhood parishes breed a camaraderie that is NOT welcoming to “outsiders” who move in. At least, that’s been my experience in more than one US parish I moved into. I don’t think it’s the pastors fault.

  28. Rellis says:

    Fr. JAK’s point of orderliness, neighborhood camaraderie, etc. are well-taken. In a perfect (i.e. Pius XII-era) world, I would agree with him.

    However, doesn’t this pre-suppose a Catholic Church where going to Mass is like going to McDonalds (i.e., the same product no matter which one you walk into)? These days, going to Mass is like Forrest Gump\’s box of chocolates (you never know what you\’re going to get).

    It hasn’t been like McDonalds in quite some time. Church A might be very traditional. Church B might have an acoustic guitar. Church C might be dominated by some laywoman. These churches might shift over time, as well. The individualism he\’s seeing is only a response to a Church whose parish life has become overly-stratified in experience.

    In this world of chaos we find ourselves in, it falls to the layman to ensure that his family is taught the authentic faith. He can\’t simply assume that the local parish will do that anymore. He needs to actively seek out a parish to which his family can adhere which does the right thing. And what if a new pastor comes on and mucks things up? I think he has the duty to leave and protect his family from scandal and error.

  29. Origen Adamantius says:

    Parish registration (and offering envelopes) is connected to permission to be a Godparent, particularly in the larger parishes, because it offers a way for a pastor to determine if one is practicing the faith. If a Catholic does not attend the local Church and the pastor does not know they are attending Mass elsewhere, one should not be surprised if he refuses sponsorship at sacraments.

  30. Peggy says:

    This is especially good to know here in California where so many of the parish priests
    are very liberal and don’t always follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, nor do some of the Bishops care that the teachings aren’t being followed. I do not attend Mass in the parish I geographically belong to, mostly because the priest in that parish told someone I was a sorry sack of shit because I didn’t think he was the end all be all as some of his parishoners did. Nice thing for a priest to say, isn’t it? I could not support a priest who would say anything remotely like that.

  31. Peggy says:

    This is especially good to know here in California where so many of the parish priests are very liberal and don\’t always follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, nor do some of the Bishops care that the teachings aren\’t being followed. I do not attend Mass in the parish I geographically belong to, mostly because the priest in that parish told someone I was a sorry sack of shit because I didn\’t think he was the end all be all as some of his parishoners did. Nice thing for a priest to say, isn\’t it? I could not support a priest who would say anything remotely like that.

  32. Federico says:

    Fr. Z. wrote: “People belong to the territorial parish in which they reside unless they belong to a personal parish.”

    Small correction: it’s not “unless,” it’s “also.” Jurisdiction is concurrent.

  33. michigancatholic says:

    Over and above the legality of the situation (thank you, FrZ), I don’t really understand those who claim with the usual scowl that one *must* attend one’s geographical parish, no matter what. I haven’t heard one convincing reason to support that view–ever. I have heard lots of excuses for bad behavior from parishes being left, though. They usually have it coming and want someone else to blame. I have no sympathy for that.

  34. Tina says:

    Origen Adamantius
    I agree with you up to a point. I had to get a letter from the priest/chaplain at the University saying I was a good Catholic and all that. I had the letter from my pastor. My cousin’s pastor wouldn’t accept it because I wasn’t registered in my territorial parish.

    My cousin and I live in different parishes, so her pastor wouldn’t know me anyway.

  35. Seminarian says:

    Thanks for this Father. These are indeed beautiful canons to keep in mind as I pursue priesthood. I can imagine typing them out and putting them in a nice frame in my office… or better yet, printed out, folded, and put in my breviary.

  36. Teresa says:

    If I want to leave my territorial parish, St. Smileyhugs for St. Fidelissimus, it isn’t a guarantee that the Pastor of St. Fidelissimus is going to accept me as a parishioner, is it? Is a pastor required to accept parishioners from outside his parish boundaries? Perhaps there is a belief that the more parishioners you have, the greater the support, but doesn’t the pastor receiving people from outside his parish boundaries have to honestly consider if he has the resources (especially time) to give to these people? I am thinking of people who may live at a distance who may require sick calls, etc. By taking them on as parishioners, isn’t he agreeing to all that being their pastor entails?

  37. Anthony OPL says:

    Haha! Thank you father for that comment before the canons. When I read the bolded comment about them being the most beautiful in the code, I immediately opened a new tab and looked them up myself. After reading and reflecting on them, I come back and find that you’ve included the text right there. It made me feel better for having gone to just a little bit of effort for a change.

  38. Maureen says:

    Teresa –

    Practically speaking, and unless you’re homebound and elderly, does any priest anywhere in the US do home calls on the sick? Even if you are homebound and elderly, it’s much more likely to be an EMHC or maybe the deacon. I thought it was pretty interesting that pastors are supposed to visit their well parishioners, too, because I’ve never been visited that way. I asked my mom, and she said the only priest who ever visited her family, even back in the forties in the city, was her great-uncle the Marianist. When her family moved out to the suburbs in the fifties, even though there weren’t many parishioners yet, there was never any sort of visiting.

    The thing is, my mom’s mom ended up being sick and homebound for several years before her death, unable to speak or to move by herself. My mother says nobody ever brought any sacraments to her, and she was living there back then so she’d know. I don’t think it occurred to anybody that this was something they could and should ask for, although they went to Mass every Sunday. It just wasn’t something that was done. You got Sacraments in the hospital, not at home. (I don’t think she ever got Last Rites, either, because she died at home.)

    So it’s nice that these canon laws are so clear, because obviously pastors haven’t really been taught to do this stuff, and that’s from long before Vatican II was even imagined.

  39. Teresa says:

    Thank you, Maureen. I have spent weeks in the hospital when my pastor did not come to see me. That experience really taught me the need for pastoral care. It is one of the reasons we joined a TLM parish. Our TLM priests follow those canons regarding their responsibilities and carry them out joyfully. Yes, they visit the sick, but they visit families, too. We have great liturgy and great pastoral care. Can you imagine what would happen to the Catholic Church if all parish priests were like this?

  40. Charivari Rob says:

    I’m a little surprised to see so little mention of territorial v. territorial.

    My parents have told me how, when they bought their first house (this was the mid 60s), they expected to be part of a certain parish. Their house was closest to that parish church (and the pastor was known to them). The pastor reluctantly told them that the territorial lines had them in another parish, and they were expected to register/attend there. I think part of this was a concerted effort in that area to keep certain parishes populated.

    Perhaps it can very from diocese to diocese, but these days, I’m not aware of any such restriction. In our city neighborhoods, a pastor tends to be quite happy to register anyone who’s willing to stand up and be counted.

  41. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Fr. Z (and many commenters) I respectfully find myself disagreeing with you, which is relatively rare as a regular reader of your blog.

    I think we need to put this post together with the post from 5 May (McBrien and Novus Ordo refusers: on the same side?) and especially this comment from a pastor.

    “I am truly sorry that priests celebrate the Mass with less fervor, or fidelity to the norms, then they ought. I am sorry for the state of affairs, that a priest who tries and wants to do so, is subject to all manner of trouble. You might consider that – it will surprise you perhaps, but it is true – that many priests face any number of problems if they try to be totally faithful.”

    It seems that most of the discussion here has focused on what’s lacking in the priests, and never admits that a huge part of the problem is also a lack of faithful and committed parishioners.

    I think the ideal is for parishioners to try hard to stay committed to their own parish, despite its flaws. The parish nomads run the risk of falling into the Protestant model: “I will stay with the parish as long as the programs, ‘services’ and the personality of the pastor/priests are to my liking. The minute something ‘better’ comes along, I’m out of there.” A far better model is to look upon the parish as a family: recognizing that the members have faults, and it is not perfect, but that we work through those together, and remain committed to make it work.

    I am not saying that someone should put up with problems and liturgical abuses without limit, but that one should make a genuine, concerted effort to become constructively involved, and only leave one’s territorial parish as a very last resort.

    Otherwise, some of the very devout and faithful parishioners needed most are depriving the parish of their gifts.

    What if we treated the commitment to our marriages the same way we treat our commitment to our parish?

    I realize that there is no canonical necessity to stay in one’s territorial parish, but I think that we do an awful lot of harm to the common good of the local parish and the diocese as a whole by jumping to another parish that “suits us better.”

    As a pastor I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have to have wedding after wedding and funeral after funeral of members who “used to” belong to the parish – but presumably found something ‘better’ and then expect the parish to serve them even though they have not made any commitment to the parish over the years (if ever), and have not even met the pastor or priests.

    I realize that I will probably be in the minority of your readers, but I think it is important to reflect on what the lay faithful add to (or take away from) their home parish by their decision in parish membership.

  42. jwsr says:

    ….but, Father…. the response answers the simple question asked, but raises many much more difficult ones.

    Can the faithful attend a Parish other than their territorial one? Yes.

    BUT – if the Pastor’s OBLIGATION is to those OF HIS PARISH, what status does the Parishioner attending outside THEIR Territorial Parish have, particularly if registration does not have canonical weight? While a Pastor can obviously attend to the needs of any Catholic, is he OBLIGATED to accomodate the needs of an “outsider”, particularly if it is at odds with the needs of his Territorial Parishioners?

    This would seem to be of particular interest to EF Catholics. Since there are no longer any Indults or Indult Parishes, it would seem that the only Parishes which have obligations to them are those established Canonically by a Bishop as Personal Parishes, or the Cathedral itself. Local Parishes certainly have an obligation to LOCAL EF Catholics, but most TLMs draw a large proportion of their attendees from non-local populations.

  43. Cathy says:

    Cincinnati priest,

    In the past I have thought much the same way that you do, but when I have
    put this into practice, there have been two serious problems. First, my
    spiritual life degrades to the point that I completely lose my faith. I revert
    back to being the faithless person I was before my conversion. It isn’t from
    anger or dissatisfaction. I just stop believing. Second, not only I, but
    many people I’ve known, haven’t been allowed to work fruitfully in the
    parish because the priest and many parishioners resist orthodoxy. I’ve seen
    people who were just frustrated in parish ministry at their territorial
    parish finally give up and go to a more orthodox parish where they were able
    to more fully develop their gifts and talents and thus have more to give not
    only their parish, but to the larger Catholic community in their area.

    The bottom line is that I think that some people need to go where they will be
    nourished spiritually and where they can bear fruit. Some people are able to
    survive in their territorial parishes regardless of the abuses, others need
    to leave for their own spiritual welfare. Ironically, maybe that’s God’s
    plan to unite those of us who embrace the fullness of faith. I’ve seen these
    orthodox parishes have good effects on members of the surrounding parishes
    even when these folks just occasionally visit and network with other
    orthodox Catholics. I think these “divisions” are actually more like each of
    us taking our particular “team positions” in the Church.

    Hope that makes sense. God bless.

  44. CDN Canonist says:


    You are correct to observe the difficulties in this approach. It’s not an inconvenience if a Mass celebrated in Parish “A” draws parishioners from other neighbouring parishes. This happens all the time for all sorts of reasons. If the faithful now wish to become a member of the Parish Pastoral Council, or a catechist, or wish to have their child attend the parochial school (complete with the discount for parishioners), what is the obligation to fulfill these requests? You may find a benevolent pastor, but he has no obligation in law.

    Personal parishes are different. A bishop can erect a personal parish for a linguistic or cultural group in his diocese. The same can occur for the extraordinary form of the Mass in accordance with Summorum Pontificum (art. 10). If the bishop erected or designated a church in his diocese for those attached to the extraordinary form, the pastor would have an obligation to all those who attended.

  45. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    Father Cincinnati, Normally I would agree with you but there are some dioceses where it is impossible for a person to use their talents at most parishes unless they are manifestly unfaithful. I am registered at a parish in the inner city. Nobody lives in the parish boundaries but there are 1100 families that drive there from elsewhere, from 5 counties. It isn’t so much a matter as not being able to stick it out for us, there are priests who are overtly hostile to people who want to be faithful and who want proper adult catechesis.

    It is very difficult to maintain a proper spirit when one is confronted daily by a priest who makes rude, insulting remarks and shows no respect for the Church or the priesthood.

  46. Cath says:

    The most important reason I go to another parish rather than my own is for the spiritual welfare of my children. Its not a matter of who we like best, rather who teaches what the Church teaches. I saw my children becoming complacent because they were not getting solid Catholic teaching. So we went elsewhere and they are getting what they need spiritually. A holy priest who talks of sin and abortion and forgiveness and virtue and the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother, who prays for our Holy Father at each Mass, rather than warm fuzzies and I’m OK your OK stuff. I have tried to make it work for three years at my parish. I have been very involved in many aspects of parish life and love all the people there. I have talked to father about the problems I am having with the things he does, and although he was gracious about the criticism, nothing changes. This isn’t something I have taken lightly, but what other choice does one have if your children (seven- ranging from age five to 19) are not getting the Faith at the parish?

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