ASK FATHER: Difference between Pastor and Parochial Administrator

From a reader…


With priest assignments currently being announced, I am curious about the difference between a Pastor and a Parochial Administrator. If a Pastor is reassigned to another parish as an Administrator, is that a lateral or a lesser assignment?


In short, on a practical level, there is little difference. The main difference between a pastor and a parochial administrator is that a pastor has stability of office – he is appointed, ideally for life,  (canon 522) but by concession in the United States, he may be appointed for a six-year term ( There are other provisions for pastoral terms of office in other countries.

Theoretically, at least, a pastor cannot be removed from the parish prior to the expiry of his term if he does not want to. There are provisions in the law for removing or transferring a pastor (cc. 1740-1752). Practically, this process is rarely used and other, praeter legem processes are used to remove or transfer a pastor (threats, cajoling, intimidation, badgering, enticement).

A parish administrator (c. 540) does not have stability of office – he is often appointed for a period of time, but his appointment can be revoked or altered at any time by the bishop.

It was long customary for a priest to receive his first parish as administrator. Then, if things seemed to work and there were no problems, after a year, he would be made pastor.

Other reasons for appointing an administrator rather than a pastor may be that another priest is in line to be made pastor but is not quite ready yet (off studying at school, engaged in another ministry, on a sabbatical), or the bishop has some other assignment in mind for the priest being named administrator (“I’m appointing you as administrator of St. Eleutherius for a year because in twelve months, after he celebrates his jubilee, Msgr. Bilious will be retiring and I want you as pastor of St. Alphege of the Country Club.”).

There are frequently labyrinthine internal politics at work that would confuse the Spatharokandidatos of the court of Constantine Copronymos, and are probably best left unexamined.

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  1. Joe in Canada says:

    and various forms of this are used in dioceses where lay people are being put in charge of parishes – sometimes ‘ministry zones’ or some such – but can’t be called ‘pastors’.

  2. Spinmamma says:

    Thanks for the explanation. Our Parish is in mourning because of the reassignment of our young priest, who started his priesthood in our Parish. His is a beautiful soul, and his voice golden. He has a gift for being a confessor. This, or course, happens about every two years and it never gets any easier. I know his new Parish are being gifted with a wonderful Priest, but it is hard not to feel dismayed.

  3. JustaSinner says:

    Best NOT to aee how the saisage and hit dogs are made???

  4. Josephus Corvus says:

    Thanks for the explanation, Fr. Ferguson. I had been wondering that myself. In my archdiocese (and actually my parish), in some cases a religious order priest is in charge (often from India). The parish itself has nothing to do with his order. In the parish, he is referred to as the pastor, but when you see an official document, such as the assignments in the archdiocesan paper, that is not the case. It makes sense that a religious order priest could exit a lot easier since his order could have other needs or the relationship with the diocese could change.

  5. Thorfinn says:

    I admit to enjoying diocesan politics & priest assignment news a little too much.

    Providentially, I am not one of those laymen who are connected and get all the gossip.

    Even more providentially, our diocese is heading in the right direction and there is plenty to celebrate each year with faithful priests assigned to positions of responsibility as school chaplains, pastors, and other significant roles.

  6. TonyO says:

    The main difference between a pastor and a parochial administrator is that a pastor has stability of office – he is appointed, ideally for life, (canon 522) but by concession in the United States, he may be appointed for a six-year term

    While the Vatican seems to have kow-towed to the US bishops in permitting a bad rule to be put in place, this distortion should not be granted any sort of either practical or theoretical space as being “fine” or “reasonable” or anything like that. In my opinion it is nothing but an idiotic notion pushed by foolish or bad men.

    Pastors are not, at root, merely the administrative head of a small local body, they are pastors of souls. As such, the bishop has no business appointing someone to the position that he is worried about not being able to do the job. And once he appoints a priest to be pastor of the souls of a parish, moving him at the 6-year mark merely because that’s the just the administrative period set up is pure stupidity. “Here, lets yank the guy out, now that he has finally established good rapport with the parish council, set up some healthy practices, gotten people to trust him, and he finally knows who he can rely on and who to keep an eye on.” Suuurrre, that’s a good idea. NOT! There is no GOOD rationale for it, none whatsoever.

    In my opinion, whatever rationales are proposed for this rule are pure window dressing on the REAL reason, which comes in 2 parts but they are inter-related. On the one hand, the bishop who is afraid of wielding his authority properly wants some purely pro-forma mechanism to remove priests that are causing him headaches, whether for good or bad reasons or ANY reason: he wants to be able to do it not by giving a reason and explaining himself and saying why it is a good thing to remove this priest, but WITHOUT having to give any reason at all. “The 6-year term ended” does just that. It relieves him of having ANY REASON to yank the guy. On the other hand, the bishop who is a bureaucrat and has no backbone wants a mechanism to wield his power over his priests WITHOUT his having to engage either his heart or a shred of courage. Being milksops, they are afraid of pastors who have backbones, and “need” to feel able to cow and browbeat those pastors, and they do it with the threat of losing their (the pastors’) offices.

    The 6-year term gives these spineless bishops more power over pastors than is intended by the structure set up by Canon Law, such that in practice pastors have no real ability to resist tyranny by the bishop no matter what the disorder. Thus is the rule of law (i.e. canon law) undermined by an “exception” that effectively undermines the whole. But this is all of a piece: the pope and the Vatican congregations knowingly create bishops who are bureaucrats and yes-men and weak-willed, rather than bishops who are headed for canonization and who will create in their priests a growing body of future saints as well.

    It is good to know what the current local rule is, but it is even better to know the universal law and why it is good. Pastors are supposed to have stability for a reason. It serves the good of the Church for pastors (true pastors, who love their people and who truly care for their souls day in and day out) to stay put for years on end. It serves bureaucrats, milksops, and petty tyrants to upend that model.

  7. veritas vincit says:

    TonyO: I think the real issue is striking a balance between stability and oversight. Six years might be too short, but maybe a longer term, other than the open-ended term in universal law, is appropriate.

    In any case, the protections in place in canon law providing due process for removing pastors arbitrarily or vindictively, didn’t protect Fr. Kalchik from being forced out of his parish in Chicago for burning a blasphemous pro-gay flag. That action was not just prater legem but outright <contra legem.

  8. hwriggles4 says:

    I have noticed that several Pastoral Provision priests are given the title of “Priest in Charge ” instead of pastor. My parish has a Pastoral Provision priest and his title is “Pastoral Administrator. ” He is a good priest and he was a Parochial Vicar for a few years at the same parish.

    He is a good priest (I always learn something from his homilies) and there is a struggle with his day to day duties, his parish, and his family. Many former Episcopal priests will also say it’s a challenge to live on a Catholic priest salary versus to what income they had previously.

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