ASK FATHER: What if 100 priests wanted to leave a diocese because of the bishop?

From a reader…


What if… How hard is it for a priest to move away from one diocese and be incardinated in another? Wouldn’t it be a loud and stunning message if, say, 100 or so priests decided to move away from dioceses with bad bishops to one to four dioceses with faithful bishops.

How hard is it for a priest to move to another diocese?  It is as easy or as hard as the bishops involved want to make it.

Yes.  A hundred priests suddenly wanting to leave and actually taking action.  That would make a real statement.  Of course that scenario involves men leaving also their homes, that is, the area where they grew up, which also means distance from their families.  Our Lord did say that we should be willing to leave everything and everyone for His sake.  And it is true that people do leave their home turf for work or for love or for other interests.  But it is a factor.

Also, priests are not just pawns on a chessboard, or warm bodies to be plugged into empty slots.   They are treated that way quite often, of course.  Often they are treated like indentured servants who have, barely, right to Christian burial… and that’s about it.   Just think for a moment about how bishops treated priests via the Dallas Charter, which has ongoing, seriously annoying and unjust implications for priests.  By the way: the bishops exempted themselves from the burdens they laid on the priests.

Another thing to be considered is the pressure on the excardinating bishop and the incardinating bishop from other bishops!   I suspect that they would want to snuff out such a development and make it is hard as possible to do.

The overall scheme of moving, according to the Church’s laws, involves a “trial period” in the new diocese of several years.  Also, excardination from one diocese shouldn’t be denied unless there is a good reason.  Of course it is possible for a bishop to decide to be unreasonable.  Bishops can torture priests in a thousand ways.

And there are other human factors involved.  For example, how well would the local presbyterate welcome the influx?   It could be that a sudden increase in numbers would be very welcome indeed, especially by overworked priests.  Still, it could happen that the incoming men would forever be treated as “outsiders”.  That happens.

Also, on the human level, each priest has his own individual history and issues.  A bishop would not be wrong to consider that, even though he might be hungry for more priests.

Alas, I suspect that this factor suppresses the last embers of warmth some bishops might have, so that they move reluctantly, everyone (lawyers) hounding them to be careful, etc. “Maybe if you drag it out, the potential for problems will go away and it won’t look like it’s your fault.”

It would be an amazing bishop who, seeing a decent priest who would be a good fit, says, “Yes, please do come!” instead of a hemming and hawing “Well, okay.  I guess you can come.”   It is far more likely that a bishop would leave guys twisting in the wind, oblivious to the pain.

The old Roman adage is “cunctando regitur mundus… the world is ruled by delaying”.  This cuts two ways, of course.  One could digress on the disaster that 6 year assignments for priests has produced over time. But I won’t.

In the case of a priest moving – or a seminarian for that matter – be wary of going to a place because there is a good bishop there.  Bishops come and bishops go.  Go to some place because of the bishop and, bammo, he retires, moves or dies. Then there comes “a new pharaoh who knows not Joseph” and you are well and truly up the proverbial creek.   The potential for heartbreak is galactic.

Lay people could experience this by uprooting and moving close to a great parish. Then, wham!, the pastor changes and everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

A take away for seminarians would be this.  It is far more prudent, if it is necessary to move for the sake of your vocation (if not to religious life or a specialized group), to go to a place where you think you will be happy, bishop notwithstanding.

I’m afraid that the state of affairs is highly iffy right now, my dear readers.  There is little unity or consistency of Cult, Code and Creed in the Church right now, amongst priests and bishops too, which makes local changes a real crap shoot.

And as I write, I am conscious that, in the USA at least, this is the time of year that lots of diocese priests’ assignments are being made and men are moving around.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Julia_Augusta says:

    I was just thinking about Father Z. moving to Rome and being incardinated in his favourite Roman parish . . .

  2. L. says:

    A Priest of our diocese explained to me years ago that a Priest could change his diocese only if the respective Bishops approved. To avoid having a troublesome Priest embarrass the Bishop by trying to move to another diocese, the folks in the chancery would find ways to put a black mark on the Priest’s file so that no other diocese would want him. An exception to this rule is when a diocesan Priest leaves for a religious order; his Bishop can’t stop him. Thus, a good Priest of our diocese got tired of being put upon by our corrupt Bishop and his lackeys, and left for a religious order.

  3. Orual says:

    100 good priests leaving their diocese for another one would be devastating to the faithful laity they leave behind! It’s hard enough when one good priest dies, retires, or moves away. I can’t imagine losing 100!

  4. Lurker 59 says:

    I was suspicious that a good priest would find it his Christian duty to protect his little flock from the wolves and would be hard-pressed to abandon them. Not something that one would undertake lightly.

    It seems to me that if you have a good or halfway ok priest but a bad bishop, some thought should be given to how to insulate him from the blows that he is receiving. Even if you don’t see the bruises, they are there.

  5. sjoseph371 says:

    While there are some outstanding bishops out there, they are few and far between – so you’re dealing with an “Old Boy’s Club” – nobody wants to be the one who screws over his buddy – so the chances of the 100 priests moving to another diocese are like the thin guy & religious sister – slim to nun.
    On the other hand, Fr Z. did mention something that would have a far greater impact – parishioners moving to another diocese – because unlike the priests, the parishioners have the Benjamins that move with them.

  6. Jim Dorchak says:

    What strikes me is the TRANS / Drag Mass with that new bishop! What priest would not want to get the Hell out of Hell?

  7. TonyO says:

    It strikes me that many, if not most bishops will view a priest who wants to leave as a “problem priest”, in a specific sense: if he was a good boy, he wouldn’t want to leave, so the mere fact that he wants to is proof that he “isn’t a good boy”. This alone might make a bishop “put a black mark on his record”, so to speak.

    Furthermore, a priest who wants to leave IN SPITE OF a ton of connections to his home diocese has, more likely than not, had at least one run-in with the bishop in some way or other. So this too means that his record probably will indicate that he is a problem priest. Since few other bishops would be willing to take on a priest who is “proven” to be a problem priest, these can kill easy chances of being received into another diocese.

    Thirdly, a bishop can always send a priest for “psychological evaluation”. This is now a well-known technique for dismantling a resistant priest’s ability to resist, in two ways. First, the evaluation can ALWAYS be written to show troubling issues, which no other bishop will want to take on. But even more damaging, the facility can force the priest to start taking drugs that end up eroding his capacity to act independently, or even that damage him psychologically.

    Because of these possibilities, few priests are likely to request excardination, unless their situation has gotten so bad that their only other alternative is simply to leave without formal approval, to walk away.

    [It is possible to get out over your skis is this matter.]

  8. Bruce says:

    ‘It would be an amazing bishop who, seeing a decent priest who would be a good fit, says, “Yes, please do come!”’

    Are former Bishop did exactly that.
    Archbishop Terrence Prendergast SJ of Halifax brought a Franciscan Friar to the diocese in the 2001. He ordained him in 2002 and together they founded the Franciscans of Halifax (FoH). Since then the FoH have been the source of the majority of the vocations to the Priesthood in the Diocese. In this liturgical wasteland of eastern Canada the FoH have been an oasis. The aforementioned franciscan priest Fr. Roberto Donato, a gifted preacher, passed away last year. Along with Archbishop Prendergast he is sorely missed.

  9. hwriggles4 says:

    There is a large parish in my diocese that is close to the border of a neighboring diocese (county lines). This large parish was filled to capacity in part because a parish in the neighboring diocese had a “liberal bent” that many Catholics drove to the larger parish (or to another parish) on Sundays.

    While over the past few years the “liberal bent ” has been cleaned out, I can’t help wondering if diocesan officials (including priests) would listen to their flocks and figure out why Catholics are driving across diocesan boundaries.

  10. Charivari Rob says:

    re Dallas Charter…
    Yes, problems (to say the least) – including the “where do I go to get my reputation back?” from one nearby priest who had eventually been cleared.

    Dallas. Where some bishops believed it wasn’t a wide-spread problem; that it was other dioceses, not theirs; that it would blow over as always; that there wasn’t an internet; that things could be dealt with quietly, etc… Where they didn’t have authority to do anything about themselves, and didn’t try.

    It only took about 15 years for everyone to admit that it was church-wide; nationwide; shocked that the history revealed in other dioceses had parallels in their dioceses; yeah that something was going to have to address bishops, too; which wasn’t perfect and they still didn’t have authority – but actually drafted a policy; which Rome tabled for six or twelve months; then we got something.

    Excardination/incardination was part of the crisis, too. There were some cases that were addressed by the old practice of “I’ll trade you my problem priest for your problem priest”.

  11. OzReader says:

    TonyO’s comment has me thinking… In this age of whistle-blowing against those who perpetrate and cover-up shocking misdemeanours in the workplace, how long until we see Priests & Religious causing a huge media fiasco about the treatment they’ve received from their superiors?

    I can hear people saying “but the mainstream media doesn’t care about real Catholics.” Perhaps so – but then there’s also that saying, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Frame it in a sense of bigotry, exclusion, disinformation, and all those other buzz words and you’ve got PR disaster. The trouble with this is, we have to weigh it up against the tremendous damage this could do to the faithful, and unfaithful alike – a net decrease in salvation would be a terrible result. That might be the only reason we don’t hear more about these problems – Priests & Religious afraid of negative publicity pushing even more of the flock away from the Church.

  12. The Vicar says:

    “…incardinated in his favorite Roman parish…”

    Like the seven archdeacons of Rome.

    or Archpriest of St. Peter’s.

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