Several parishes learned last weekend that their priest or pastoral minister will be moving on to either retirement or a different assignment. In this week's issue of The Catholic Missourian, you can see my decree that lists all the changes in pastoral assignments that will occur later this month.
Please pray for all those affected by these changes.
There are a few things I would like to share with you about my initial experience of exercising this kind of responsibility.
First, I want you all to know that we have some very generous and sacrificial priests, deacons and religious serving in our diocese. Because of the needs of the diocese, I had to ask some of them to consider making a move even though they were very happy and comfortable where they were.
I was humbled many times over when they replied with a freedom and simplicity that can only come from an obedient spirit and with abiding trust in God’s providence.
Second, making clergy appointments requires the wisdom of Solomon to know who should go where. Being a new bishop to this diocese, I relied heavily on the advice of the priests’ personnel board, whose members were previously elected by the priests of the diocese.
Chaired by our vicar general, Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, the following board members met many times with me since March in order to give careful attention to the needs of the diocese: Very Rev. Mark Porterfield, vicar for clergy; Monsignor Michael Flanagan; Monsignor Marion Makarewicz; Very Rev. Joseph Corel; Rev. Ron Kreul OP; and Rev. Donald Antweiler.
I am grateful to these priests for helping me shoulder this burden by offering their candid thoughts about each parish, priest and Catholic institution our diocese serves.
Third, there were many times I thought I had everything in place, only to discover the need to make a slight change here or there. But just like a series of dominos toppling over in a row, when one priest is changed, a large number of other changes must follow.
It is a concrete reminder of how much the Church is a web of dependent relationships; priests rely on one another, the laity rely on their priest and each other, and I rely upon everyone. What happens to one, happens to all.
Fourth, the mathematics of the number of parishes (95 plus 15 missions) and our clergy resources (65 priests) cannot be ignored. We have already made some accommodations by clustering parishes under one priest, but more is necessary.
Fostering and nurturing healthy vocations to the diocesan Priesthood is all the more urgent for us in light of the large number of parishes without a resident priest.
Over the next 10 years, the number of priests eligible for retirement will dramatically grow. Furthermore, if the pattern of demographic shift away from rural areas continues, more parishes will find it extremely difficult to provide the minimal services expected of them even if we were to have enough priests to go around.
Priests are limited by canon law (for good reason) to celebrating only one Mass a day, two Masses on weekdays if pastoral necessity requires, and no more than three on Sunday.
Although the Eucharist is the most supreme action of the Church, the parish and the priest are obliged to provide more than a Mass on Sunday. Evangelization, catechesis, charitable works, the maintenance and upkeep of facilities — all of these and many more unspecified tasks make up parish life.
The parish priest has to have a certain amount of accessibility to minister to people before and after the Sunday Mass. Turning our priests into mere sacramental dispensers with little to no other connection with the people is not a good solution.
While a reduction in the total number of Masses offered in the rural and urban areas of the diocese is inevitable, a new ardor and new methods for evangelization can bring new life into our Church.
Fifth, I have no desire to move someone just for the sake of moving them. I prefer to leave priests in place as long as the good of the whole diocese allows it. But sometimes, things happen beyond our control (like the unexpected death last November of Father Frank Bussmann), or there is a need to honor a request for a well-deserved retirement. At other times, a change is needed for the well-being of the priest, deacon, pastoral minister or parishioners.
Change is a necessary part of our existence as a pilgrim Church.
Finally, I thank all of you who regularly offer prayers for me, your priests, deacons and the religious serving in our diocese. At the Last Supper, our Lord prayed that we might all be one. When you pray for us, despite our imperfections, you are doing your part to fulfill our Lord’s desire for unity in His Church.
Please know of my prayers for you, especially during this critical time of assignment changes.