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Pastor problems
Question from Mary on 11/3/2012:

Please be aware that I am aware of many of the pressures on priests and pastors these days and I have great empathy for them. But we have a pastor, for 13 years now, who has done so much to harm our parish. Large numbers have left, our school has openings for the first time in decades, the collections are down, our RCIA which used to have up to 30 people a year now averages five. Ministries have very few people. He requires a "loyalty oath" be signed to participate in any ministry acknowledging he is "the boss." Money has "disappeared" and he says it's his money and none of our business what he did with it. People at one Mass were upset because he forced the music group out, so he did away with the Mass as well, destroying a "community within the community" of our large parish. He is vindictive and seems out to prove he has the upper hand and will always win. Large numbers of people have left mostly to Protestant churches or no church as this is a rural area and quite a distance to the closest Catholic church.

We have made our concerns known to two bishops now and both have failed to intervene, in fact the present one reassigned him another six years after already serving the usual limit of two six-year terms. It is heartbreaking to see what is happening here, but the bishop is apparently unwilling to consider the laity here. It seems that as long as there is no accusation of abuse the pastor can get away with anything and we just have to put up with it and watch our parish slowly die. We used to have such a lively, involved bunch of people here -- hence the attraction to the Church evidenced by the RCIA. Now, RCIA reduces the demands on people (time required, etc.) and the numbers are pitiful. Please help me understand why a bishop is so unconcerned with the sheep he has had entrusted to him by the Pope. Maybe he's trying to relieve the priest shortage by decreasing the number of laity to be cared for.

Answer by Catholic Answers on 11/7/2012:


I sympathize with your frustration, but I can assure you that the bishop is not "trying to relieve the priest shortage by decreasing the number of laity to be cared for." If this priest has been pastor at your parish for 13 years, then he may be near retirement age. When a pastor nears retirement age, then a bishop ordinarily allows him to stay at his current parish until retirement rather than uproot him. This may be coupled with the possibility that the bishop may simply not have another priest available at this point who has the necessary experience to be a pastor.

Since the parishioners have brought the matter to two bishops and those bishops have declined to intervene, at this point you may simply have to live with the situation and not allow this priest the power to deprive you of your faith by dropping out of the Catholic Church. Again, as sympathetic as I feel toward people who are frustrated and hurting, they are the ones who chose to stop going to Mass and instead to go to Protestant churches or not attend church at all. You cannot give anyone, even a priest, control over your spiritual peace like that.

What you can do is two-fold. First and foremost, I urge you to organize the parishioners who are left into prayer and sacrifice for this priest. Christmas is coming soon. Perhaps the parish could present the priest with a spiritual bouquet of prayers, fasting, Communions, and Masses for him and for his intentions. Don't stop there. For every major occasion (e.g., Easter, Father's Day, his birthday, the anniversary of his ordination) the parish should present him with these spiritual bouquets as a gift from the parish.

Secondly, learn to work constructively with the priest. Consent to any and all requests that he makes that you can consent to in good conscience. Ask him for his advice, or for his thoughts, on issues of concern to the parish before he even has a chance to hand down an edict. Right now there evidently is a huge gulf between the parish and the priest. Someone needs to start building a bridge rather than shouting at each other across the chasm. If you need ideas for how to engage him constructively with the goal of perhaps softening his high-handedness and unconcern for the needs of his parishioners, perhaps you might read How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie's classic on personal relations.

I think it is true to some extent that the laity need to take more ownership of parish life, but they need to do so in ways suited to their state in life as laity. Acting as adults who can take responsibility for their spiritual needs within the Church is the first step, but acting as Christians seeking to become saints is the most important step.

Michelle Arnold
Catholic Answers


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