During Arkansas’ summer, Catholics brace themselves for 100-plus-degree days, giant mosquitoes and for some, saying goodbye to their favorite pastor or associate pastor.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor typically announces priest assignment changes around Easter. This year, priests will move to their new pastoral assignments June 15.
The decision to move a priest from their parish takes prayer, discussion, planning and a bishop who truly knows his priests, said Father John Connell, vicar general for the Diocese of Little Rock.
“Bishop Taylor does an extraordinary job listening to priests and knowing the needs of all of his priests,” Father Connell said. “His only desire is that his priests flourish in their assignments (ministry) and are happy. He also knows his diocese and its needs, so parishes receive a pastor that will help compliment each other. As vicar general, I am happy to serve a bishop who listens to many voices and prays before making important decisions, especially in regards to his priests. What a blessing that is.”
Arkansas Catholic asked Bishop Taylor about the process of assigning a priest to a new parish.
Unlike a lot of denominations, Catholic priests do not stay with one church their entire ministry. Why?
The needs of the priest and the Church need to be taken into account. Newly ordained priests need a time of mentoring under the guidance of an experienced pastor and then assignment to parishes that would be a good fit for the priest at that stage of his life and ministerial development. Similarly, the changing needs of the parish need to be taken into account, as well as that of the diocese. We have limited human resources, which we try to deploy in the most effective way possible.
How long can a priest typically stay in one parish?
In Arkansas, we do not have a typical length of stay. There are many factors taken into account which might affect the length of stay, the most common of which is when the priest himself requests a move. And I try to accommodate as many such requests as I can, because if the priest is ready for a change, probably the parish is too.
So a priest can request to move or stay in a parish?
Yes, every January, priests are sent a survey in which they indicate their desire for a change or to remain in a parish. We take this into account but cannot accommodate every request.
What factors are discussed when you make the decision to move a priest to a new parish?
We try to take everything into account but regarding the needs and abilities of the priest, as well as the needs and history of the parish. I could give you a long list, including health issues, language ability, financial acumen, conflict or other problems to be addressed in the parish, building program, parish school, prisons served from the parish, hospitals in the area, personality traits of the priest, etc.
How do you determine what priest might fit best in a particular parish?
We discuss this extensively at our priest personnel board, which has 11 members, including one deacon who is a canon lawyer and one laywoman who is a psychologist. With this many members, there is always someone who knows the parishes and priests in question very well.
Do you make the decision yourself or discuss it with others?
Extensive consultation at the priest personnel board. Generally, we will have been discussing future assignments for about nine months in advance of finalizing the following year’s assignments — word sometimes gets out, which sometimes leads to additional helpful feedback.
How far in advance do you inform a priest they are moving, and how does that conversation usually go?
I consult with them shortly prior to Holy Week, and the announcement comes out the Friday following Easter, generally six to 10 weeks in advance of the mid-June effective date of the transfer. The conversation always goes very well. I have never had a priest resist -- much less refuse -- to accept an assignment. This is due to the zeal of our priests and the good advice of our personnel board.
Sometimes we see priests named as administrators, not pastors or associate pastors. How are administrators different?
When a priest is to be given charge of a parish for the first time (or missionary priests, the first time in the United States), we make them administrators for the first year and then if everything goes well, they become a pastor the following year. Administrators are not supposed to innovate without my specific permission. Pastors exercise their authority more directly.
Occasionally we will see where priests are on sabbatical. What does that entail, and how long can it be?
Sabbaticals might be for a few-months-long program of spiritual and theological renewal, or maybe a year-long course of studies.
Parishioners do get attached to their pastors and associate pastors. What would you say to those who are sad or possibly angry when their priest is moved?
I am happy that they are sad to lose their priest -- what I worry about is when people are happy to lose their priest.
How can we support priests as they are leaving our parish or being assigned to our parish this summer?
You can pray for them and thank them for their service.
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