Why do some pastors have different titles?

By Fr. Luke Ferris | The Compass | July 17, 2020


“We are getting a priest at our parish who is not called our ‘pastor,’ but our ‘administrator.’ What does the difference between the two mean, and how does it affect us at the parish?” — Green Bay


The word “pastor” in the law of the Catholic Church (canon law), refers to the priest to whom the bishop entrusts the care of a parish. Most bishops in the United States entrust a parish to a priest for a six-year term, renewable once for another six years. Bishop David Ricken follows this practice.

The word “administrator” in canon law, refers to a priest entrusted with a parish by the bishop for a less certain amount of time for various reasons. An administrator has all the powers in a parish that a pastor does, aside from a more stable term of office and a few rights in canon law that a pastor is given.

One reason may be that the priest has been recently ordained (one to four years after ordination), and the bishop would like to review his work before he assigns the priest to a full six-year term. Often, but not always, that assignment as a pastor will continue at the church where the recently ordained priest is serving as an administrator.

Another reason a priest may be named an administrator is because he is an international priest or a priest from another diocese in the United States and does not belong permanently to our diocese. Most international priests are assigned a five-year term, in keeping with U.S. immigration law, which limits their working visas to five years. Yet that five-year immigration limit may also be extended for another five years. And priests from other U.S. dioceses are usually here for a limited number of years, but that also can be extended.

So a priest is assigned to a parish as an administrator, and not as a pastor in our diocese, for two main reasons:

  • The priest is recently ordained; or
  • He is a priest from outside of our Diocese of Green Bay.

It should also be noted that, during these times of priest shortages, unfortunately, the bishop may need to move priests before they complete their terms of service.


Fr. Ferris is vicar for priests for the Diocese of Green Bay.

Related Posts

Scroll to Top