Parish leaders seek direction
Pastoral associates' meeting offers all a chance for learning
By Bishop Robert Banks
By now most of you have probably heard that when I was in Boston some 15 years ago, I was involved in some decisions concerning the infamous Geoghan case. For now I shall limit my comments on that issue to the statement you will find in another section of this paper. Maybe later it will be possible to say more about that tragedy.
On a much happier note, I met last week with our Association of Pastoral Associates. It was a very pleasant meeting with a very important group of parish staff members.
Pastoral associates do much the same work that I and other priests used to do 40 years ago -- creating and organizing programs, visiting the sick and homebound, arranging the liturgy, soliciting volunteers, and, in general, doing whatever has to be done to keep the parish active and alive.
About 50 members were present, all of them, as I remember, women. Some were sisters and some were laywomen. The meeting was one more vivid reminder of how much the Church depends on the active involvement and leadership of women. Since they play such an important role in many of our parishes and therefore in our Diocese, I already know just about all of the associates by face and usually by name. We are blessed to have such dedicated and talented persons active in our Diocese.
Because the pastoral associate has such significant responsibilities in a parish, each one has to be certified by the Diocese. The requirements for certification include substantial spiritual, pastoral and academic formation. It is also necessary that the associates participate in some continuing education during their time of service.
I do not know whether my annual presence at one of their meetings constitutes part of their continuing education, but it is part of mine. The associates almost always bring up issues that are either new to me or that require more of my attention.
The first item they brought up for discussion concerned parish directors. Some pastoral associates have an interest in becoming parish directors, but it seems we shall have to make some changes in order to make that more possible. Those changes will take some time, so we passed on to the next question.
One associate asked what I thought about "automatic withdrawal." I did not have the slightest idea what she was talking about. I thought maybe it had to do with retirement or with leaving your parish if you did not like what was happening there.
I was surprised to find out that some parishes have made it possible for parishioners to arrange with their banks so that a monthly contribution will be transferred from their accounts to the parish. Apparently it is an easy way to make contributions to the support of the parish a regular part of the family finances.
The pastoral associate was concerned that automatic withdrawal separated providing support to the parish from the offertory of the Mass. It would be better, she said, if parishioners offered their contribution at Sunday Mass. In that way, we make the contribution as a symbol of our offering of ourselves to and with Jesus in the sacrifice of the Mass.
I said that it seemed to me many people already have made that separation, sending in their monthly support of the parish by a check in the mail. So I see no great problem with automatic withdrawal, but I did add that I would encourage those who do so to still drop a token offering in the basket at Mass. That is a good way to actively participate in the Mass and remind ourselves that we are to offer ourselves with and through Jesus in every Mass.
Next was a question about whether the Diocese would help persons afford the cost of a master's degree in theology so they could become pastoral associates.
I was able to say that we are instituting in the Catholic Foundation a fund to provide some support to those who need help in preparing themselves academically for parish ministry. It will be called the Bishop Aloysius Wycislo Scholarship Fund for Pastoral Formation. All we have to do is find some generous donors. Bp. Wycislo has for years helped provide such support, so that is the reason for naming the fund in his honor.
The final issue concerned the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The associates wondered if I foresaw the Church allowing persons other than priests to celebrate Anointing of the Sick.
Nowadays pastoral associates, deacons and other pastoral ministers are the ones who are most in contact with the sick and homebound. Even in our Catholic hospitals, most of the chaplains are lay persons or sisters. With the shortage of priests, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to find a priest to anoint a seriously ill person.
I had no authoritative information about the issue, but I did say that the change has been brought up for discussion by theologians. I have not read anything that indicates such a change is in the works or is possible.
We talked a bit about how very helpful it is to pray with and for those who are sick or hospitalized. Still we recognized that, for many of our people, especially the elderly, such prayer does not take the place of Anointing. It was also mentioned that for those same people, the presence of the priest has a unique importance. That led to a brief discussion about how some places in the Diocese could use better arrangements so priests can be contacted by hospitals when needed.
By then I had used up considerably more than the scheduled half-hour, and it was time to leave. It was a very worthwhile meeting for me and, I hope, for the pastoral associates.