While May is commonly the month of priestly and diaconal ordinations, anniversaries and jubilees, June is often the month of TRANSFERS (new assignments). I recall being stationed at our cathedral when I was one of the more than 60 priest being transferred that month. I told the people to avoid driving on Interstate 83 the day transfers took effect. Too many clergy on the road and we are bad enough drivers as it is, let alone when we are in a bad mood ;-)
Seriously though, there will be a plethora of priests on the highways this coming month with newly ordained and newly transferred going and coming. Six years ago this June 16th I was assigned to my first pastorate, Our Lady of Good Counsel (Marysville, PA) and Saint Bernadette (Duncannon, PA). While my appointment by the Bishop was for a six year term, at his discretion he may renew it or make a transfer of pastors. Sadly, many dioceses work on the 'warm body' philosophy, i.e., whoever is available is part of the mix. Unfortunately, that does not always work for the good of Holy Mother Church. For instance, where there is a Pastor and Parochial Vicar(s), it can be difficult for the newly ordained and for the parish if the pastor has a temperment better suited in an assignment where he lives and works ALONE. Some priests just work better in single-man assignments. Whether they are obsessive-compulsive, neat-freaks or slobs, introverted or extroverted, the bottom line is that men should NEVER be a pastor where they have an assistant. These fellows like to be Lone Rangers and do everything themselves and can be envious if the new priest seems more popular with the people. Other pastors work better WITH someone else in the rectory. They need priestly fellowship. They collaborate and work with the Parochial Vicars and the Deacons. Some pastors have a personality and temperment that would drive any resident or associate insane. These despots should always be assigned in a one-man parish. Newly ordained should not automatically be sent to the largest parishes just because their size 'warrants' a parochial vicar. Some pastors and indeed some parishes thrive better with more mature, seasoned clergy whereas sometimes the newly ordained can learn bad habits if their first pastor does not SAY THE BLACK AND DO THE RED. If the pastor is politically correct but not orthodox; if he cuts corners on the Sacred Liturgy; if he imposes his opinion while denying legitimate options; if he is a company man seeking to climb the ecclesiastical ladder; et al., then why send him a newly ordained just because the parish registers go to a certain number? Better to learn the wisdom and experience of the pastor beloved not because he seeks popularity but because he is a real priest. He celebrates a reverent Mass. He preaches an orthodox sermon. He obeys canon law and can still be as pastoral and compassionate as Jesus Christ Himself.
All too often we hear, 'well, our diocese is too small (or too large) for us to make assignments and transfers based on priests personalities and temperments. No one is saying these should be the sole or even primary determining factors. Yet, for the common good, is it not possible to CONSIDER these points? Some pastors should stay more than 6 or 12 years and others need to be moved more often. Some pastors should always have supportive assistants who will work together and other pastors should always be by themselves and never have a parochial vicar.
Personnel Boards help bishops with making assigments but in some places they carry too much clout, authority and power. Often, the same gang of characters are on these boards year after year. When voters wanted term limits for politicians, priests on these boards and committees merely inserted a mandatory one year haitus and then allow another eon of membership. Many Personnel Boards work long and hard to ADVISE and COUNSEL the bishop but the final decision is HIS. He signs the appointment, he should make the phone call. Our Bishop met with every pastor during their final year of current term assignment and asked how things were going. He would inform you if there had been serious complaints or if he had some concerns. He asked, without obligating himself, if the pastor wanted a renewal or if he wanted a new assignment. When priests are treated like adults and with respect, they do and are better in the sacred ordained ministry. When they treat you like a number or as if your name was picked out of a hat (biretta, perhaps?), then you feel like you work for a corporation and not a family of faith or sacred institution.
Some dioceses allow the Personnel Board Director to be the point man when transfers and assignments are discussed and determined. While his advice and counsel are invaluable, the BISHOP is the one a priest promised respect and obedience to (and his successors), not to any committee or council. Like the parish council or finance committee in a parish, personnel boards and presbyteral councils are ADVISORY and only have consultative power whereas the Bishop (and in his absence the Vicar General) has DELIBERATIVE authority. This is why many of us prefer the Bishop to personally tell us there is a problem or we are being moved to a difficult assignment. Vicars for Clergy can and should be ombudsmen for the priests with the Bishop. The Bishop cannot address every issue, item or concern but the big stuff should remain in his episcopal lap. When a priest has an alcohol abuse or gambling problem, he needs his spiritual father, the Bishop, to admonish, advise, correct and support him in getting help. Middle management can only handle the benign or venial concerns. Serious trouble means going to the top. Unfortunately, due to the clergy sex scandals of the past, some prelates avoid their priests and deacons like the plague lest a lawyer chastize them for not keeping plausible deniability.
A few dioceses run not only like a corporate business with productivity estimates, etc., but some even work like the old Soviet Union with middle-management bureaucrats creating a buffer and making their own decisions as to who gets access to the Bishop and what he is privy to hear. Hence, you can have a doctrinally sound and wonderful Bishop but he is not kept up to speed on all that happens within his diocese and he may think he is. What he knows and who he sees can be determined by the equivalent of a politboro or cadre that 'protects' the C.E.O. from unpleasant or difficult situations. Though the word TRANSPARENCY became vogue in the aftermath of the National Review Board, some sychophants still successfully maneuver and manipulate what the local bishop knows or is told and to what extent and by whom.
Pope Benedict XVI challenged and commanded the bishops of America to rebuild the torn and tattered bridges linking the priests and deacons with their local Ordinary. We priests need bishops as much as laity needs priests, and vice versa. It is not a competition or contest. There are no 'sides' to take. Every bishop, priest and deacon, as an ordained minister, is answerable to Almighty God and is subject to the supreme, immediate, universal and full authority of the Roman Pontiff. PERIOD. Our people need to see and hear that we are UNITED in doctrine, discipline and worship. Holy Orders is not a job or career. It is an ontological change and reality which cannot ever be undone. Pray for priests. Pray for deacons. Pray for bishops. Pray for the Pope.
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