Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 15, 1999
Laity who run parishes
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Clement Dery hopes the position of lay pastoral administrator will someday be a permanent one in the Church, even without a shortage of priests.
"I've asked myself many times: If a Greyhound full of priests pulled up into town tomorrow, would I still be here?"
At this stage, it's still a rhetorical question, despite the fact that it's been more than a year since Archbishop Joseph MacNeil appointed Dery to the position at Immacul‚e Conception Parish in central Edmonton.
The parish, which serves just over 80 francophone families from across the city, has been without a resident priest for 10 years.
Dery handles the administrative and pastoral work of the parish, working closely with a number of parish committees. They plan liturgies, set priorities, coordinate activities and arrange for sacramental preparation jointly with the other francophone churches in the city.
Dery's responsibilites range from looking after building maintenance, to administering the parish's finances, to visiting the sick.
They are all tasks which lay people are more than capable of handling, he says.
"Many lay people have the ability to do these things naturally, but they have to be empowered to bring their gifts to the community."
For example, he says, many parents are timid when it comes to taking charge of preparing their children for First Communion, but "they need to be told that they do have that ability."
"We are all baptized into a community, and we each have a call to different charisms. Priests are members of the community with a charism that is different than others - to preside at liturgy."
Philippe Lamoureux, who was recently appointed pastoral administrator at St. Pius X Parish on an interim basis, agrees that celebrating the Eucharist and presiding at other sacraments is clearly the priest's domain.
"But the rest, particularly the administrative work, can be done by lay people and doesn't necessarily require the background of a priest."
Lamoureux links his appointment directly to the shortage of priests. "I think that at the present time this is a way of taking pressure off the priest and permitting him to devote himself to the spiritual needs of parishioners."
It's a role that may become increasingly familiar over the next few years.
John Acheson, author of the Transformation of Parishes (ToPs) report, which sets out a plan of amalgamating parishes to deal with the declining number of priests, says more parishes may consider hiring a pastoral administrator. But the impetus may in fact come from a combination of the shortage of priests and the expanding role of the laity.
"I suspect that the trigger is that we have fewer and fewer priests, but at the same time, the pope's document on the role of the laity clearly states that there is to be an increased role for lay people in the Church."
Acheson says the ToPs report is a short-term document to help the archdiocese through the next five years or so, but he predicts that after that time, there will be some fundamental changes called for in the Church, and part of that may be an increase in the number of people called to serve as pastoral administrators.
Dery says that training for lay people such as that proposed by Newman Theological College in the near future, may help parishioners become more comfortable with and knowledgeable about their increased role in the Church.
But while formal studies in theology and Scripture are important, he says emphasis should be placed on developing courses to help lay people deal with ministering directly to people in need, such as those who are sick.
"Looking after the heart of people is the most important - people who are lonely and need an ear, people who are divorced or widowed. . . . It's not necessarily rules we need, it's love and compassion."