How long does a priest tend to stay at one church?


#1

Hello all.
I am an inquiring protestant who would like to know if there are any regulations in Catholicism for the length of time a priest or bishop can stay at a particular parish. In many protestant denominations there are no limits and a pastor may stay in one place for decades or even until he retires, so long as the congregation agrees he should stay.

However, there are others who encourage their clergy to only stay a few years and then move on to another church so that he not risk becoming the focal point of that church and have a cult of personality develop around him, and to get a fresh perspective from the pulpit.

I was just curious if there is a Catholic position on how long a priest stays at one particular parish. Thanks in advance for your response.


#2

I don’t know if this is common practise in other dioceses (what is the plural of “diocese” anyway :confused:) but here the bishop rotates priestly duties regularly. Priests generally stay in one parish for 5 years, except in my parish which is the basilica, the main parish for the diocese, where the pastor stays for 10 - 15 years. Every June we get notification of which priests are assigned where, who is going on sabbatical, who is retiring, etc. The re-assignments are staggered so it’s not like every five years all the priests shift.


#3

Over the year I have observed that most assignments are for 6 years. They can be for 3 years, but 6 seems to be the norm. However, a Priest can be re-assigned a Parish for an additional 6 years or more at the end of a term. My Pastor just retired after a 25 year stay at our parish. That length of time is rare, but does occur.


#4

I think ours can stay in 3 year shifts. The pastor usually stays for a long time, and then retires. I like that they try to reduce the popularity of priests by moving them more often as opposed to Protestant preachers around here. They often stay decades at one church. Some even have a family legacy and people follow their style of church and preaching around town as opposed to keeping it all about Jesus.


#5

Thanks for the replies. Sounds like a 3, 5, or 6 year term is common at most Catholic churches with a few exceptions where it can be extended for awhile. Do you happen to know if an official reason is given for how that length of term was chosen (possibly to bring in fresh faces, to make sure everyone focuses on God and not a person, and/or to possibly prevent a cult of personality from developing) or is it just customary? I was also curious if it has been that way for a long time or is just a recent development. Thanks again.


#6

I think you’ll find this can vary greatly by location. Where I live now it it’s totally unpredictable. My current priest’s vocational time line, in years, is as follows: 6, 2, 4, 12, 3, 9, and 4 (current mission, in progress). His brother is being transferred in September after eight years in his current parish; prior to that he was in another parish for 13 years. Our parochial vicar has been with us for six years and it doesn’t look like they will move him this time around—as of a week ago he had not received word of any change, and it’s starting to get a bit late to notify him now!

The last parish I was registered at in the US got a new pastor six months before I moved away and he’s still there. That was thirteen years ago.


#7

As pointed out there are times when a Priest will stay longer, case in point, my wife’s mother had the same Pries her entire childhood, and he is still there. Something over 30 years. He does speak Polish and the parish was traditionally Polish.


#8

Our previous priest was at our church for 22 years. Some stay as little as 2 years.

It varies and I think one of the main reasons is the need to fill gaps as elderly priests retire or (sadly) pass away.


#9

Seems that it depends on the diocese.

At my church, I’ve always noticed they transfer them in and out every few years, but I’ve noticed one of our current priests has been there for a long time.

Also there might be exceptions - at my aunt’s church the popular “Father John” was there for years and years.

I’ve always wondered that, too, why they do it.


#10

Thanks to all who have responded so far.

A follow-up question:
Does the congregation have input into who is chosen or does someone from the diocese make the decision on behalf of the parish? For example, are the deacons of the church consulted and given a group of candidates to choose from, I wonder, or is that decision for the bishop to make? Just curious if the congrgation has any say in the process.


#11

In this archdiocese pastors are normally limited to 12 years – it’s actually a 6-year term that can be extended for another 6 years. I don’t think there’s a limit for parochial vicars – the assistant priest in a parish. However, they seem to move along more quickly, often because they’re young so get exposed to a few different parishes before they become pastors themselves. There are exceptions, however.


#12

As far as I know (again going by my diocese) the congregation has no formal input in the process - we just get told that as of such a date Fr. So-and-so is leaving for a new assignment at St. Somebody’s church in West Hills.

But maybe they take into consideration the needs of the community; for example, maybe they let the Polish-speaking priest in the earlier post stay for that reason; and “Father John” in my earlier post may have stayed because he was popular with the Italian-American community.


#13

Can. 522 A pastor must possess stability and therefore is to be appointed for an indefinite period of time. The diocesan bishop can appoint him only for a specific period if the conference of bishops has permitted this by a decree.

usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/canon-law/complementary-norms/canon-522-stability-of-office-of-pastor.cfm

Final Decree: Individual ordinaries may appoint pastors to a six year term of office. The possibility of renewing this term is left to the discretion of the diocesan bishop. The primary provision of canon 522 that pastors may be appointed for an indefinite period of time remains in force.


#14

Our parish priests are assigned by the provincial minister of the order, and not by the Bishop. Although the Bishop must authorize our priests to administer sacraments, and vows of obedience are given to the Bishop (which is not the case for other priests in the order who are not serving in diocesan parishes). They usually remain 3 years, but their transfer is to meet the needs of the order and not the diocese, although the Bishop and the Provincial Minister work together well to meet the needs of the Church.


#15

It’s totally at the bishop’s discretion. He may look to input from the priests or parish council already at the parish, but knowing our bishop, probably not.


#16

Thanks for he info seagal and everyone else for your replies and situations at your local parishes. If I understand correctly, it sounds like the normal stay for a priest at a certain church is usually just a few years but there are certainly exceptions based on extenuating circumstances and special cases. It makes sense and sounds logical to me.


#17

The norm around here is 7 years. The last pastor got ill and had to leave. The one before him was here 10 years. It caused quite a stir when he left. People were too attached to him and his way of dong things, which caused great pain and suffering for the next priest, Which is why, in part, he left, discouraged, and hurt.
I was formerly working at a parish that had a Monsignor for 35 years. He was greatly admired by the parish (not necessarily in agreement with the Bishop) and so they left him at that rural parish to 1) because everybody liked him, 2) because the Bishop could not place him in a more liberal parish, and 3) because every time they said he was getting transferred he said he’d just retire. They didn’t have anyone extra and they needed him. He was quite elderly when they permitted him to retire.
Our current pastor has been here only 3 years. They couldn’t find anyone willing to take our parish because of the previous priest’s trouble with the parish. And our current Pastor “offered it up” so to speak to do the Bishop a favor, and everyone LOVES him.
He’s kind, and lets some of the sillier stuff go, and people have appreciated his methods of avoiding drama. A dear Monsignor friend of mine is one who is known for turning a parish around financially…so he gets sent in when a parish is in the red. He told me once that they (in this place, anyway) can refuse a transfer twice. After that, it’s go where they send you. So the priests are kind of reluctant to play that card, just in case they go somewhere they can’t abide. When they are transferred quickly, it generally means that there is a big need for their particular gifts in another problem location.
I kind of like that someone actually tracks their skill sets and places them accordingly. There are instances of other long placements though, and there some places that nobody want to tackle. :wink:

Oh, and we were told that is it considered bad form to try to tell the Bishop what you’re looking for. It’s his decision, and if you “ask” for someone, you’ll probably be assured NOT to get them. Plus, by the time the parishioners find out about the transfer, it’s all wrapped up and decided. The new guy has long been informed, but told to keep quiet, and your priest is already learning about his new place from his brother priests and packing.

You can, however, send a letter stating what a wonderful job the priest did, and that you are grateful for wisdom of the Bishop in selecting a replacement that will NO DOUBT be a blessing to your congregation and that you will do everything in your power to welcome the new Priest with open hearts and arms. :smiley:


#18

Around here the average time at a parish for associates is two to three years. Pastors of course stay longer, or permanently.


#19

Speaking to the congregation having any say, if there is an deep division between Priest and parish the congregation has the ability to contact the Bishops office and request help. This doesn’t mean that the Priest will be moved but is a tool to help mend what ever breakdown may be going on. Ultimately the Bishop has control.
M


#20

My parish priest has been at our parish for 16 years, and his third time would have finished within the next two years, but we just received the news that he is being moved to another parish. :frowning:


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