Priests being moved

I would like to know why bishops move priests around. Our priest is being moved aNd I’m really upset. Due to social distancing we can’t even say goodbye. He has been like a father to our parish for years & esp during the pandemic. Now he will be gone - whisked away while we can’t even see him off as a community. I’m really sad and want to understand why bishops do this. So many people didn’t even grow up with a physical father around… can’t our spiritual fathers at least be dependable presences in our lives? How is it helpful to tear them away from their spiritual children? I just don’t understand.

One of the issues that underlies moving priests is that both they and the parish can benefit from the move.

While a bishop may continue to be a bishop until he dies or retires (and bishops get moved too, though less than priests and fewer percentage wise), a bishop has way, way less contact with, and influence upon individual Catholics than a parish priest.

Priests have skills and charisms, and have lack of skills and charisms just as any other individual does. People can become very attached to a priest to the point where it may be better for the parish that there be a change in pastors; just because “Father does it this way and we like it” does not mean that whatever “Father does” is best, or the only way that something be done.

There is much to pastoring a parish beyond saying Mass and hearing confessions. Change can act as a refresher for the parish, or the pastor, or both. And it avoids the issue of, for lack of a better term, a “cult of personality”.

Other reasons that pastors are moved is that what they do takes experience; that is why usually a priest is put with another pastor as an assistant to learn all the things they don’t teach in the seminary; practical real-world experience teaches much. And after that, he likely will be put into a smaller parish where he is likely to have less demanded of him than in a large parish, and then gradually moved to larger and larger parishes. Or, if he seems to be what might be termed “mediocre” in how he handles the parish, he may not be moved up to more demanding parishes.

There is a world of difference between the responsibilities of a parish of say 400 families, and one which has perhaps 1,000; and more still if they have 2,000 families.

There is also a world of difference between a parish with a school and one without, and certainly many pastors don’t want the responsibility and the headaches that come with a school.

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Thanks. Everything you wrote makes sense. I think Covid is just making it hard. This priest doesn’t have a “big personality.” He’s pretty quiet. But he has worked so hard to live stream Mass (which was probably tricky because both our priests are older) & even though the priests are old and thus high risk for Covid they made Confessions available. And outdoor Adoration. It’s just been so selfless of them & now one is being taken away in the midst of all this & we’ll get a new priest we can’t even MEET yet. And if parishioners get sick they’ll be calling a priest they don’t even know yet to come to them or their loved one. The timing is just… unfortunate. I wish the bishop would wait until the pandemic is over, at least.

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Well said, thank you !

@Jen7 - Another thing to remember, maybe, is that one person cannot please everybody - there will inevitably be people who more or less distance themselves from a parish, or get less involved, because they’re not a good character match with the pastor, particularly when he’s alone (as opposed to a team of ministers co-managing a parish). Having periodical change in ministers is a way of showing pastoral care for these people too.

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That is what happens in the majority, if not vast majority of cases - someone gets plunked down. And yes, it is hard to meet the priest given the current chaos.

And this may seem cruel ( and I don’t intend it to be) but the priest you will get is just that - a priest. One does not need to “know” the priest to be served by him in the sacraments and the liturgy. He may be somebody you will not like; or someone you may not get to know well, or he may turn out to be fantastic - or anything in between. And you might have the same reaction to him even if we had not been dealing with the virus.

I understand that the disruption to our sacramental life has been difficult; it is not the first time I have experienced a long time without Mass (the first being in Vietnam when I was stationed for several months with no priest to be had). It is hard, it is disruptive, and turns our prayer life upside down. Truly, I get it. Keep in mind that the priest you are getting has had to move, and he is coming to a parish which is in difficult times. I don’t doubt it will be hard on him too.

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Thanks for that perspective - that it will be hard on the new priest too. I am embarrassed to say I hadn’t thought of that. Also thank you for serving our country in Vietnam. You have so much more experience than I do with disruption to prayer life and life in general.

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Understand, I am not trying to minimize your feelings or say they are wrong; just trying to bring a different perspective.

Keep all three priests in your prayers - they all need it. I know my own pastor is really struggling with having almost no people present at Mass (the limit was 10) and he has spoken openly about it. Things, however, are starting to open up; looks like we will be at 50 at a Mass.

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Maybe the bishop thought that the social distancing would make it easier (on some) to accept the move. People behave differently to the same stress.

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Because Priests are for all in the Diocese not just one Parish. If he was a great Priest for your Parish then another Parish deserves to “have” him as well. It is also about obedience to their Bishop. They are meant to serve all. They know going into the Priesthood that they will be moved around. It is for their own good to not get too close or too familiar with one group of people. The Church is their family so they must be with all of their family at one time or another. For some Priests it is just as much of a difficult separation as it is for the Parisioners. It also helps them to grow in their Priesthood. Pray for him, his new Parishioners and the new Priest you will be getting.

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One more thing to keep in mind —in many dioceses, the ‘open’ parishes are posted, and the priests apply to move. While it’s presented as “the bishop is moving me” (true, because the bishop makes the actual decision to move the priest), the reality is that it may also be the priest’s choice. The parishioners often aren’t aware of that.

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Some possible reasons:

  • to help the priest develop skills to use in his priestly career
  • to match the priest’s existing skills with the needs of a particular congregation
  • to prevent parishes from getting too attached to their priests
  • to try to best allocate available priests to serve all the parishes in a diocese
  • sometimes because the priest himself has expressed a need or a wish for a transfer or a certain type of assignment (for example, he applied to go to a different parish)

I have gotten pretty used to priests cycling through parishes. When I was growing up, our pastor was very open to welcoming priests who were having health problems and needed a place where they could work as priests while still recovering. The priests would stay a couple years till they were well and then would get reassigned someplace else where they could take on more responsibilities, and our pastor would welcome a new recovering priest.

In the Archdiocese where I’ve been spending time, certain parishes are pretty clearly training camps for new priests to learn certain things and then be sent to another parish, and another trainee priest brought in.

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My former pastor was assigned under the old rules (now they are assigned for a 6 year term, renewable once).

He served for 28 years. He implemented all his good ideas in his first decade. He had some tremendous insights, but also some blind spots.

He relied increasingly on the same small group of paid and volunteer leaders, so there never was a fresh look at things.

Ironically the parish, which he was founder pastor in 1967, was overwhelmingly committed to “renewal”, but change became impossible.

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I am pretty sure our Parish is one of those. There are 4 Parochial Vicars in addition to the Pastor, and at least one of them seems to always be on first assignment after Ordination. It is a huge Parish, so they can get exposure to a variety of people and situations while having a very experienced Pastor to guide them and other priests to turn to as well.

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Yes, I think our parish serves in a similar capacity.

I’ve also seen parishes with a mixed English and Spanish-speaking population that have priests sent there for 6 months or a year, in order to improve their language skills in either English or Spanish.

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Besides being moved from parish to parish, priests also are assigned other duties such as director of vocation, chaplain to hospitals , etc. This helps expand their experience, so they are more well rounded.

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This issue was discussed at some length some time ago - I did search for the other thread but couldn’t find it. The gist was the OP asked about priests being moved about, and I (and others) explained the reasons for it. In the end, I don’t think he actually wanted to understand why, but rather to mostly vent because he didn’t like the policy.

In short - priests are rotated because it is good for them, and for the people of God:

  • The priests that are wonderful priests should be shared with as many parishioners and parish types as possible (rural, urban, rich, poor, large, small, ethnic, etc.).
  • The priests that have challenges should not be kept in the same parish forever.
  • Priests can and do occasionally get too attached to things and persons in a specific parish.
  • Because of the declining number of priests, some assignments have two, three or even four parishes. Those assignments need rotated more often so as to not burn out a priest.

All clerics (even deacons) promise obedience to their bishop and his successors; it is an exercise in humility and virtue to accept an assignment that may not be your first choice.

Be thankful to have a priest – and pray for him each day,
Deacon Christopher

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Very well said Deacon Christopher.

@Diaconia
As a deacon can you be assigned to any church in your Diocese? Does the Bishop try his best to keep you in the Parish close to your home and family?

I think great replies have already been given.

Just to add my two cents: how’s the relationship between your bishop and your community? My community has a bishop who makes an active effort to join groups of us (e.g. university students) on an annual basis, where everyone eats a meal as the laypeople can ask him questions and he answers. At one of these events, someone asked him about why there had been a recent flurry of priest transfers, and he gave very straightforward answers. I’m not saying this may be applicable/appropriate in all cases, but just putting that out there, to encourage bishops/communities to consider such annual chatty meals if they’re not already practicing them.

Also, it sounds like the priest who’s been father to your parish recently was wonderful for you. I can only imagine how sad it may feel to be losing this familiar father figure you had such good experiences with.

At the same time, perhaps it may help to imagine how much the parish he’s moving to may need such a good father figure as this? Your bishop has access to more information about where the needs are, than you do; maybe it’s been assessed that your parish is in relatively good shape (all things considered), and this other parish is in dire straits (maybe especially due to this pandemic) and in the big picture maybe they have a special need right now for the special skills this priest has, more than your parish does. I’m not saying that’s definitely it, but maybe. And God is your Father always, and your bishop will send you another priestly father to continue to minister to you: you will not be left fatherless.

Just a matter of perspective. Jesus and his disciples moved from town to town, too.

PS just had another thought: I often find it helps me, to suddenly be faced with a new priest I’m not naturally thrilled with, or a familiar priest I find abrasive on a personal level. Because the lack of natural connection to the priest, reminds me that they are there to mediate Christ to me. It’s not about them. It’s about Christ. Sometimes having a priest who forces me to have patience with him, reminds me to be extra grateful for him, and to thank God for sending him to serve us as Christ. Don’t know if that makes sense. True in my case, though. Maybe it might be a pair of glasses you can try on? Refocus on the fact that the same Christ is mediated through every different priest? And sometimes it’s easier to see Christ in him if we don’t naturally like the priest, because we’re not getting distracted looking at the priest’s good qualities? We’re forced to sit down then and see the priest for only how Christ shines through him, and how he serves Christ.

Yes, you go wherever he needs you. Most deacons serve in their own parishes, or ones geographically close to them.

I have served two parishes in 15 years (12 years at the first assignment).

In a neighboring state they have a policy that I admire and think other dioceses should emulate: Up to three deacons from a parish. When a fourth vocation is fostered in such a parish, then the deacon and his family can continue as members of the parish; but will be assigned to a nearby parish or other ministry. Many of them choose to change membership to the assigned parish.

Deacon Christopher

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You made some good points. When our present Priests leaves (is moved) it will be a very sad day for all of us. He is amazing. But what makes me able to positively think about this event that will happen is that he has had former Parishioners from other parishes come here to his Masses. They come to Mass and take him out to eat. Now that says something about what kind of Priest he is. Also we had a workshop and it just so happened that there were people from his other Parishes there and the positive things they said about him and how much he helped them made me think he IS NEEDED where ever he is sent and he DOES GOOD where ever he is sent. We can’t hold on to him for ever. Others need his wonderful charisms and Priestly Shepherding. Our loss will be another Parish’s gain.

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