Are You Ready, Willing?
Let’s talk candidly about overworked clergy. Such a conversation automatically excludes low-energy, lethargic priests—the ones who are usually unavailable for extra tasks.
Let us consider for example, pastors with few, if any, associate priests or deacons to share the taxing workload. Or pastors without a fluent Spanish-speaking minister when the pastoral need for one is great. Or pastors of multiple parishes who simultaneously work part-time at the chancery tribunal or in some other capacity. Or priests who feel overwhelmed, despite their collaborative style of leadership and ability to delegate tasks.
There is a malaise in the Church, and it’s a malaise of the worst kind, for it is that which is so successfully covered up by denial that one is hardly aware of it. This denial exists among some clergy who think they can take on more and more responsibilities. Likewise, this denial exists among some of their superiors and among laypeople who seemingly expect them to do so. Moreover, this denial is also evident among some of the laity who are called to assume responsibilities and rightful ownership in the Church by their own baptism and confirmation (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church [Lumen Gentium], 33).
By necessity, the Church has dealt with the decades-long dilemma of aging, retiring priests and diminished numbers of clergy in at least two ways: first, filling leadership positions with clergy who don’t possess innate or acquired leadership skills; second, asking clergy who possess innate or acquired leadership skills to take on additional leadership responsibilities. Both practices have potentially harmful consequences.
The former can be demoralizing for parishioners and others when leaders don’t have the competence to lead, while the latter often results in overextended clergy disappointing themselves and those they serve because they cannot be fully attentive to myriad pastoral, sacramental, and administrative duties. Inevitably, the overworked cleric may either end up compromising all his tasks, be selective with the tasks he’s most passionate about, or end up being supremely frustrated (and frustrating those to whom he ministers). When too much is required of him in ministry, the cleric—however well-intentioned, naïve, or deluded by a “messiah complex”—may ultimately realize that he can never be all things to all people.
However, a healthier prognosis appears imminent—not a cure-all, of course, but an antidote to this ailment in the Church! It’s found in the US bishops’ report, National Synthesis of the People of God in the United States of America for the Diocesan Phase of the 2021-2023 Synod, a compilation of responses from the many listening sessions in parishes throughout the country:
“A great deal of what must be done in a parish does not require ordination and many lay people have administrative and organizational skills. They could relieve pastors of some of the burden, freeing priests to be present and to develop relationships with people of the parish—something both priests and lay people desire. Some priests would need help with letting lay people take over parish tasks for which they seem convinced they have final responsibility and must therefore have the final word in all things.”
As we discern a way forward, synodal consultations hope for an empowered “relationship of collaboration” at all levels of the Church: “the People of God signaled that they are ready and willing to assume their responsibility for service in the Church and in the world.”
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Further elaboration on and discussion of Church responsibilty and the laity begins in an article starting of page 24.
A Church empowered by a “relationship of collaboration”? A Church renewed by a partnership of shared mission and mutual respect between clergy and laity? “Ready and willing”!