The blessings of the priesthood and religious freedom

Some of our parishes will be receiving new priests whom I have assigned as pastors; other parishes will be receiving new priests whom I have assigned as administrators. Please, give them a warm welcome to the parish. They need the support of the faithful and, of course, your prayers. These men give their lives in service of you. Moving is never easy for anyone — new faces, new names, new area, new housing, getting adjusted … your new priests are as affected by these changes as you are … in your charity, do what you can to make their transition to your parish a positive experience.

CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Whether assigned as pastor or as administrator, the mandate of each priest is to care for the flock of God in the particular parish. A question has been raised as to why I would name a priest the administrator of a parish instead of the pastor. Is there a difference between a pastor and administrator? Let me explain:

There is no difference in the primary duty of the priest whether he is the pastor or the administrator and that is to be a spiritual father to the people of the parish. Additionally, whether administrator or pastor, he has the necessary authority and responsibility to direct and oversee the day to day business of the parish. The difference between a pastor and an administrator lies within the given term of office. In our diocese a pastor is appointed for a term of six years which may be renewed once. A parish administrator, however, is not appointed for a set term.

Because of the shortage of priests, the majority of the men who are given the care of a parish for the first time have less pastoral and administrative experiences than a priest in the same situation years ago. In most instances, they are ordained for a shorter period of time than in the past when they were made pastors. Not too long ago a priest would have to be ordained for at least 10 years before he would be considered for appointment as a pastor.

According to the law of the church, “For the office of pastor to be conferred on someone, his suitability must be clearly evident by some means determined by the diocesan bishop” (Can521, 3).

Given the present circumstances of fewer priests in our diocese and parishes that need a spiritual leader, the best way for me to determine that a man is ready for the office of pastor is to first make him parish administrator. After a period of time, when the priest has demonstrated spiritual, pastoral and administrative capabilities and he himself feels ready, then I may appoint him pastor. This procedure is being followed in many dioceses in our country.

Please, pray for vocations to the diocesan priesthood … pray that young men will come forward to serve the church, that is, to serve you as your parish priests. If you know a young man whom you think would be a good priest, encourage him and give him the phone number of our diocesan vocation director, Father Adam Cichoski, 856-583-2864.

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, our national holiday, we give thanks to God for the freedoms we enjoy in this great nation, among them religious freedom. In too many countries around the world this is not the situation. Can we ever forget that this past Easter Sunday, the holiest day in our Christian calendar, over 100 worshippers died in one bomb blast while attending Mass at the church of Saint Sebastian in Sri Lanka. This heinous act was an act of hatred against the Catholic Church. Recently, the State Department released its annual report for the year 2018 which identifies continued attacks on peoples of many faiths in the Middle East, Asia, the Near East, Africa, Europe, Central and South America. Some were committed by governments, others by those who either hate religion or oppose any religion that is not their own. The freedom of religion in many parts of the world does not exist. While there are some signs in our country of encroaching threats to religious liberty, we must insist that the balance be maintained and that the freedom to practice religion, which is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, be observed.

Priests, men committed to the service of Christ and his Church, are an important means of safeguarding our religious freedom. Therefore, I repeat my request: pray for vocations to the priesthood.

On our national holiday let us pray, GOD BLESS AMERICA! HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY to you!

Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.

Bishop of Camden