Priests Find Laity Growth a Blessing

Article excerpt

The happiest Roman Catholic priests in the United States are those who can hand over parish governance to the laity, a group that now outnumbers clergy as leaders in local congregations.

Forty-five years after Vatican II first endorsed lay leaders, they are four times more prevalent in U.S. parishes than clerical decision makers, not counting the pastor, a study released yesterday shows.

"The change in parish staffing that everyone talks about happening in the future is already here," said the Rev. Eugene Hemrich, co-director of the study and former head of research for American bishops.

"The parish as we once knew it has turned a new page in its history," he said.

In another era, parishes tended to have several priests, brothers or nuns to handle worship, teaching and administration.

In the nation's 19,000 parishes today, however, a priest who has many lay leaders to take the reins typically reports having greater "satisfaction" in his work, Project Director Jim Castelli said.

"The average parish today has 2,831 members and 5.1 ministers," said Mr. Castelli, who was an author of "The Emerging Parish," a major Notre Dame study of Catholic parishes.

Before Vatican II, only the priests, brothers and nuns were seen as the "ministers," but now parish ministry includes married men who are ordained deacons - but not considered laity in the study - and many lay appointments.

"There is no way that parishes can serve their members in the future, even the near future, without the continued, even accelerated growth of lay ministry," Mr. Castelli said.

The rise of lay leadership is seen most sharply when priests who assist the pastor, or priest in charge, are compared with lay leaders: There are about four lay leaders for every assisting priest. …