Institutionally overweight? A diet plan for dioceses

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 27, 2019

Last week I asked which of the countless diocesan and parish programs and agencies is more crucial than the staff, bag, and spare tunic that our Lord told his apostles they did not need on their evangelizing mission. [Lk 9:1-6] Now I have a follow-up question.

See if you can find the official directory of your diocese from, say, 1960. You’ll see a long list of parishes and parochial schools, and a short— very short— list of diocesan offices. A chancellor and a vicar general (who might be doubling as pastors), a few administrative aides; that’s it. Now look at this year’s directory, and notice the phenomenal multiplication of diocesan ministries— all requiring staff and office space, all sending out directives to the pastors.

Most American dioceses are in tough financial shape these days, having spent millions to settle sex-abuse claims and then (surprise!) seeing a steep drop in donations. These financial problems are typically solved (temporarily) by closing down parishes, not by paring down the size of the diocesan bureaucracy.

But parishes are where the primary work of the Church— the administration of the sacraments— takes place. All those programs and ministries are superfluous; the sacramental ministry is essential.

I know, I know. The parish closings are also prompted by a shortage of priests. But maybe more young men would be attracted to the priesthood if they were frequently reminded of its crucial importance. If, for instance, in time of need the diocese chose to starve the bureaucracy rather than the pastoral ministry.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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