It’s that time again. As surely as the tulips sprout in spring, so too does the speculation among Catholics about which priests will be moving where. Will we lose our Pastor this year? Who might replace him? How do they decide these things anyway? I decided to find out.

According to Canon Law, “A pastor must possess stability and therefore is to be appointed for an indefinite period of time. The diocesan bishop can appoint him only for a specific period if the conference of bishops has permitted this by a decree.” (Can. 522 Code of Canon Law). In Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has decreed that pastors should be appointed for a six-year term, which is renewable.

So that’s one way to judge whether a move is imminent. But a whole lot of other factors go into a bishop’s decisions on priest assignments, which means a six-year term is by no means a certainty. In the Archdiocese of Edmonton, a Clergy Personnel Committee (comprising both bishops, the Chancellor, Vicar General, and a few other priests) assists the Archbishop in this regard.

The committee begins its work each fall with a survey in which priests are asked whether they are open to a move, whether they would prefer a rural or urban parish, or whether they have any special requests.

The committee reviews these responses and takes them into consideration when looking at assignments. There may be an opening at a parish for several reasons:

  • The Pastor may be retiring
  • He may be needed for another ministry such as an archdiocesan office
  • He may be taking a sabbatical or study year
  • His health may be failing.
  • He may be an international priest, who has come to us under a term-certain contact, and his term is up
  • He may be an international priest or a priest from another Canadian diocese, whose bishop has called him back to meet a certain need in his home diocese.
  • He may be a member of a religious congregation, such as the Franciscans or Oblates, and the Provincial (superior) has re-assigned him to another ministry or another diocese.

Those are just some of the reasons for a move. In making its recommendations for changes, the Clergy Personnel Committee considers the gifts and talents of each priest, the size of parish, and any unique needs of a parish, such as a church building project, which might call for specific skills. A newly ordained priest would be appointed as an Associate Pastor for his first assignment before moving on to a small parish as Pastor. Once he has gained experience and built up his skills, he may be assigned to a bigger parish.

Both the priests and the parishioners can benefit from a change, says Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman. Parishioners experience pastors as human beings with a variety of gifts and leadership styles, and priests refresh their ministry whenever they are called to embrace a new community and new challenges.

All the same, Bishop Bittman concedes that a move can be tough on both sides. For the priest, he may feel he’s just getting to know his parishioners and forge good friendships when suddenly he has to move.

“Every parish I left, I had tears in my eyes as I looked in the rear view mirror,” he remembers.

But priests understand that they serve the Archbishop and the Archdiocese, and that they will have to let go at some point to take up a new assignment.

The full list of priest appointments for the coming year is revealed at the annual spring assembly of priests, which took place this week in Jasper. This weekend, each priest will let his parishioners know if there will be any change in the parish. Then on Monday, May 23, the list will be made public.

Most of the new appointments will take effect August 17.

~Lorraine Turchansky