I'm not one to be shy about noting that the Church has had mistakes in her long, long history. These mistakes seemed to multiple after Vatican Two when the spirit of invention and make-believe possessed some in the leadership to hold and teach that the intent of the Council Fathers was inadequately expressed in the actual texts of the Council. Mistake after mistake followed. And they still follow. Here's a sure-fire way to ensure that your parish will almost never again have a resident pastor: the Parish Life Coordinator (PLC).The entirety of his post deserves reading and corresponds in its broad outline with some of my concerns about how the priest-shortage in the Western world is being dealt with.
From Pittsburgh we read: "In what the bishop who appointed her called 'a historic moment,' Sister Dorothy Pawlus, a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, was commissioned July 15 as the first parish life collaborator in the Diocese of Pittsburgh."
So, what's the problem?
1) Without a priest in charge of the parish, young men won't have a model of priesthood to aspire to; no fault accrues to Sister for this, of course, but we know young men need male leadership in order to be properly challenged to sacrifice secular enticements. Sister's appointment is one more example of the feminization of the Church and another nail in the coffin of priestly vocations.
2) Once Sister and other PLC's (no doubt there will be huge pressure to appoint women in most of these positions) are appointed, it will take an Act of God to move them out when priests become available. Make no mistake: the PLC is not a temporary canonical solution to a temporary vocational problem. This is a move (sideways and under the guise of an "emergent crisis") to undermine presbyteral authority in the parish by emptying the role of pastor of its orders. IOW, this is a move to make it possible to be appointed Pastor (even if not in name) w/o being an ordained priest. Priests will simply become traveling Sacrament Machines. The office of Priest Director will fade as demand for priests grows. Interesting side note: priests now are starting to look a whole like bishops in the Patristic period!
3). This is the first step in a long series of steps leading us to the "inevitability" of women being ordained priests. Think: altar girls and the arguments used post facto to defend against attempts to suppress the practice: "But we've been using altar girls for years!" Some predictions:
a). even with the availability of newly ordained priests, PLC's will continue to "pastor" their parishes with Fr. Newbie hanging around for "mentoring." He will be graduated to a staff position and made a "member of the team."
b). Within five years (but before the Fr. Newbies arrive) PLC's will demand the right to preach at Mass since Fr. Sacramental Minister isn't in residence and doesn't know the parish. How can he possibly preach to us when he doesn't know us?
c). Look for a new book of ceremonies to appear from The Liturgical Press, Liturgies for Pastoral Life Coordinators quite soon. It will be argued that since PLC's play a special role in the life of the parish, the church needs liturgies designed to celebrate their unique ministry. Translation: we need liturgical validation for the invention of the PLC so that the concept of the PLC is more easily tolerated over time. Liturgies bestow legitimacy and normalize innovation.
d). Parishes administered by female PLC's will produce far fewer priestly vocations than parishes run by priest-pastors. This NOT b/c women intentionally deter vocations or somehow jinx boys into believing that the priesthood is bad--how many priests today trace their vocations back to a religious sister? My point is that w/o active, visible, and regular priestly leadership in a parish, a boy or young man cannot "see" the priesthood in action.
Now, I think that we should be careful about assuming that all moves towards appointing lay-staff to perform functions that priests previously did are ideologically motivated. However, it would be naive not to admit that there is a significant push in some quarters to see the priest-shortage as being an act of the Holy Spirit to make space for greater lay/female participation in the Church. This opinion must be firmly resisted. A proper understanding of the relationship between the Priesthood of the Baptized and the Ministerial Priesthood will lead to the conclusion that as the laity become more actively and enthusiastically involved in the Church's work, there will be an even greater need for holy and energetic pastors to guide and serve them. Additionally, a true renewal of religious spirit amongst the laity should lead to more and more young people hearing the call to priestly and religious life. One of the signs of a flourishing and wholesome lay movement within the Church is a flowering of religious and priestly vocations in its ranks.
So, what's the solution?
This is the tricky part. What is to be done in a diocese when there are insufficient clergy to staff the parishes? It would seem imprudent to totally eschew lay staffing of parishes. After all, if a layperson can fulfil some of a pastor's administrative functions, then it would seem irresponsible to leave a parish to simply feel the pain rather than make some kind of accommodation to get the work done.
However, Fr Philip's post does make clear that any such lay position should not be that of a 'priest substitute' and I quite agree with him that the use of communion services as a 'Mass substitute' is, in general, a very bad idea. (Ironically, this detachment of the reception of the Eucharist and the celebration of Mass is something that the Second Vatican Council set itself against.)
One possible way of mitigating the damage done by the replacement of a full-time Pastor by a PLC would be to make such an appointment temporary. In other words, make it a 3 or a 4 year appointment, with the PLC being appointed to another parish at that time, and a priest brought in to be pastor. In this way, if there are going to be PLCs, then at least no parish is going to be permanently deprived of a priest.
I think that Fr Philip's post also points to a certain need to appreciate the theology of the priest's relationship with his parish. A pastor, surely, is supposed to be a spiritual father and shepherd to his flock. Priests and people alike need to take that seriously. Pastors need to minister with that in mind, and the parish needs to realise just how much its integrity as a flock and a family depends on the unifying and guiding figure of the pastor.