By RENEE WEBB
The declining number of active priests available to serve in ministry in the Diocese of Sioux City is one of the driving factors behind the pastoral planning process – Ministry 2025 – in the diocese.
“The idea of the church without sacraments is not a notion that the Catholic Church could ever get its mind around,” noted Father Brent Lingle, diocesan director of pastoral planning. “In order for us to maintain the centrality of the Eucharist and the other sacraments in our lives, of course we need priests.”
He explained through pastoral planning they are trying to arrange ministry in such a way that priests can faithfully celebrate the sacraments – have time to prepare for celebrating liturgies, preparing homilies and so forth.
“We are also making sure we are building plans and clusters that a priest can maintain not only his priestly life and ministry, but health and all of the things that go into it,” said Father Lingle, who added asking more and more out of priests can take a toll on their health.
With that in mind, when the diocese unveiled the draft plan for Ministry 2025 last February, it announced that starting this year it would become diocesan policy that priests are only allowed to celebrate three weekend Masses. This does not include funerals or weddings.
Father Lingle doesn’t expect the three Mass policy to be a big change in most cases as three Masses is the norm. It is also canon law.
“We really want to pool resources together so that we have vibrant liturgies that have music, lectors, ushers and servers so the liturgy can be celebrated as a church that envisions it,” he said.
Using limited priestly resources wisely and creating vibrant parishes are two of the main priorities of Ministry 2025.
To ensure a smooth transition, much work is currently being done by the Priests Personnel Board.
Msgr. Kevin McCoy, vicar general and member of the Priests Personnel Board, explained the diminishing number of priests limits the board’s considerations. This can increase the complexity of the priest assignment process.
“Priests are not simply ‘interchangeable parts,’ they too have preferences as to whether they minister in rural and urban centers, whether the cluster of parishes supports a Catholic school or not or whether a cluster involves a regional hospital and/or prison ministry,” he said. “The variables are many.”
Msgr. McCoy said the new plan attempts to provide for the pastoral needs of the faithful throughout the diocese and will include use of deacons and trained laity for pastoral care.
Retired priests of the diocese continue to play a key role in ministry.
Msgr. McCoy noted retired priests were recently surveyed as to their willingness to be available for ministry.
“The inquiry addressed not only coverage for weekend Masses, but some longer term seasonal coverage or the like,” he explained. “It also asked about their interest in assisting with specific aspects of ministry, for example: penance services, nursing home Masses, RCIA, homebound visitation, spiritual direction, etc.”
Many have expressed a desire to be involved in ministry and other respondents have indicated that their health or personal circumstances no longer enable them to assist in a parish sacramentally.
Father Lingle noted it is clear and has always been clear that “we couldn’t do our ministry if the retired priests wouldn’t be so generous with their time.” If retired priests wouldn’t help, he said active priests would not be able to attend retreats, take a vacation, take part in continuing education or be covered for illness.
“It is so key for the vibrancy and health of our active priests to receive the support of the retired priests,” he said. “Parish clusters also benefit from that. Retired priests not only volunteer to cover Mass but participate in parish programs such Bible studies and nursing home visits.”
Some would argue that if retired priests are willing to take on ministry in some locations, they wouldn’t have to go to oratory status. But Father Lingle said there is such a great need for help with coverage already. Plus, he stressed, they are retired.