Press Release From NPLC

The release doesn’t give any wild new information, but I wanted to point out one item on the numbers of lay ministers and their areas of responsibility. Note that out of 30,632 minister in paid positions, 9% are musicians, and almost 6% are liturgists.

Why do I point this out? By the numbers, only one in seven parishes has a paid music director, and about one in eleven has a liturgist. That means at least 85% have neither, and I’m mystified how the NPM/OCP/Bugnini Modernist cabal maintains itself when most parishes are up for grabs professionally.


New York, NY, November–The percentage of U.S. Catholic parishes that employ lay ministers at least 20 hours per week has grown significantly, from 54 percent in 1990 to 66 percent in 2005, according to a new study conducted by the National Pastoral Life Center for the nation’s Catholic bishops. Lay Parish Ministers: A Study of Emerging Leadership (published November, 2005), finds that today 30,632 lay parish ministers work in such paid positions, a 1.61 to 1 ratio of lay parish ministers to parishes. The percentage of parishes with lay parish ministers is rising in every locale, especially in the inner city, urban business districts, and small towns. Most lay parish ministers (74 percent) work full-time. “Lay” in the study includes both laypeople in the ordinary use of the term and also religious sisters and brothers. One especially significant finding is the marked decrease in the number of women religious working in parishes. In 1990, women religious constituted 41 percent of the lay parish ministers, but in 2005, women religious make up just 16 percent.

Over the last fifteen years, while the number of resident priest-pastors and of parishes has decreased, the Catholic population has increased. How have parishes provided quality worship, education, and other services? Part of the answer is that the number of lay parish ministers has grown markedly. Today parish priests and lay parish ministers, 80 percent of whom are women, are working together. The findings show that the proportion of those laywomen, who are not vowed religious, in parish ministry has grown from 44 percent in 1990 to 64 percent in 2005. The percentage of laymen in parish ministry has also grown, from 15 percent in 1990 to 20 percent in 2005.

The Untold Story

While media have focused on the shortage of clergy, the untold story is that laity have entered parish ministry in numbers never seen before to work with ordained priests and permanent deacons. Some people have speculated that the increasing number of lay parish ministers may resolve the critical shortage of ordained priests. “Not really,” says the Rev. Eugene F. Lauer, director of the National Pastoral Life Center, “Lay ministers do not take the place of priests. Rather they are doing the ministries that come from their baptismal commitment that both complement and support the central role of the priest leader of the parish, especially in his ministry of presiding at Eucharist and sacraments.”

Religious educators (41.5 percent) make up the largest percentage of lay parish ministers, followed by general pastoral ministers (25 percent), youth ministers (10.2 percent), music ministers (9 percent), liturgists (5.9 percent), and all others (8.4 percent). The study also documents the lay ministers’ education and preparation, experience in the workplace, financial compensation and benefits, and job satisfaction.

Will the Infusion of Laity Last?

Is lay pastoral leadership a passing fad? Consider these findings: nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of lay parish ministers believe they are pursuing a lifetime career in ministry; 54.2 percent of those say that a “call from God” led them to parish ministry; and 51 percent of lay parish ministers have obtained their highest degree in a pastoral field. Moreover, 18,847 laity are now enrolled in degree or certificate programs in ministry.

The author of the study is Dr. David DeLambo, a sociologist who co-authored two previous parish studies with Msgr. Philip J. Murnion, founder of the National Pastoral Life Center. DeLambo is the Associate Director of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of Cleveland.


This is the third study, and the most comprehensive to date, building on the 1990 data in New Parish Ministers, and the 1997 data in Parishes and Parish Ministers, both published by the National Pastoral Life Center in New York. The Center serves the leadership of the church’s pastoral ministry, particularly in parishes and diocesan offices. An independent non-profit organization, it was founded in 1983 with the encouragement of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This study is part of a larger project undertaken by the Committee on the Laity of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with major support from the Lilly Endowment and additional funding by the Emerging Models of Pastoral Excellence Project.

A copy of the study’s Executive Summary, published in the Fall 2005 issue of CHURCH magazine as part of a 16-page booklet called “Ministries: A Parish Guide, can be ordered for $2.50. The complete study, Lay Parish Ministers ($19.95 plus s+h) is available (new publications).


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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