Young Priests: How Long?

In his Q&A session with priests of the Diocese of Rome, the Holy Father discusses an interesting point, the term of an associate pastor. The pope has been on a theme of priest as teacher, hence the reference plunked in this quote.

The first question is much harder for me — the question is also [addressed] to Your Eminence [the vicar, Cardinal Agostino Vallini] — namely, the permanence of the young priest to give guidance to young people. Undoubtedly, a personal relationship with the teacher is important and must also have the possibility of a certain period to get to know each other. And, in this sense, I can agree that the priest, point of orientation for young people, cannot change every day, because in this way, in fact, he loses this orientation.

In my previous diocese, young priests were moved fairly frequently. In my parish, the last two young associates were assigned for twelve months and three months respectively before moving on to pastorates. I knew a guy or two who went right from seminary to heading a parish.

On the other hand, the young priest must also have different experiences in different cultural contexts, precisely to obtain, in the end, the cultural equipment necessary to be, as pastor, the point of reference for a long time in the parish.

If bishops are disinclined or unable to leave newly minted clergy in a parish for a few years of stability, it would seem the seminary years would need to provide the “different experiences.” I wonder if the recent US visitation touched on that point.

This observation on young people is also interesting, with ramifications beyond just the ministry of priests:

And I would say that in the life of the young person, the dimensions of time are different from those of the life of the adult. The three years, from 16 to 19, are at least as long and as important as the years between 40 and 50. Precisely here is where the personality is formed: It is an interior journey of great importance, of great existential extent.

If the late adolescent years are so vital, why then, do so many parishes neglect youth ministry? When the pope or others who have influence offer thoughts like this, it’s sad that they just sort of sit there as nice sentiments apart from actual policy or priority. For bishops, Pope Benedict offers this thought:

In this sense, I would say that three years for an assistant pastor is a good period of time to form a generation of young people; and in this way, moreover, he can also know other contexts, learn about other situations in other parishes, enrich his human knowledge. The time is not that brief in order to give a certain continuity, an educational path of the common experience, to learn to be a man. On the other hand, as I have said, for youth three years is a decisive and very long time, because the future personality is really being formed. It seems to me, therefore, that both needs can be reconciled: on one hand, that the young priest have the possibility of different experiences to enrich his store of human experience; and on the other, the need to stay for a determined period of time with the young people to really introduce them to life, to teach them to be human persons. In this sense, I think that both aspects can be reconciled: different experiences for a young priest, continuity in the accompaniment of the young people in order to guide them in life.

What do you think?



About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Young Priests: How Long?

  1. Dan Lacey says:

    I took the photo of that young priest while at a cafe across the street from the church of St. Anthony in Padua while on a pilgrimmage with my wife in 2000. So, good choice!

    You may also enjoy my recent painting of St. Padre Pio-

    All the best

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks, Dan, for the use of the image. It’s really nice and seemed to fit the post.

  3. FrMichael says:

    For an academic, the pope does exhibit a pastoral touch in these smaller sessions that sometimes seems not as evident in the large scale (to wit, the Williamson and LC scandals).

    As a pastor, I would rather be made an administrator of another parish while maintaining my own parish than having a young priest take over a parish unprepared. Bishops ought to allow the young priests a couple three-year terms as associates in different settings before throwing them in as pastors. I think it’s a near-crime to send young priests (less than 5 years ordination) into pastorates of large parishes.

  4. Jimmy Mac says:

    The sad part is that the parishioners have to suffer the inadequacy of ill-prepared priests, irrespective of age or temperament.

    Fr. Michael has the right idea here. Parishes in dioceses with severe priest shortages seem to survive and often thrive under the care of usually non-ordained pastoral administrators. If ordination is needed to keep the theocons at bay, use deacons.

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