Brisbane pastoral ministers guidelines: 'Zooming along' to priestless parishes?

Brisbane pastoral ministers guidelines: 'Zooming along' to priestless parishes?

Michael Gilchrist

"Where the parish presbytery becomes vacant, the pastoral council, parish team and pastor or pastor-supervisor may need to decide, in consultation with the appropriate archdiocesan authority, whether the presbytery would serve better as a community centre or as housing for a pastoral minister."

So reads part of the Brisbane archdiocese's draft guidelines for the appointment of parish pastoral ministers (i.e., pastoral ministry coordinators, pastoral associates and pastoral directors). The draft guidelines were circulated by a Mr Geoff Gowdie, Executive Director of the Office of Church Life and Mission, whose Vicar is Bishop Michael Putney.

The document sets in place what is basically a blueprint for an increasingly lay-run 'new church,' ensuring the 'right' kind of people are recruited, and that such people will enjoy wages and conditions on a par with the secular world. Prospective recruits to the priesthood who study this document might well wonder about the point of continuing on their course to ordination, when an alternative well paid and well-cared for 'lay priesthood' seems to be materialising.

Not that disincentives to priestly vocations are in short supply these days.

However, still unclear is from where will come the money to underwrite the salaries and numerous 'on-costs' for a potential army of lay ministers (some with families), at a time of shrinking congregations and financially strapped parishes.

Commenting on the absence for 1997 of even one new seminarian for the whole of Queensland at the Pius XII Seminary, Banyo, its Rector had said this was "not a cause for alarm," suggesting that some of the more than one hundred people studying theology at the Brisbane College of Theology, (part of which occupies the seminary premises), might later proceed to the priesthood. However, this latest document seems unlikely to foster such a desirable outcome.

Who would prefer the ordained priesthood, its celibacy, low pay, stresses and work-load, to the more regular hours, 'normal' salary and possibly a wife and family of a de facto 'lay priest', who even occupies a parish presbytery?

We read under "Remuneration Conditions" in the draft guidelines that a parish pastoral minister "who is not on a stipend" (i.e., not a brother/sister religious) would receive remuneration based on "the Social and Community Services Award". Full-time employment would follow the "community norm" of a 38-hour 5-day week – with allowance made for the fact that "Pastoral minister positions by their very nature normally require attendance during evenings, at weekends and on public holidays." Four weeks annual leave, with "a leave loading at the current statutory rate (17.5%)," and superannuation coverage, with a minimum employer contribution of 6% would be provided for. The list of on-costs goes on.

Regular travel in the line of duty would necessitate the provision of "a fully maintained motor vehicle" or a per kilometre allowance for the pastoral ministers' use of their own/ congregational (if religious) vehicles; likewise reimbursement for the use of the home telephone on parish business, and coverage for work related injury and illness.

Pecking order

As far as pecking order goes, on the bottom rung of the pastoral ministry ladder comes the "pastoral ministry co-ordinator," defined as: "a person employed by a parish or pastoral area under the direction of a pastor or pastoral director to co-ordinate one or more particular pastoral activities such as liturgy, youth ministry, catechetics, sacramental programs, liturgical music, etc."

Apart from being a baptised, practising Catholic, the person for the job must have "a commitment to the Mission and Directions of the Archdiocese of Brisbane". Whether this "commitment" requires an Oath of Fidelity to the Brisbane "Mission and Directions" is not specified. The pay levels for Schedules 1 and 2 of this position ranged between $23,016 and $29,945.

Next in rank comes a pastoral associate, defined as "a person appointed to assist a pastor or pastoral director in the leadership of a parish and who shares the responsibility for the pastoral care of the parish or pastoral area. A pastoral associate will normally be responsible for the co-ordination of a number of areas of pastoral ministry".

As before, "a commitment to the Mission and Directions of the Archdiocese of Brisbane" is required, with the two schedules of pay ranging from $30,633 to $37,162, depending on how much of a "course of 16 semester units in pastoral formation" has been completed.

Other educational requirements for a pastoral associate include "a commitment to two further semesters of training in such skills as counselling, group facilitation and leadership … if not already completed" and "a supervised pastoral placement … in conjunction with a recognised Pastoral Institute or with the approval of the Vicar for Pastoral Planning."

The dizzy eminence of a "Pastoral Director" may be achieved by completing a Bachelor of Theology degree or its equivalent and undertaking "a Graduate Diploma in Ministry or equivalent supervised internship and studies" – all, of course, at theologically correct institutes, such as the Brisbane College of Theology.

The prospect of an eventual army of "pastoral ministers" progressively taking up the slack of parish administration in the absence of priests seems anticipated by reference to "a register of all persons appointed as pastoral associates and pastoral directors" by the Vicariate for Church Life and Mission.

How many of the dwindling numbers of loyal Mass-going Catholics will continue to support such an arrangement remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, a cheaper long-term solution might be to take a hard look at the Banyo seminary itself and see what can be learned from other more successful seminaries about how to draw sufficient priestly recruits.

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