It’s a common question: Why is my parish priest being reassigned to another parish? This question especially comes up when the priest is beloved by parishioners and then, quite naturally, there is angst about what the future of the parish will look like.
The first thing to remember is that diocesan priests don’t “belong” to a parish, but in fact, belong to the universal church. Diocesan priests, through their ordination by their local bishop, therefore, serve the people of their diocese.
When they were ordained priests, they made a promise of respect and obedience to the bishop and his successors. The purpose of obedience is not a matter of arbitrarily imposing authority or seeking to exercise control for its own sake but flows rather out of a sense of mission — a mission to serve the Catholic faithful in their diocese, not just one parish.
If your parish has a priest that is beloved and has brought new life and a spiritual awakening to the people, and he is now being reassigned, give thanks to God for the blessing that he has been to your parish. Then, look at it from a perspective that with the new assignment, that priest can now help people at another parish in our diocese grow spiritually. Think of it as “paying it forward.” Also, think about how your new priest will be able to bring new gifts to your parish that will enable you to continue to grow.
It’s also important to remember that priests have different strengths and talents. The dynamics of parishes change over time. So, the strengths and talents of a “new” priest might fit the needs of that parish better. In addition, it’s easy for parishes to sometimes go into “cruise control” when a pastor has been in place for a long time, even if things are going well. A new priest can bring new ideas, which in turn, sends a signal to lay leadership at the parish to get out of “cruise control” and try new initiatives that can help people grow in our faith.
There are also other practical reasons for moving priests. It allows them to expand their experiences and gain new perspectives. Priest retirements and new priests being ordained each year naturally translates into having some rearrangement of assignments.
You might also ask: Why make these changes now with the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic? While being mindful of the pandemic, the Catholic Church must still prepare for the return to normal life when this crisis passes.
If you are getting a new priest, make him feel welcome. Remember that transitions are difficult for the priests themselves, so they deserve the same love and support that you gave to your last priest. Avoid forcing him to conform to something he might not be familiar or comfortable with by saying to him, “That’s how we’ve always done it here” or “That’s not how the previous pastor did things.” Don’t gossip and don’t publicly voice your objections about a new priest to anyone. Patience is a virtue, so give him a chance, and help him navigate the parish, the school, and city. Invite your new priest over for dinner or write him a welcome card with perhaps a gift card to a local eatery.
Our priests are very dedicated and work hard, so please pray and support all our priests, especially if you are getting a new pastor. Remember, without our priests, we the faithful don’t have access to the sacraments.