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Lay Ministry Guidelines Approved

A ten-year project of the Bishops Subcommittee on Lay Ministry came to fruition on November 15 when U.S Bishops approved a major document giving guidelines on lay ecclesial ministry in the Church. The document describes “lay ecclesial ministry” as a generic term for non-ordained people engaging in substantial public leadership positions collaborating closely with, and under the authority of the ordained leadership.

Many lay ministers, 80% of whom are women, are valiantly holding parishes together in a time of fewer priests. There are more paid lay ministers in the U.S. than parish priests. A recent study from the National Pastoral Life Center’s found that we have over 30,632 lay ministers who work at least 20 hours a week in paid positions in U.S. Catholic parishes and 2,163 more who do such work at least 20 hours a week on a volunteer basis. There are about 1.6 paid lay ecclesial ministers per U.S. parish. By way of comparison, there are about 28,000 parish priests. According to Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there are another 18,847 lay ministers working toward professional credentialing compared with 3,308 men studying to be priests in major seminary.

In a press statement at the bishops’ meeting FutureChurch’s Sr. Chris Schenk said: “We don’t have a shortage of vocations in the Catholic Church, what we have is a shortage of vision.

Our parishes are a privileged place for experiencing Christ’s love and saving power. Parish life is seriously threatened by the priest shortage and by poor leadership from our bishops. It is past time for episcopal leaders to listen to the sensus fidelium - the spirit inspired beliefs of the faithful - and expand ordination to all those called to it by God and the People of God.”

The document also describes the theology of lay ministry and differences between ordained ministry and ministry arising out of the sacraments of initiation. It sets out guidelines for the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of lay ministers and addresses the role of church authorities in certifying, authorizing and appointing them. (Available at www.nalm.org)





Fall 2005



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