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)