She will also be "working with a team of priests who will provide the sacramental ministries at St. Anthony," while having decision-making authority in the parish itself.
Arrangements like these often leave some Catholics with the impression that the priests are working "for" or "under" a lay person (which would be a novelty in a parish setting, but not unusual in other ecclesiastical settings). However, there is a distinction in canon law, and in the teaching of the Church, between collaboration and a hierarchical relationship.
Finding the right balance in ecclesial collaboration is important. Bishops are enjoined to promote and authentic expression of the gifts of all members of the Church, and to avoid any blurring of roles and responsibilities, that might obscure the unique dignity of the different members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
St. John Paul II issued in 1997 an authoritative instruction on lay and clerical collaboration, Ecclesiae de mysterio.
The pope instructed that arrangements like the one at St. Anthony of Padua should only be made in "exceptional cases" and because of a shortage of priests. The possibility of such arrangements is not, St. John Paul said, to be used for "convenience or ambiguous 'advancement of the laity.'"
The faithful have the right, expressed in c. 213, to receive the administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, and other means of obtaining sanctity from the pastors of the Church - that is from the priests and bishops. When lay parish life coordinators are appointed, they are not given charge of the spiritual care of the community: the "care of souls" is explicitly reserved to the clergy.
For that reason, while canon 517 creates the possibility for a lay person to be given "a share" in the running of a parish, it also requires that there be a priest designated responsible for the pastoral care of the the people. Whenever a deacon or lay person is appointed to such a role, "the bishop is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a pastor [parish priest], will direct the pastoral care" of the people, canon law explains.
This condition, Ecclesiae de mysterio affirms, must be followed with "strict adherence" in order to safeguard both the care of the faithful of the parish, and the distinction of the roles between a lay collaborator and a priest.
"Directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the parish; these competencies, according to the canon, are the competencies of a priest alone," the instruction explains.
In Ecclesiae de mysterio, St. John Paul taught that the impetus of Vatican Council II "opens vast horizons, some of which have yet to be explored, for the lay faithful."
As the Church responds to the changing landscape of society in different parts of the world, new ways for the laity to work together with the clergy will continue to emerge.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
St. John Paul II taught that as those new modes of collaboration are developed, it is important for bishops to promote the role of lay people in the Church, while ensuring among Catholics "the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion."
Ed Condon is a canon lawyer and worked as Catholic News Agency's Washington DC editor until December 2020.