The people of the baptized include many charisms. The ministry of the parish priest is part of this set. As a priest, the parish priest was ordained in the service of the local Church; he must proclaim the Word of God, serve his people and represent Christ sacramentally in the celebration of the sacraments. As pastor, he has the pastoral charge of the communities of his Pastoral Unit and he is their proper pastor. This is why it seemed good in the diocese of Liège to specify the function of the parish priest within the current framework of the life of the local Church.
The parish priest’s ministry in the Church
“The parish priests are the bishop’s co-workers: it is to them that, as their proper pastors, is entrusted the care of souls in a specific part of the diocese, under the authority of the bishop” (1) . The parish priest thus implements the cura animarum, the care of souls, that is to say the care of the people who are entrusted to his care. It is from this mission that he derives the name of “parish priest”.
However, a balance must be found between the role of the parish priest and the role of the other baptized in the Pastoral Unit. This corresponds to the vision of the Church that the apostle Paul shared with the Corinthians (1 Cor 12: 27-28.31): “You are the body of Christ and, each for your part, you are members of this body. Among those whom God thus placed in the Church, there are firstly apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly those who have charge of teaching; then there are the miracles, then the gifts of healing, of assistance, of government, the gift of speaking various mysterious languages (…). Therefore seek with ardor the greatest gifts ”.
In this perspective, “the various components that make up the parish are called to communion and unity. It is to the extent that each one recognizes his own complementarity and puts it at the service of the community that, on the one hand, the ministry of the parish priest and the priests who collaborate with him as pastors is fully realized and that, on the other hand , manifests the specificity of the different charisms of deacons, consecrated persons and lay people. Thus each one acts for the construction of the one body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12) ”(2).
As Pope Francis writes, the parish “is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink to continue walking, and the center of a constant missionary sending” (3).
Parishes and Pastoral Units in the Diocese of Liège
In our diocese, the parish network, made up of 551 parishes (and 190 chapels), has been configured for more than four decades in pastoral sectors, since the pro-synodal of 1974 under the episcopate of Bishop Guillaume-Marie van Zuylen (1961 -1986), then gradually under Bishop Albert Houssiau (1986-2001), in “Pastoral Units”, when a sector was entrusted to a single parish priest. Finally, under the episcopate of Bishop Aloys Jousten (2001-2013) took place the official creation of Pastoral Units, numbering 74 (currently 70), through a participatory procedure which had called upon the deans, parish priests and their collaborators as well as the bodies concerned in order to generalize this grouping to the entire parish network of the diocese of Liège. In the meantime, the designation of Pastoral Unit to qualify the attribution of several parishes to one and the same parish priest (cf. c. 526 § 1) was endorsed by the Roman Magisterium in the Directory for the pastoral ministry of bishops, of 2004, § 215b (and more recently in the Instruction of the Congregation for the Clergy, The pastoral conversion of the parish community, June 27, 2020, § 43).
When we unite parishes in pastoral unity, we need a head to lead and coordinate, to celebrate and to teach: this is the role of the parish priest. This is why it seemed good to us to clarify the mission of parish priest in the diocese of Liège by developing this Diocesan Directory of the Ministry of Pastors. It follows on from other directives, on the foundation of Pastoral Units (2002), Relay Teams (2004), Deans (2005), the Economic Council of Pastoral Unity (2010), pastoral animators and pastoral animators. (2009), parish assistants (2010), the Pastoral Team (2012) and the Council of Pastoral Unity (CUP) (2014).
The usefulness of a directory of priests
This document presents, in the form of a directory, canonical provisions relating to the ministry of Pastoral Unity Pastor. In recent years, several fellow priests have asked for a “cahier des charges” to exercise their mission as parish priest. However, such a function in the Church has already been regulated for centuries by canon law until its recent codifications of 1917 and 1983. The Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church promulgated in 1983, like that of 1917, offers a regulation which constitutes a true framework law of the office of parish priest.
But such legislation in force for the entire Latin Church benefits from being transcribed or transposed into the reality of the local diocesan Churches and their particular law. It must take into account the evolution of mentalities and the current situation of the Church, in particular the impulses of Pope Francis and his invitation to develop synodality. It was therefore necessary to carry out this work of “translation” and adaptation to the reality of the diocese of Liège.
The parish priest and his pastoral team
This Directory recalls the importance given in the diocese to the reality of the Pastoral Team. This has become the “normal” framework for the exercise of the pastoral charge of the parish priest. The latter is henceforth called to exercise his ministry in his threefold personal, collegial and community modality: the pastor as proper pastor of the parish (“one”; personal responsibility), the other faithful with him (“some”). collegiality or team partnership); in connection with the community and in its service (“all”; reference to the Council of Pastoral Unity). The pastoral leadership as a team reminds us that no Christian, even ordained, is the center of gravity of the parish. The ordained ministry of priests means that everything comes from Christ in the Spirit. No one is Christ, nor the sole holder of the Spirit, as collaboration in pastoral leadership suggests. Thus, in union with the diocesan bishop, the fraternity between priests, deacons and other pastoral actors is beneficial for the communities (ripple effect), for those concerned (sharing of the faith), for the service of the mission. (spiritual discernment nourished by listening to the Word). For priests, this supposes that they are not, or do not do everything, that they avoid the temptation of omnipotence or omnipresence and that they enter into relationships of trust with their collaborators.
The parish and its various charisms
As for the parishes, if they mutate and change form (today, that of Pastoral Unity), they constitute the foundation of the local Church. In fact, they provide the basis of the Christian faith, through the sacraments, catechesis and mutual aid services. They also aspire to be missionaries, as I said in my pastoral letter of 2019, “Go to the country that I will show you”. For this, everyone, and in particular the parish priest, must live closeness, encounter, benevolence towards others and a sense of community. This means in particular contact with free Catholic schools with a view to possible collaboration in the field of school pastoral care; collaboration with mutual aid associations, to activate the commitment of Christians to the poorest; a good relationship with institutes of consecrated life and spiritual movements; a link with the services of the bishopric, and more particularly the pastoral care of young people, migrants, couples and families, the services of church factories, the media, catechesis and Christian formation.
Acknowledgments and sending
I thank all those who collaborated in the drafting of this Directory and in particular Father Alphonse Borras, who is the initiator and the main editor; he injected into it all his experience and his competence as vicar general of the diocese, from 2001 to 2020.
I thank those who have contributed to perfecting this document, in particular the Episcopal Council which examined it and made it its own before submitting it to the Presbyteral Council for modifications and amendments with regard to the pastoral work implemented in the diocese and of the proven uses of the clergy. At the end of the development of this device, I myself endorsed the alterations and additions to finally approve it and make it mine in my Episcopal Council of May 21, 2021 for the purposes of promulgating it.
May this directory be a help in our diocese, so that the parish priest discerns what to do and assesses his mission. The clarification of the tasks assigned to each will make it possible to establish a necessary serenity in the Pastoral Team and to focus it on its mission, especially towards those who are far from the Church and await salvation for their lives.
It is for this purpose that in this seventh year of my episcopate and on the occasion of the feast of the Visitation of Mary, I promulgate this directory in the form of an episcopal ordinance.
Done in Liège, May 31, 2021
† Jean-Pierre Delville, Bishop of Liège
This episcopal ordinance will come into force on June 29, 2021, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
The different parts of the order
1. The parish priest of the Pastoral Unit and his collaborators
2. The appointment of the parish priest
3. The end of the priest’s mission
4. The duties of the parish priest
5. The rights and prerogatives of the parish priest
6. The parish priest’s collaboration with the Councils and working groups