Vicariates: Together with vision

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Robert P. Lockwood

Last of a three-part series.

In his April 3 Pittsburgh Catholic column, Bishop David Zubik wrote that the “Catholic Church is not a collection of independent congregations. Never has been, never will be. ... We Catholics are, as we acknowledge every time we say the creed, members of the body of Christ that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”

With that clear understanding, Bishop Zubik has asked that the diocese investigate a new system of pastoral governance of the parishes. As we have seen over the last two weeks, the plan is to move from a structure of 16 deaneries to what are called “regional vicariates.”

Regional vicariates are sections of a diocese made of parishes and Catholic institutions in that territory. Larger than deaneries, each regional vicariate will be headed up by a full-time regional vicar, a priest appointed by the bishop with clear authority under church law. He assists the bishop in carrying out his responsibilities and represents the bishop on a daily basis to the priests, religious and laity in his vicariate.

The benefits — to pastoral governance, to the clergy, religious and laity, to parishes, schools and to all Catholic institutions in the diocese — are clear. In February and March, the priests, deacons and parish leaders of the diocese were asked to list the benefits they saw in a regional vicariate system of pastoral governance. They came up with 22 pages containing nearly 400 advantages.

Here is a sampling of the benefits of a regional vicariate system under a regional vicar as described by the priests, deacons and parish leaders:

The regional vicars will have much more direct contact with local parishes, which will improve the parishioners’ contact with the bishop, as well as the bishop’s contact with the parishioners.

• The regional vicar will help improve communication as a two-way street between the bishop and his priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers.

• The regional vicar will be in a better position to assist parishes in financial difficulties before those difficulties become too big, while providing helpful assistance to parishes in their spiritual and social missions.

• The regional vicar should be an excellent impetus for greater spiritual renewal.

• By his very presence, the regional vicar will provide much greater visibility for the bishop in local parishes.

• The regional vicar will make it easier to share the bishop’s vision with every parish in the diocese. Regional vicars will be able to convey to the parishes the “big picture,” while conveying to the bishop the local picture.

• The regional vicar will help to ease the bishop’s administrative duties to free him up to deal with the larger issues that affect the lives of the faithful.

• Through the regional vicar, parishes will have a greater ability to work together on common problems. Parishes will be far less isolated from neighboring parishes.

• The regional vicar will be a catalyst to help neighboring parishes work together, share resources and organize together in common public causes.

• Parishes will no longer be forced to “reinvent the wheel.” Through the regional vicar, there will be a better understanding of programs and developments across parishes throughout the vicariate.

• In an era when many parishes are served by only one priest — and some priests lead more than one parish — pastoral planning guided by a regional vicar can ease pastoral burdens on overworked pastors.

• Younger priests taking on their first parish will have direct access to an experienced regional vicar for support, counsel and information.

• Coordinated evangelization and education programs among parishes could be implemented under the regional vicar.

• Regional vicars will help to energize local parishes so they will not think that every program has to come from the diocese.

• The regional vicar will be a catalyst for better parish planning and for greater inter-parish planning.

• Problems can be solved on the local level by the regional vicar and more quickly and efficiently. Parishes get the benefit of timely local decision-making.

• It will allow every section of the diocese to have equal attention.

• A regional vicar should expand the role of the laity in dealing with the problems that plague every parish.

• Regional vicars will be able to assist local parish Catholic schools in solving problems and coordinating with other Catholic schools.

The advantages of regional vicariates could be summarized as better communication all around, a greater presence for the diocesan bishop in his parishes, a greater ability to help overburdened pastors do their jobs, greater church unity, greater collaboration among parishes and a much better way for parishioners to get the ear of the bishop.

All in all, regional vicariates under regional vicars will help Catholics understand that they are not alone in their parishes. We are not individual parishes struggling to get by. We are, as Bishop Zubik stated in his first pastoral letter, “The Church Alive!”