The vocations crisis is not a legitimate reason for supressing a parish, the Vatican has warned in a new set of rules on renewing parish and diocesan life.
It said that non-legitimate reasons for closing a parish include a priest shortage and financial troubles in the diocese, as well as any other reason that is reversible and will likely be short-lived.
The Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy published instructions on Monday on reforming parishes and restructuring dioceses to better serve their “singular mission of evangelisation.”
The 24-page document is called ‘The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the service of the Evangelising Mission of the Church’ and seeks to “foster a greater co-responsibility and collaboration among all the baptised”, according to Msgr Andrea Ripa, the under-secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy.
The under-secretary described the instructional document as an “instrument with which to support and accompany the various projects of parish reform and diocesan restructuring”.
“One could say that the essence of the present Instruction is to recall that in the Church ‘there is a place for all and all can find their place’, with respect to each one’s vocation,” Msgr Ripa said in an introduction to the document July 20.
The instruction, which does not introduce anything new to Church law, sets out provisions of the existing law and guidelines to preserve “the Faithful from certain possible extremes, such as the clericalisation of the laity and the secularisation of the clergy, or from regarding permanent deacons as ‘half-priests’ or a ‘super laymen’”, the under-secretary wrote.
Signed by Pope Francis on June 29, the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul, the instruction promotes greater cooperation among different parish communities, emphasising the need for the parish to be inclusive, evangelising, and attentive to the poor.
“Pastoral activity needs to go beyond merely the territorial limits of the parish, to make ecclesial communion more clearly transparent by means of the synergy between ministers and diverse charisms, structuring itself as a ‘pastoral care for all’, at the service of the diocese and of its mission,” the document states.
To achieve this goal, the document recommends the establishment of ‘pastoral regions or units’ entrusted to the oversight of an episcopal vicar appointed by the bishop.
“At the heart of a process of renewal, instead of passively undergoing change by supporting and going along with it, there exists today the need to individuate new structures that will incite all those who make up the Christian community to fulfil their vocation to evangelize, with a view to a more effective pastoral care of the People of God, the ‘key factor’ of which is proximity,” it states.