The Roman Catholic Church is a worldwide Christian institution organized into local churches committed to bringing God’s love and the Gospel message to the world and building up the kingdom of God.
The church grounds itself in this history which spans more than two millenia. From its very beginning in the early first century when Jesus said to Peter: “Thou art the rock and upon this rock I will build my church,” the Catholic church began to bring the Gospel message in word and deed to the far reaches of the earth.
Pope Francis leads more than one billion Catholic Christians around the world and guides them as the church’s chief shepherd. Roman Catholic popes are successors of St. Peter the first pope. For nearly 2000 years, the church has been electing popes to lead the worldwide church. This apostolic succession has remained intact even in the face of hardships and persecutions.
In the middle of the 20th century, the church once again examined itself and refreshed itself through the Second Vatican Council. The documents from the council are meant to bring the church into the modern age. It was a time of ‘opening the windows’ and getting back to basics of Christian life and evangelization.
Today the church continues to spread and proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus Christ often in hostile environments. The church of the 21st century finds itself firmly standing on the shoulders of church teachings that have withstood the test of time and culture and continue to be a beacon of hope in an often dark and weary world.
Many people wonder how decisions that impact the local church are made on a diocesan level. Most things involve input from either the presbyterate or a committee of laity. Assigning pastors is a good example.
“A diocesan bishop is to entrust a vacant parish to the one whom he considers suited to fulfill its parochial care, after weighing all the circumstances and without any favoritism.” Canon 524
Much prayer, thought and discernment goes into decisions about where priests serve during their careers in the diocese. The Bishop relies on his presbyterate for input and guidance in his leadership, and priest assignments are no exception. Most dioceses, including the Diocese of Jackson, have a personnel committee. This is a group of priests with a variety of experiences who discuss staffing parishes, schools and ministries. Some have been in the diocese a long time and bring their years of experience to the table. Others may have had experience outside of ordination in business or management. Younger priests who serve might offer knowledge of those who are just coming out of seminary.
The members are elected by their brother diocesan priests and serve staggered terms. All of them try to look out for the good of the church as a whole. The discussions are ongoing throughout the year and the committee meets, on average, bimonthly. It is also bound by Canon Law to respect the rights of pastors and pastoral communities. In the Diocese of Jackson, priests are assigned to a parish for six years, and can renew for another six year term. A pastor may request to move before his assignment ends or he may ask for a second six-year term. After 12 years, most pastors leave unless there is some special circumstance such as an ongoing building project or some particular pastoral issue. All of these factors are taken into consideration by the committee. The Vicar for Priests will communicate with the priest whose assignment is expiring.
Any priest can request an open parish or appeal to the committee to not be assigned to a certain parish, but the committee can, and sometimes does, override those requests. They are looking at the big picture, which may include the character of a particular faith community, future moves or retirements that may impact the current list of assignment, and the charisms of a particular priest.
When a newly-ordained priest is assigned, he will serve in a support role for a few years before he takes over a community for himself. These assignments as parochial vicars, sometimes called associate pastors, do not have term limits as do pastors. They can range anywhere from one to four years. As that term comes to its conclusion, the committee will speak with the priest and deliberate among themselves to determine the best assignment for the priest, the parish and the diocese, taking seriously any request that a particular priest makes. (If a priest under consideration for a change is serving on the Personnel Board his voice is heard, but it will not have undue influence.) At the proper time the consensus of the Personnel Board is presented to the bishop, and the bishop will affirm their recommendations or ask for more input.
Once the changes in assignments are official, each priest will get a letter of appointment from the bishop. He will be given the opportunity to announce the move to his own parish or school community before the assignment is published in the diocesan newspaper.
The current members of the Diocese of Jackson Personnel Board include: Father Tom McGing, pastor of Clinton Holy Savior Parish, Father Joe Tonos, pastor of Oxford St. John Parish, Father Scott Thomas, pastor of Clarksdale St. Elizabeth Parish, Father Tim Murphy, pastor of Pontotoc St. Christopher and Tupelo St. James Parishes and Father Jason Johnston, parochial vicar at Starkville St. Joseph Parish. The Vicar for Priests, Father Michael O’Brien, who also serves as pastor of Canton Sacred Heart Parish.
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