May 21, 2021

New parish leadership model is based in Second Vatican Council, canon law

By Sean Gallagher

Among the appointment of priests to ministry in parishes in central and southern Indiana that will take effect on July 7 and were published in the May 7 issue of The Criterion, there was one appointment that was unusual for the archdiocese.

Father Daniel Mahan and Father Jonathan Meyer have been appointed for a six-year term pastors in solidum of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Aurora, St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg and St. Teresa Benedicta Parish in Bright. All of these faith communities are in Dearborn County in the Batesville Deanery.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law makes such an appointment possible in Canon 517 §1, which reads as follows: “When circumstances require it, the pastoral care of a parish or of different parishes together can be entrusted to several priests in solidum with the requirement, however, that in exercising pastoral care one of them must be the moderator, namely the one who is to direct the joint action and to answer for it to the bishop.”

Father Meyer has been appointed the moderator of the Dearborn County parishes.

Several dioceses in the U.S. have implemented this model of parish leadership to good effect, according to Father Eric Johnson, archdiocesan vicar for clergy.

Msgr. Frederick Easton, who in retirement continues to serve as adjunct vicar judicial of the archdiocese, explained to The Criterion what ‘in solidum’ means and how the arrangement of multiple priests serving as pastors of one or more parishes works.

“Those who are pastors ‘in solidum’ work out together the arrangements of specific responsibilities,” Msgr. Easton said. “In other words, the concrete pastoral duties of a pastor to which each one of the pastors ‘in solidum’ is bound must be defined in the arrangement they establish together under the leadership of the moderator. All of the pastors ‘in solidum’ have all the faculties as pastor but they function collegially.”

Such an arrangement has some precedent in the archdiocese. Beginning in 1970, there were several parishes or groups of parishes that had two priests assigned as co-pastors. The practice, apart from some exceptional circumstances, stopped when the current Code of Canon Law was implemented in 1983.

Msgr. Easton also noted that the earlier practice of appointing co-pastors and the appointment of pastors “in solidum” made possible by canon 517 §1 are rooted in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which encouraged collegiality in ministry in the Church for the better accomplishment of its mission to proclaim the Gospel and for the salvation of souls. †

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