Research on the current state of lay ministry in the American Catholic Church

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Fri, 12/01/1995
End Date: 
Wed, 12/31/1997

The ministry structure of the Catholic Church in the U.S. has changed dramatically over the past quarter century, due to the decline in priestly vocations. In 1968, for example, the 142 parishes of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis were staffed by more than 300 priests; thirty years later those same parishes are staffed by a mere 132 priests. Parishes in the past were regularly served by two or three priests; today the majority of parishes are served by a single pastor, and 25 parishes in Indianapolis have no resident priest at all. One consequence of the decline in priestly vocations has been the growth of the number of lay men and women who serve as youth ministers, directors of liturgy, pastoral associates, directors of religious education, and in other capacities. Lay ministers now outnumber priests by more than two to one in Indianapolis, and the same general pattern can be found throughout the U.S. This project will allow the United States Catholic Conference to conduct a comprehensive national inquiry into the current state of lay ministry in the American Catholic Church. The first goal of the project is to provide diocesan bishops with accurate information on lay ministry in America. The USCC will also initiate a series of regional and nation-wide consultations with bishops from around the country with a view to developing national standards for the education, certification, placement, and compensation of lay ministers. Finally, this project hopes to present the bishops with a long-range plan for addressing this burgeoning ministerial development. The activities of this ongoing project include: 1. A January 1996 survey of every U.S. diocese, 36 professional associations, and 86 graduate programs in ministry that was used to prioritize issues for investigation (the issues identified were the theology of lay ministry; the formation, education and professional development of lay ministers; and improving relations between priests and lay ministers). 2. A March 1996 meeting of representatives of 21 lay ministerial associations, bishops and others to discuss issues that lay ministers deem important, including the theology of lay ministry, relations with ordained pastors, and formation and certification. 3. In the Spring of 1996 several focus groups of bishops from around the country were convened to explore in detail the issues raised in the survey; the bishops concluded that understanding the theology of lay ministry and the ecclesiology it presupposes is the highest priority issue. 4. In May 1997 a colloquium was held at the University of Dayton, involving bishops and theologians, to discuss the theological issues raised by lay ministry and to formulate recommendations.