Skip to content

On the Removal and Transfer of a Parish Priest

Address by Auxiliary Bishop Porteous of Sydney

SYDNEY, Australia, JUNE 5, 2005 ( Here is the address delivered May 27 by Auxiliary Bishop Julian Porteous, of Sydney, during the theologians videoconference on "Canon Law at the Service of Priests," organized by the Congregation for Clergy.

* * *

The Removal and Transfer of a Parish Priest
By Auxiliary Bishop Julian Porteous

Theological and pastoral considerations

At first glance, the theme of the removal and transfer of a parish priest does not seem to pertain to the service of the parish priest. How can removing him from his pastoral office serve him?

However, the relevant canons (1740-1752) must be understood and applied against the wider theological and pastoral reality of the proper relationship between the diocesan bishop and the parish priest. I will now develop some important aspects of this relationship, drawing on the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the 2003 postsynodal apostolic exhortation of John Paul II, "Pastores Gregis."

Following the teaching of Vatican II, a diocese is rightly described in terms of relationships. The relationships that concern us here are those between the diocesan bishop, parish priests and the people entrusted to their pastoral care.

A diocese is "a community of the faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of the diocesan bishop, with the help of priests" ("Christus Dominus," 11; see also "Pastores Gregis," 47, and Canon 369). The relationship between the diocesan bishop and his priests is at the service of the faithful. Bishops and priests together share in the pastoral care of the Christ's faithful and must collaborate for the good of souls.

"With good reason the conciliar Decree 'Christus Dominus,' in describing the particular Church, defines it as a community of faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of a Bishop 'cum cooperatione presbyterii.' Indeed, between the Bishop and his presbyters there exists a 'communio sacramentalis' by virtue of the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, which is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ, and consequently, albeit in a different degree, in virtue of the one ordained ministry and the one apostolic mission" ("Pastores Gregis," 47).

Similarly, the parish is described as a community of the faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of a parish priest, under the authority of the bishop ("Christus Dominus," 28; Canon 515). The fathers of Vatican II emphasized that the parish priest was not a delegate of the diocesan bishop but the proper pastor of the parish community ("Christus Dominus," 28; Canon 519).

Traditionally, stability is an important element of the office of the parish priest (Canon 522). The canon uses the word "necessary" here; it is not just important, but necessary, for the parish priest to have stability in his office so that he can exercise his pastoral ministry.

The relationship, then, is not primarily juridical but a pastoral one that reflects the "communio sacramentalis." Bishops and priests are "cooperators," and Canon 384 speaks of the bishop's "special concern" for his priests, and he is to listen to them as "helpers" and "counselors."

Pope John Paul II "fleshed out" this relationship in these terms: "The Bishop will always strive to relate to his priests as a father and brother who loves them, listens to them, welcomes them, corrects them, supports them, seeks their cooperation and, as much as possible, is concerned for their human, spiritual, ministerial and financial well-being" ("Pastores Gregis," 47).

In "Pastores Gregis," Pope John Paul II spoke of two special moments in the relationship between the bishop and the priest. "The first is when the Bishop entrusts him with a pastoral mission. ... For the Bishop himself, conferring a pastoral mission is a significant moment of paternal responsibility towards one of his priests."

The second special moment "is when a priest, because of advanced age, resigns the actual pastoral leadership of a community or other positions of direct responsibility." Here, the Pope stresses the importance of the bishop affirming that the priest still has an important but different role to play in the pastoral care of the faithful.

Pope John Paul II then went on to speak of a more difficult situation for both priest and bishop, one that leads directly to a consideration of the canons on removal and transfer of the parish priest: "The Bishop will also show his fraternal closeness to priests in a similar situation because of grave illness or some other form of persistent disability, helping them to keep alive the conviction that ''they continue to be active members for the building up of the Church, especially by virtue of their union with the suffering Christ and with so many other brothers and sisters in the Church who are sharing in the Lord's Passion.'''

There may be occasions when the bishop, taking account of the needs of the priest, but also taking into account the needs of the flock entrusted to him, must consider a canonical process to remove the parish priest from his office. I will deal with the canons in more detail in the second session allotted to me.

The canons on removal and transfer

My purpose is not to analyze the canons but to look at them from the perspective of the priest whom the bishop proposes to move or transfer. The canons in various ways reflect the concern of the Church for the welfare of the priest.

The bishop must proceed in the spirit of the proper relationship outlined above, as father and brother. If possible, he should assure the priest that the process will be in his best interests and in the interests of the parishioners he has been serving.

The reasons for removal or transfer must be objectively serious, and the bishop will use pastoral advisers to discern the seriousness of the reasons. The canons point out that there may be no fault on the part of the priest.

The collaboration of other members of the presbyterate is necessary. The process may be the result of some crisis in the life of the particular priest or the initiation of the process may cause a period of crisis in the priest. It is important that at this moment he experiences in a real and practical way that he belongs to a presbyterate.

To this end the bishop will choose priests imbued with that same pastoral spirit who can accompany and encourage the priest through this period of crisis, which more than likely will continue after the process has reached its conclusion.

Hopefully, the priest will have access to competent canonical advice so that he is aware of his rights. The bishop may need to encourage him to seek such advice, perhaps from a canonist skilled in these matters from outside the diocese. In a fraternal gesture of support the bishop could assure him that financial costs in reasonably pursuing help and advice from outside the diocese will be met by the bishop.

Justice, and the process demand that the parish priest is involved in the process; he must be heard. To this end some independent person or body of persons well disposed to the overall good of the Church may need to be engaged who can monitor the process and advise both parties as to whether a just process is unfolding.

If at all possible, another pastoral assignment should be offered. This may, of necessity, be only of a very limited nature, however, it could be of great importance in the emotional and spiritual well-being of the priest; it will help him to perceive that he is still actively exercising his priesthood for the good of the Church. It would also help to maintain his esteem within the presbyterate that he is continuing to work with them and the bishop for the good of the diocese and wider Church.

While the reasons for removal must be objective, the delicate balance between the need to preserve the priest's privacy (Canon 220) and clear communication of the reasons for removal must be preserved.

This is made acutely delicate in some societies and nations, such as Australia, by the interest of the mass media in the affairs of the Church; the interest unfortunately tends towards highlighting anything negative, especially that which can be presented as scandalous.

The bishop will make provision for proper care of the priest, spiritually, emotionally and physically. He may need professional help. To this end the bishop or more effectively the bishops' conference may find it very helpful to work towards the establishment of a facility that can provide the necessary professional care for priests who find themselves in such need. Encompass, a project of the Australian bishops, is an example of an institute that caters for this need.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Priest, Parish, Porteous, Sydney, Canon, Law, Clergy, Congregation

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.