Why vicariates and why now?: More than moving furniture

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Bishop David A. Zubik

Throughout the past year, there has been an ongoing discussion and study of making a change in how the diocese and our parishes are organized pastorally and practically. The goal is to help me as diocesan bishop to maintain and even grow my close contact with all the parishes and other faith communities in the diocese.

What we have been looking at is moving from a system of deaneries to what are called “regional vicariates.” This week, I thought it would be good to discuss this with you a bit deeper. Specifically, I would like to answer two questions: Why we are considering vicariates and why now?

Currently, the diocese is divided into 16 geographical deaneries. In each of these deaneries, a pastor from one of the parishes is appointed “dean.” Briefly, his job is to review roughly once a year with each pastor or parish administrator the state of his parish. He checks to see that parish sacramental records are in order, that the parish is reasonably sound, and that canonical and diocesan regulations are being followed.

The dean, a full-time pastor himself, has no ordinary authority over the individual parishes in his deanery. If there are difficulties, he can report them to me as diocesan bishop or the general secretary, Bishop Bradley. But he does not have the authority to work with parishes individually or collectively to solve problems.

A vicariate structure is different. While still dividing the diocese geographically, vicariates are headed by “regional vicars.” A regional vicar is a priest appointed by the bishop to oversee one of these vicariates. Unlike the dean, the regional vicar not only represents the bishop on a daily basis in that region as his full-time job, but he has the authority within church law by his appointment from the bishop to get things done.

In addition to what deans do now, a regional vicar, for example, can coordinate pastoral care between parishes, resolve problems on the local level and serve as the administrative representative of the bishop. A regional vicar helps the bishop exercise his pastoral office in that region. And he can act with authority.

Direct access

So, why are we considering vicariates?

The fundamental reason is simple. The Catholic Church is not a collection of independent congregations. Never has been, never will be. What happens in parishes, in all parishes, is critically important. Regional vicars will have the authority from me to pull people together and get things done on a local level. Regional vicariates mean parishes working together — sharing resources, sharing people, sharing ideas, sharing the faith — simply put, being “The Church Alive.”

Regional vicariates mean that parishes won’t and can’t be isolated from each other or from the entire diocesan church. They will allow the local parishes to have easier and more direct access to me, and allow me to be closer to the parishes.

Regional vicariates mean that I will be able to have a representative in each area who can keep me informed of what is happening “on the ground.” These “vicars” will have the authority from me to solve problems before they become big problems, and to let me know what our parishes truly need from me as bishop and/or what assistance is needed from the Pastoral Center of the diocese.

Regional vicars will provide accountability, the knowledge that parishes are responsible for more than their own future, and that the bishop is responsible for more than just diocesan administration. The bishop serves the parishes, and his administration must work completely with that in mind.

Simply stated, it is my firm and enthusiastic belief that regional vicariates will help us toward a truly Catholic understanding of the church. We Catholics are, as we acknowledge every time we say the creed, members of the body of Christ that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Regional vicariates will help to foster a common vision among all the parishes of the diocese that we are the body of Christ.

Energy of the Holy Spirit

Why vicariates now?

Since my return in September 2007 to serve as your bishop, I have sensed the movement of the Holy Spirit in so many people and in so many ways. There is a hunger and a vitality that is waiting to be fed and nurtured so the church can grow and develop. In short, there is an enthusiasm for the faith that we as church must capture and spread.

In our faith, we distinguish between sanctifying grace and actual grace. Sanctifying grace is the underlying grace received in baptism, nurtured through the Eucharist, restored in the sacramental rite of reconciliation when we fall from a state of grace, and an active and transforming gift from God in all the seven sacraments of the church.

Actual graces are the graces that God gives us to respond in particular times to particular needs and particular challenges that God has placed before us. I believe that the Spirit is providing us with the opportunity, the actual grace, to grow the church, to help people become excited about their faith.

It is my firm and enthusiastic belief that regional vicariates are one of the important ways that we can respond to the grace that God offers to us at this moment in time. It is an important way we can embrace Jesus’ trust in us to grow his body, the church.

We are all familiar with the idea that the whole can truly be greater than the sum of all its parts. By promoting, supporting and coordinating pastoral care in the various regions of the diocese, regional vicariates can create something far greater than a collection of individual, isolated parishes. They can respond to the same energy of the Holy Spirit that gave birth to the church at Pentecost and continues to give life to our beloved Church of Pittsburgh. I see that life as I move about the diocese every day.

There is an old saying, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?” The move to a system of regional vicariates is a call to all of us to capture the enthusiasm of the Spirit moving among us, to combine our energies for the sake of Jesus and his Gospel. The guidance and administration of regional vicars around a common vision of the Gospel will help to grow the church and to know that it is “The Church Alive.”

Moving from a deanery model to that of vicariates is more than moving furniture. It is our chance to embrace a window of opportunity like the apostles at Pentecost to be “salt of the earth, leaven within the dough, the light on the hill” that manifests, expands and extends God’s gracious kingdom in the world so that we can and truly will be even more so, “The Church Alive!”