Catholic Ministry
Has Unique Boundaries

Catholic ministry, whether it's a soup kitchen, or marriage counseling, takes place only within very clearly defined geographical and administrative boundaries and differs from the ministry of other denominations in two fundamental ways...

  1. The first way that the only ministry in a catholic diocese is the ministry of the bishop who heads that diocese.

    Though in conversation priests and professed religious, as well as lay ministers, refer to "My ministry", none of them may work in the diocese without the explicit permission of the bishop. In catholic ministry, they are all doing the bishop's ministry.

  2. Unlike many non-catholic denominations, lay catholics have no say in the hierarchical organization of the church or in the election or assignment of bishops or priests with authority over them. All authority is bestowed from above from pope to bishop to pastor.

    All ministry in the catholic church is governed by a clerical hierarchy within specific territories...

The Pope And The Vatican

The pope is elected in closed conclave by a body of bishops appointed by the previous popes, who are called cardinals. They make up the college of cardinals whose sole function is to elect the pope. 

The pope, is not only head of the Roman Catholic Church, he is also a Head of State. The Vatican is a sovereign nation among the other nations of the world. It has political ties to other countries through its diplomatic corps, through treaties, through its seat in the United Nations, and it has worldwide financial ties through its central bank.

The Bishop And The Diocese

A priest is selected by the pope to be a bishop who is then appointed by the pope to head a diocese in which the bishop is the sole authority for catholics in matters of faith and morals.

The bishop has three major responsibilities...

  1. To teach the magisterium of the church relating to such beliefs as the divinity of Jesus, the authority of scripture, and so forth.
  2. Ministering to the sacramental needs of the people in the diocese.
  3. Ordaining priests to help meet the sacramental needs of the people.

The Pastor And The Parish

In catholic ministry, the pastor of a parish, which is a subdivision of the diocese with its own local church, is a priest ordained and appointed by the bishop.

At his ordination the priest makes a solemn public promise to assist the bishop in carrying out the bishopÂ’s ministry to the diocese.

In catholic ministry, the priest is not independent of the bishop. He cannot engage in public ministry of any kind without the explicit authority to do so from the bishop.

And under the due process requirements of canon law the bishop may withdraw his permission for a priest to function if there is good cause to do so.

All catholic ministry, then, takes place in both a religious and political context. 

This elaborate and ancient organization is the context in which even the humblest catholic ministry, such as a soup kitchen, takes place. While non-catholic ministry is often much more local...and often includes input from the congregation about hiring and firing of local church ministers.

This complex organization has been an added complication in redressing violations of sexual boundaries. Because offending ministers could simply be tranferred from one jurisdiction to another without notification to, or input from, the people of the congregation.  This permitted secrecy and coverups in the church.  

With the advent of local child protection policies in dioceses, the organizational structure of the catholic church will be much more transparent in identifying and dealing with boundary violations by clergy as well as religious and lay ministers.

From catholic ministry you can return to professional boundaries

Or you can...

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