Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Response Concerning a Priest’s Care of More than One Parish, 13 November 1997.
By letter dated 15 September 1997, you addressed three questions to this Pontifical Council concerning situations in which the care of more than one parish is entrusted to a single priest. In particular, you asked:
1. In light of cc. 515 and 526, can a pastor, in the fullest canonical sense, be pastor of more than one parish simultaneously?
2. If the answer to the dubium is affirmative, that a priest can be pastor of more than on parish at the same time, is he bound according to c. 534, para. 1, to say the Missa pro populo for each parish of which he is the canonical pastor?
3. If the answer to the dubium is affirmative then to remove a pastor according to cc. 1740-1747, can one process be used to deprive him of all his parishes or must the process be repeated separately for each parish of which he is pastor?
A careful examination of the issues that you raised reveals that all three questions technically concern the application of the law, rather than its interpretation. The questions arise nor from the language of the pertinent canons, which are in themselves clear, but rather from the application of the law to particular factual situations.
Given that it is the Congregation for the Clergy that would have competence in this area, we have taken the liberty of forwarding your correspondence to that Dicastery. Any further questions concerning this matter could therefore be directed to that Congregation. In the meantime, we have also attached hereto some background information and observations pertaining to the canonical issues that you have raised.
In the hope that these points of clarification will be of some assistance to you, and with personal best wishes and prayers for your intention, I am
Fraternally in the Lord,
Observations Concerning Cases in Which the Pastoral Care of More than One Parish is Entrusted to a Single PastorIn general, the Code of Canon Law of 1983 accepts the traditional canonical principle of “one parish, one pastor.” This is evident, for example in c. 526, §1 which explicitly provides that “Parochus unius paroeciae tantum curam paroecialem habeat.” That very canon, however, recognises that there may be exceptions to the traditional principle: “ob penuriam tamen sacerdotum aut alia adiunctam, plurium vicinarum paroeciaram cura eidem parocho concredi potest.”
While the Code does not explicitly establish that the priest responsible for the pastoral care of more than one parish as described in c. 526, §1, could or should be parochus in each of these parishes, we must also note the absence of any indication that the priest could not be pastor or each parish. There is nothing in either the Code or in the Acta documenting the process of the revision of the Code which would determine or suggest that the priest mentioned in c. 526 could not be nominated pastor in each parish entrusted to his care. In fact, the overwhelming majority of canonical scholars commenting on c. 526 are in agreement that a single priest could canonically be pastor in each and every parish entrusted to him.
While it is true that c. 152 of the Code at times would prohibit the conferral of two or more offices on the same person, a careful reading of the canon established that the prohibition actually applies only to two incompatible offices, “videlicet quae una simul ab eodem adimpleri nequeunt.” With respect to the office of pastor, the question of incompatibility of one of fact, rather than law. Although one can imagine particular cases in which two pastorates would be incompatible (by reason of the needs of size of the parishes or the distance that separates them), present experience in many dioceses confirms that there could be situations in which a single priest would be able to provide adequate pastoral care in more than one parish.
In cases in which an individual priest would be pastor of more than one parish, the question of his obligation to celebrate a missa pro populo would be determined by reference to c. 534, §2: “Parochus, qui plurium paroeciarum curam habet, diebus de quibus in §1, unam tantum missam pro universo sibi commissio populo applicare tenetur.” The use of the same expression that is found in c. 526 (“curam plurium paroeciarum”) clearly suggests the connection between c. 534 and the pastoral situation described in c. 526, without distinguishing between the various forms in which a single priest could be entrusted with the pastoral care of more than one parish. Accordingly, one could presume that a priest who was pastor of more than one parish would still only have to celebrate a single missa pro populo.
In the event that there would arise a question of removing a pastor from more than one parish, it would be necessary to remember that he would have in each of the parishes entrusted to him the rights and duties that come with the office of pastor. A pastor could not be removed from a parish without a showing of cause (as detailed in c. 1741) relative to that particular parish in accordance with the procedure set forth in cc. 1740-1747.
That does not mean, however, that a Diocesan Bishop would not be able to include all of the parishes entrusted to a given pastor in a single investigation or to conduct only one consultation pursuant to c. 1742, §1 (and, where necessary, only one pursuant to c. 1745, 2°).
There is nothing in the universal legislation of the Church that would necessarily require that the procedures of cann. 1740-1747 be repeated separately for each of the parishes.
Moreover, it seems that there would often be practical advantages to conducting a single investigation. In light of the type of causes enumerated in c. 1741, it would be relatively rare that one would be able to establish a sufficient cause for removal with respect to one parish but not with respect to the others. For example, given that the “modus agendi” specified in c. 1741, n. 1 is essentially a personal quality of the pastor, it would presumably be a constant in each of the parishes entrusted to his care. Similarly, the “imperitia aut permanens mentis vel corporis infirmitas” that is set forth as a cause for removal in c. 1741, 2° would necessarily affect the pastor’s activities in each parish. Moreover, given that c. 526 requires that the parishes are entrusted to a single pastor be “neighboring,” it would be difficult to imagine a situation in which the “bonae existimationis amissio” could be contained to a single parish.
While the other types of causes specified in c. 1741 (gravis neglectus vel violatio officiorum and mala rerum temporalium administratio) would not necessarily be present in each of the parishes, it would seem that a single investigation would be sufficient even in those cases. It would always be necessary, however, for the Diocesan Bishop, as well as for the pastors mentioned in cc. 1741, §1 and 1745, to evaluate the evidence with reference to each individual parish even though the relevant information was gathered in the course of a single investigation.
Comm 30 (1998): 28-32, CLSGBI Newsletter 118 (June 1999): 34-38.