The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“A good priest is hard to find”

That’s the title of a stem-winder of a rant that is must reading for anyone involved in parish life.

It was prompted by this post, wherein the blogger notes a sad state of affairs:

Lately I’ve taken to reading the obituaries and I’ve noted how many people seem to have no church burials or services – simply funeral home visitations and burials – no mention of church at all. I think I know at least one reason why.

Read the whole post and you’ll get a grim picture of an unsavory aspect of parish life.


Which led to the observation here: a good priest is hard to find:

Heck, a PRIEST can be hard to find.

I “do process” for a living but there are times you just need flexibility around the process so you can just jump to the terminator.

Death and serious illness are one of those times.

We all know of instances, maybe it happened to you, where you need a priest for a Sacrament and you can’t get to him.

I’ve ranted before about how messed up I think it is that priests live “off campus”. I can understand it, somewhat, if there is no Rectory or if Father is assigned to multiple parishes and for obvious reasons can only live on the grounds of one.


There is too much of an effort these days to give lay people more control over the administration of the sacraments then they should. There is a huge difference between a parish administrator role and the priest. The parish administrator or business adminstrator or office secretary should not be controlling access to Father to the point that they are, in essence, stonewalling people under the guide of “not wanting to bother Father with more stuff”

For instance, and this has loooong been a source of anger for me, you want FATHER to visit a loved one in the home or in the hospital or in the nursing home and the immediate response of the ‘gatekeeper’ in the parish is: “I’ll send one of our LAY ministers” There are times where, I’m sorry, I just don’t WANT a lay minister. I want a PRIEST. I get even more furious if they continue on and get down to it: “Father doesn’t DO those types of calls” WTH?


Call me suspicious. Ok, yes, I am. But, I always wonder if Father is locked up in the basement closet while the lay people run amok in the office? I wonder if Father was actually ever even consulted on this push to force lay ministers on as much as possible or that’s what the parish (read: lay people in charge) have always “done”.

We’ve probably all know (well, I do) of priests who are surprised to hear that people can’t access him when he’s needed because Father had no idea the office was pushing folks away from him. Father ends up giving his cell phone number and PERSONAL email address out so people can bypass the “office”. Is that acceptable? It’s ridiculous.

In my opinion, the authority in the parish, the last word, the COO, is the pastor. God is the CEO and ultimate word. The pretenders can all go home. I know it’s harsh. There it is.

Okay. What do you think? Discuss.

Comments read comments(17)
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posted February 28, 2010 at 3:17 pm

I’d love to hear from some priests on this. I know that I’ve known some experiences (not personally, thank goodness) where a person could not get a priest to come to the hospital or to visit at a home because the priests that were contacted kept passing the buck to someone else. Finally, in these instances, a priest who was available and who didn’t mind leaving his house in the evening went on the visit.
It’s frustrating, but I also know that it’s frustrating for a priest to be so busy that they are worn out by visit after visit after visit. I know it’s his job, but he is just human as well.
It’s so easy to blame this problem on “the modern church” or on the priests themselves. That’s why I’d love to hear from a priest on this topic.

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posted February 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Oh… and, unless the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is necessary, sometimes it might be better to get a lay minister. Some lay ministers are more pastoral than the priest.
Not always, but don’t dismiss lay ministers!!

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Bryan Healy

posted February 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm

When my grandmother was ill this past summer, she spent a month in the hospital. The pastor of our local church and the parish administrator came as soon as we called and administered the last rites, as it did not look good. After that first day, we got a call from the pastor every day, as well as a visit by either the pastor, retired priest or a priest who used to serve at our church every single day. It seems we are truly blessed with the pastoral staff at our church.

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posted February 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm

I challenge – no, wait, I *dare* anyone who rants like that to work one 50-hour week in a parish office. (I bet a dollar they’ll run away screaming by Wednesday.)
Or perhaps they could read the 1997 Instruction on collaboration of lay ministers and clergy (
Or even better yet – send a son to seminary.

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posted February 28, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I am the pastor of a smaller church of older people and we have a wonderful home ministry of care. From our small budget we have hired a parish nurse (a religious sister)half time and a lay woman who is also working half time organizing funeral vigil teams and home visitors to visit our home bound and hospitalized parishioners. At any time there may be up to about 25 people on the list and we try and find a parish volunteer to meet these people one on one on an ongoing basis. Father (that’s me) is always available for anointing or reconciliation and try to be extra available towards the end for those who have terminal illnesses. Its unfortunate that administration (not people but the running of a parish) often competes with time that can be spent with people who are sick but I think that the long term relationships that we build with our volunteers and those who are home bound offer true value. A priest “stopping in” once a month is nothing compared to quality time spent with someone that you know and who you know represents the church which you can no longer attend.

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Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

posted February 28, 2010 at 7:25 pm

As the parish secretary, I take my ministry of hospitality seriously and welcome all as Christ. It is my job to make sure that Father gets the calls and information that he needs and that does sometimes require some gate-keeping, for good or ill.
That said, I work for a priest who is tireless in doing home visits, nursing home visits, hospital visits and funeral work. I am saddened to hear of people who have been put off from a parish in trying to make arrangements.

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Mark Andrews

posted February 28, 2010 at 7:40 pm

As a layman, I know many priests who are extraordinarily hard-working, compassionate and diligent. I also know many complaining Catholics who fail to encourage, pray and work for vocations. They take from the Church and do not give to her.

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Your Name

posted March 1, 2010 at 8:07 am

Fathers or the priest are provided with laymans or ministers to help him on the service for the church people,the priest have only one body,he gets tired too,he feels exhaustion like us,but he’s always
at peace and reconciled with his spirit when he’s resting,and he needs these ministers to help him tackle his vocation.It’s not right for people demanding for his service when he’s resting,the people should be considerate and mindful enough to think that a priest is like one of us who gets tired especially if he’s getting old.There were also nuns to attend the parishioners needs,snd people shoul have the spirit of understanding and should think that the same word uttered by a priest is the same word be uttered or be read by his ministers,anyway,its the same Bible that is being read and delivered,
words of God will never change,only people’s understandng and acceptance of the word does.thanks!

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posted March 1, 2010 at 9:05 am

I think the commenters are missing a significant point…the greiving daughter who called the parish got the brush-off from the first person she got on the phone. The lack of immediate access to a priest would have gone by the wayside (likely) had it not been for the stunning inhospitality and compassion.

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posted March 1, 2010 at 11:17 am

I read the story and I don’t get what the lay person did that was so wrong.

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Your Name

posted March 1, 2010 at 1:09 pm

If they would let deacons administer last rights ( without confession)
in an emergency situation. Catholics would get a clergy person to the hospital a little faster. Not in all situations but most.
Now, I know someone is going to say that, this is not part of a deacons sacrament. IMHO, healing is part of Jesus identity of servanthood. If the pope wanted it, it could be done and solve many issues.

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posted March 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm

To the last poster, what exactly are “last rights”?? If you were a deacon you would know that the anointing of the sick involves absolution which deacons cannot administer. Maybe you need to brush up on things.

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Fr. Jim

posted March 2, 2010 at 10:44 am

While things are different in various regions, and there are differences in parishes as well, one thing that is overlooked here is that the demands on priests today are very different than even a few years ago. I can say that the church I minister in today is very different than when I was in seminary 20 years ago.
We have fewer priests available. I am in a parish of 3400 families with two priests (which is considered a luxury in our diocese, if you can believe it). Our parish assists with ministry in a local hospital and there are several nursing homes and assisted living institutions in the parish as well.
While I could never see how one could justify refusing to provide the Sacrament of Anointing to a sick person in a timely manner, lay people do need to understand that it’s not always possible for a priest to make the communion calls and visits. Our parish has over 100 homebound parishioners in addition to the residents in the nursing homes. We have a wonderful sister who coordinates our pastoral care ministry which insures that people are able to receive the Eucharist on a weekly basis. She is fortified with an army of dedicated volunteers who do a marvelous job of bringing the Church to people.
I would recommend that the church be called as soon as possible when one is diagnosed with a serious illness or when a surgery is scheduled. Also, realize that today it is not uncommon for parishes to help each other out so the priest that comes to the hospital may not necessarily be a priest from your parish.
Bottom line: We need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and thank God for those we have and the wonderful lay ministers who do so much to assist in these ministries.

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posted March 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm

When a priest is serving two (or more parishes) sometimes he’s so busy it’s difficult to contact him. I tried to contact my pastor for a couple of weeks. The messages were being passed on, but we just didn’t connect. We finally did and resolved our business (I wanted to begin formation for ministry and needed his sponsorship).
I have run into lay people who push the lay ministry, but more often, I’ve found priests who needed to be intimately involved in each and every little detail of everything that goes on in the parish.
Priests need to do what only priests can do. Leave the laity to do what they are allowed, canonically, to do.

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posted February 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm

There are points to be made on both sides of the argument. When I was a child being raised in a not-particularly-big parish in Brooklyn, we had a lot more priests. We usually had at least four or five at a time, and sometimes more. Being kids, we made it a point to learn which priests gave out easier penances, which were “cool” and easy to talk to, etc.
Nowadays, many parishes wish they could have even one full-time priest, and having two is a luxury. Priests need to be available for the sacraments only they can perform, and both the “gatekeepers” and the lay ministers are important to that end.
On the other hand, it’s truly getting tough to find a priest when you need one for counseling, confession, or just because, darn it, you want to talk to a priest. To have to run a gauntlet of gatekeepers to get to talk to Father, especially if the gatekeepers start asking questions (“What did you want to talk to Father about?”), can be infuriating.
So I guess, as with most things, balance is the key. That, and of course, praying for vocations.

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