You have announced new pastoral assignments for many pastors and parochial vicars. What is the process you go through in making these assignments?
I like to announce the new assignments as early as possible. In the past, we’ve announced all the changes in parish and ministry assignments after Easter. We moved it up a couple of weeks this year because we have completed our work, and the assignments have been finalized. I think announcing the new assignments this early gives the priest an opportunity to prepare for his transition instead of asking him to announce it a few weeks before he leaves. It also gives the parish an opportunity to appropriately bid him farewell and to ask God’s blessings upon him. Even though none of the new pastors goes to his new parish before his assignment begins in July, it gives the parish the extra time to welcome the new pastor. It’s a way to make the transition easier.
A few years ago, you began appointing new pastors to six-year terms, which can be renewed. What is the reasoning behind that?
Under canon law, there are two options for a bishop. Under one option, if there is no term specified, a pastor is appointed, theoretically, for life, unless the pastor would agree to move or unless there is a good reason given by the bishop that he must move. The other option a bishop has is to appoint a pastor to a specific term of office, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has set at six years. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, each pastor is appointed for six years, with the understanding that his term could be renewed for another six years and, perhaps, beyond. This serves many purposes. It gives a pastor the opportunity to become deeply rooted in a parish so that he can do his ministry. At the end of those six years, he and I have a conversation about renewing his term. If, perhaps, there is an emergency, I may ask him to move; perhaps, he would ask for consideration to move into another ministry. This option also means that it is highly unlikely that a pastor, once appointed, will be in that parish until his retirement or death, depending on his age. So often when I visit parishes, parishioners will tell me, “We love our pastor. You can never move Father!” My response is usually, depending on the pastor’s age, “Well, I don’t think he will die here.” I thank God that people fall in love with their pastors. It’s a wonderful thing. But people need to realize that a priest is ordained for the church, and here, particularly, for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. They are not ordained for a specific parish. The needs of the archdiocese have to be considered first.
How would you hope people in the parishes receive these new assignments?
When I receive letters expressing disappointment that a pastor is leaving, I certainly understand. I receive them with an open heart. What I do not appreciate are petitions. We don’t live on protest, unlike the rest of the world. We have a careful and prayerful discernment process for every new assignment. I believe that God has something to do with these assignments. Petitions are just not the Catholic way. My responsibility as bishop is to look at what is best for more than 100 parishes and 50 or 60 ministries. I take these responsibilities very seriously. I understand there is grief in the leaving, but I would ask people who may be upset about losing a pastor to wish God’s blessing on the priest in his time of transition. It’s also not helpful for people of one parish to call and ask what the new pastor was like at his former parish. Every church parish has its own personality and its own needs, and those are two factors among many that we take into consideration for a new assignment.
When do you begin the process for the new clergy assignments?
We start in December by asking each priest to do a self-assessment of his ministry. We ask the priest to tell me if he wishes to remain in his assignment; if he is willing to move but would prefer to stay in his assignment; or, thirdly, if he would like to ask for a new ministry. I bring that information to the Priest Personnel Committee, which is coordinated by Father Pat Williams, our vicar for clergy, and we discuss the information and pray. Once we have completed the first draft of the new assignments, I call the priests and ask them to discern moving from where they are to a new parish or a new ministry.
What kind of feedback from priests have you gotten on the process?
I haven’t heard any negative comments. We look carefully at the assignments. As best as possible, our goal is to match the priest’s gifts with the needs of the parish. We do that to best of our ability. However, I will say this. Sometimes when I ask people to tell me the type of pastor they would want, Jesus would be the only person who could fill that description! While all priests have gifts, we all have weaknesses, and we are all sinners. There is no such thing as a perfect pastor. At the same time, I am very pleased and proud of our pastors because they give excellent pastoral care. We have many beloved pastors throughout the archdiocese. I want to certainly express my profound gratitude to the five priests who have served so faithfully and will be retiring in June. They are Capuchin Father Teodoro Agudo, the pastor of St. Theresa of Avila; Father Robert Cavalier, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Folsom; Father Richard Maughan, pastor of St. James Major; Msgr. Andrew Taormina, pastor of St. Francis Xavier; and Father Michael Kettenring, who will retire as pastor of Visitation of Our Lady but requested to serve as a parochial vicar in another parish because of his age and his desire to have more flexible time to spend with his family. I am so grateful to God for their fidelity and ministry.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.