US Bishops approve lay ecclesial ministry guidelines

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has approved a major document giving guidelines on lay ecclesial ministry, after some debate over use of the terms "minister" and "ministry" with regard to lay people serving the church.

CLICK HERECatholic News Service reports that the debate ended after Cardinal Avery Dulles, long one of the country's most noted Catholic theologians, rose to defend the usage in the text, saying the drafters "were very careful to see that the terminology is in accord with the documents of the Holy See and with a whole series of documents previously published by this conference."

The 82-page document, "Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord," needed approval by two-thirds of the entire membership of the conference, or 182 votes. It passed by a vote of 190-49 with five abstentions.

Bishop Dale Melczek described it as a "resource for guiding the development of lay ecclesial ministry," a rapidly growing phenomenon in Catholic parishes across the country.

Bishop Kicanas stressed that "this document is not particular law. It does not lay down norms or prescriptions." Rather, he said, it seeks to give bishops guidance in overseeing the "faithful development" of the growing practice of employing lay ecclesial ministers in parishes and other church institutions.

The document says lay ecclesial ministry does not describe a new rank or vocation in the church; rather, it is a generic term for a variety of positions held by nonordained people who engage in substantial public leadership positions in church ministry, collaborating closely with the ordained leadership and under their authority.

It sets out guidelines for the appropriate human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of those who are entrusted with such ministries. It also addresses the role of church authorities in certifying, authorizing and appointing lay ecclesial ministers.

It spells out the theology of lay ministry and the differences between ministry arising out of ordination and ministry arising out of the sacraments of initiation.

According to the study more than 40% of lay ecclesial ministers in US Catholic parishes are directors of religious education. About one-fourth are general pastoral associates, assisting the pastor in a wide variety of pastoral tasks. Youth ministry, music ministry and liturgical planning or coordination are among other common forms of lay ecclesial ministry found in US parishes.

The National Association for Lay Ministry welcomed the document, saying it "takes an important step forward in recognizing and supporting the significant role these lay ecclesial ministers play in the Catholic Church. It publicly affirms their leadership, invites appropriate authorization for their ministry and clarifies their accountability within ecclesial structures."

Bishops approve lay ecclesial ministry guidelines (Catholic News Service 16/11/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
US Conference of Catholic Bishops | Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord Statement

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18 Nov 2005