14 August 2012

Assistant vs. Associate

I recently wrote an e-mail to Fr. Edward McNamara through ZENIT regarding an issue that I've sought a definitive answer on in the past, but have only received ambiguous answers, none of which were definitive. To my surprise, Fr. McNamara personally replied to my e-mail. Since it was a personal reply, I assumed that it would not be publish on ZENIT, so I ask Fr. McNamara for permission to post his answer on my blog, which he gave.

This was my e-mail to him. There is no address because I was sending it to the ZENIT liturgy column, and wasn't sure who exactly would receive it. Fr. Edward McNamara, by the way, is professor of liturgy (Professore Ordinario di Teologia Sacramentaria e Liturgia) at the Regina Apostolorum University.


Your July 10th article, Pastoral Administrators, brought to mind a question I've had for around four years, but have never received an adequate answer, and, at times, received some verbal abuse for raising such a question.

For more than 15 years, my parish has been hiring laymen to assist our pastors. The title these laymen used was Pastoral Assistant. Some time between 8 and 4 years ago, the particular laymen in this position began using the title Pastoral Associate. When I became aware of it, I raised the question of the appropriateness of such a title being given to a non-ordained person.

The title Pastoral Assistant suggests that such a position has the role of assisting the pastor. The title Pastoral Associate suggests that a person with this title is a pastor; although, subordinate to the person with the title Pastor. I have even heard one such layman referred to as, "Our Associate Pastor."

Is the title Pastoral Associate appropriate for a non-ordained person that assists a pastor? If not, what would be the appropriate title?

Dóminus tecum,
Russell J. Grigaitis, O.F.S.
This was Fr. McNamara's reply:
Thy Kingdom Come!

Dear Fr. Grigaitis in Christ,

Sorry for taking so long in replying as I was in Spain for most of July and August.

I would say that the title pastoral associate is borderline but probably would fall foul of the indications given in the Vatican document mentioned in the original article.

The document indicates that no title be given that indicates a directive role. I would say that in English, as you say, an “associate” is someone who shares in the direction in a subordinate but real way. The word is sometimes used in business in the same way as “partners” might be used for lawyers and stockbrokers.

In the United States at least the title “Associate Pastor” commonly refers to the priests whom in other countries are called the curates, vice-parish priests or parochial vicars. Therefore pastoral associate is likely to cause confusion.

Sometimes the term Assistant pastor is used but is uncommon.

It is conceivable that the term pastoral associate could be used if restricted, for example “pastoral associate for youth ministry”, but even here assistant would be a wiser and more accurate choice.

Hope this helps.

Yours in Christ Edward McNamara LC