Catholic Diocese of Richmond Home     Search     Contact Catholic Diocese of Richmond
Office of Pastoral Planning

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: If we are in a parish that is already clustered, does this mean the cluster needs to change?

A: Not necessarily, but if you are in a parish that is already clustered with other parishes, discuss how you would configure it if you had it to do all over again. Discuss what has worked well and what would have been helpful to know prior to going into the cluster arrangement.

Q: What is the difference between religious order and diocesan priests? Can the Bishop assign religious order priests wherever they are needed?

A: Religious order priests receive their assignments from their religious superior. Diocesan priests receive their assignments from their Bishop. We are blessed to have several religious order priests serving our diocese and they typically have a specific mission they are called to accomplish. For example, the Dominicans, live in community and have agreed to provide a pastor and assistants for St. Thomas Aquinas parish, located on the University of Virginia campus, and also serve as chaplains at the University Hospital. The mission of their order is to provide preaching and teaching.

Q: Can Local Planning Areas (LPA) adjust the priest number down for their planning area if they feel they can be served by others?

A: Yes. An explanation of how the pastoral needs will be met should be provided, but LPA Committees can adjust the number down if they feel that is realistic.

Q: Can parishes have "alternate" representatives?

A: Yes, it is the responsibility of the representatives to communicate among themselves what has transpired between meetings and keep the Facilitator and Chair informed as to who will be attending from one meeting to the next.

Q: Can a Sunday liturgy be celebrated on an alternate day of the week?

A: Yes, if approved by the Bishop and in a place designated a "Home Mission" or on a college campus.

Q: What do we do if we need more information or have questions that we cannot answer?

A: Hopefully some information can be obtained from the expertise of the members of your LPA committee. The committees include the pastors and pastoral coordinators and specific information regarding the staffing, etc. of an individual parish may be directed to them. Other questions should be directed to the Pastoral Center or Pastoral Planning Commission.

Q: What is the difference between a "Home Mission" and receiving financial assistance from the Mission Co-op fund?

A: A list of who qualifies as a Home Mission for funding is being developed by the Vicar General, the Office of Pastoral Planning & the Office of Development. For a parish to be considered a Home Mission, it must meet at least one of the following criteria:

1. The driving distance (in normal weather conditions) to the next closest Catholic church is at least one hour away, separated by difficult terrain that isolates parishes from one another.

2. The area's population is characterized by a consistently (for more than 12 consecutive months) higher-than-average rate of poverty, unemployment, and/or low wages.

3. Few or no Catholic institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.) of support exist in the area.

4. A relatively large number of special needs groups (large prison populations, migrant farm workers, immigrants, etc.) requiring pastoral attention reside in the area.

5. Unexpected major repairs exceed annual operating budget.

6. Serves a unique population of the urban poor.

7. Investment and savings account is less than two times the annual Sunday/Holy collection and annual income is less than $90,000; although parishioners support the parish through stewardship.

8. Pastoral needs are going unmet due to the inability to hire qualified staff or procure materials

Q: How do we define "consensus" when we are trying to bring the group to a recommendation?

A: Consensus means everyone agrees the plan is something they can live with and will support. They might not think it as the best plan, but they can live with it. We defined consensus this way so the minority voice would be heard (through a report to the Commission) if there is less than 100% of the representatives supporting the plan. Defining consensus as a clear majority allows LPAs to submit plans as "approved by the representatives" even though there might be significant (and possibly reasonable) opposition from a small minority.

Q: Is there a "freeze" on new construction?

A: Parishes are asked to consider the ramifications that any new or planned building project will have on its neighboring parishes before undertaking any expansion or construction. Before beginning the planning or fund raising for any major construction project, guidance should be sought from the Diocesan Building Commission. However, parishes are encouraged to maintain their properties in good working order and make any changes needed to keep in compliance with state building codes.

Q: Can we continue to rely on retired priests to serve as sacramental ministers and what number of priests may that be for planning purposes?

A: We are blessed to be served by several retired priests on a regular basis. While we hope many retired priests will continue to serve as long as they are able, the difficulty to predict a number for planning purposes is that they are not required to serve nor can we require them to live in areas that may be in most need. Our best estimate (based on national and diocesan statistics) is that about 30% of the retired priest population is willing and capable of serving as sacramental ministers on a regular basis for three to five years following retirement.

Q: How many Masses are priests allowed to celebrate on the week-end?

A: The general law in canon 905.1 is “One Mass a day, apart from the exceptions allowed by law;” c. 905.2 adds, “If there is a scarcity of priests, the local ordinary” (the Bishop, Vicar General, and [within their territories] the Episcopal Vicars) may allow celebration two times a day or even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Anything beyond three on one day requires permission of the Holy See as it is a derogation from the universal law.

Q:  What is the difference, distinction between a “chapel”, “shrine” and “parish”? 

A.  The “parish” is that territory or specific body of persons in which or by which, under a pastor’s care, the full spiritual life the faithful can be nourished (see canon 515). Within the parish, there may be a variety of buildings in which this task of teaching, sanctifying and shepherding is carried out.   A church is a place intended for divine worship where the faithful have FULL ACCESS for divine worship (c. 1214). “Full access” is the key phrase because there are oratories, places for divine worship for particular groups of persons, which are not necessarily open to all (hence, the distinction between public and semi-public oratories; c. 1223). A chapel is a place set aside for divine worship for “the convenience of one or more individuals” (c. 1226). A shrine is a kind of public or semi-public oratory that exists to foster a certain devotion in the publicly recognized piety of the Church. One safe assumption is that only a parish church would offer the full gamut of the Church’s worship and rites. The availability of said rites at these other places is by leave of the Ordinary in decreasing order, i.e., fewer of the rites are regularly available and more permissions of the Ordinary are needed for such rites to take place the smaller the intended audience. Thus, most rites in a church, fewer in an oratory, fewest in a chapel. A shrine might have the least of all as it is a kind of chapel, generally, and an oratory by exception.  [NOTE:  Can I add a sentence here:  “A Shrine and/or Chapel, while regular Sunday Mass may be offered here, would not be considered a parish.”?]

Q:  Is it acceptable in our Diocese to hold a “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest” (SCAP) in order to accommodate keeping a community of the faithful together, when it is not possible to assign a priest to cover every week-end liturgy at a site? 

A: When there is no Mass (on Saturday evening or Sunday) available in a particular parish the first option should always be for the members of that community to join with their brothers and sisters at neighboring parishes for the celebration of Mass.  Not only does this provide for participation in the fullest celebration of the Eucharist but also serves as a reminder that our true identity is not as a member of a particular parish but as members of the one Church, the one Body of Christ. For the most part, in the urban areas of our diocese (e.g. Richmond, Roanoke, Hampton Roads and Tidewater), Masses in neighboring parishes are readily accessible and the schedules should be made available to parishioners. 

Only when it is not reasonably possible for the members of a community to travel to a neighboring parish for Mass is Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest to be used. A rule of thumb for determining what constitutes a reasonable travel distance is to examine how far the people in a particular community travel for other daily activities such as work, shopping, movies, etc.  In addition, factors such as inclement weather, or short notice regarding the absence of the priest for Mass might render travel to another parish unreasonable or even dangerous.

Where no substitute priest or nearby celebration is available, the bishop gives permission for the implementation of the ritual Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a Priest.”  Inconvenience is not enough of a reason to invoke the use of SCAP. 

Q: If a reduction of priests causes a reduction in the number of Masses that then requires building a larger facility, is there diocesan financing for the construction of the larger facility? 

A: The Diocese does not currently have a pool of funds to assist with the cost of construction, but if the recommendation from the strategic planning process concludes a larger worship structure is needed to serve the people for the projected future in a given geographic area, the diocese will work with the impacted parishes/parishioners to develop an overall financing plan. 

Q: What is the diocesan position/advice on establishing separate Hispanic parishes?

A: After consulting with the Hispanic Commission, we feel the existing structures serve the Hispanic communities in our diocese and for the most part it would place too heavy a financial burden on those parishioners to establish or build their own parishes.