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This term denotes a priest who has the cure of souls (cura animarum), that is, who is bound in virtue of his office to promote the spiritual welfare of the faithful by preaching, administering the sacraments, and exercising certain powers of external government, e.g., the right of supervision, giving precepts, imposing light corrections — powers rather paternal in their nature, and differing from those of a bishop, which are legislative, judicial, and coactive. A pastor is properly called a parish-priest (parochus) when he exercises the cure of souls in his own name with regard to a determined number of subjects who are obliged to apply to him for the reception of certain sacraments specified in the law. In this article "parish-priest" is always taken in this strict sense. Pastors (whether parish-priests or not) are either irremovable (inamovibiles) or movable (amovibiles ad nutum). An irremovable pastor or rector is one whose office gives him the right of perpetuity of tenure; that is, he cannot be removed or transferred except for a canonical reason, viz., a reason laid down in the law and, in the case of a criminal charge, only after trial. (See IRREMOVABILITY.) A movable pastor or rector is one whose office does not give him this right; but the bishop must have some just and proportionate reason for dismissing or transferring him against his will, and, should the priest believe himself wronged in the matter, he may have recourse to the Holy See, or to its representative where there is one having power in such cases. Moreover, according to some canonists, even movable pastors in case of a criminal charge cannot be absolutely removed from their office without a trial (cf. Pierantonelli, "Praxis Fori Ecclesiastici," tit. iv; Smith, "Elements of Ecclesiastical Law", n. 418.) This, certainly, is the case in the United States of America (Decrees of Propaganda, 28 March, and 20 May, 1887).

The Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV, cap. xiii, de Ref.) shows it to be the mind of the Church; that dioceses should, wherever it is possible, be divided into canonical parishes (See PARISH), to be governed by irremovable parish-priests. In places, therefore, where the Tridentine law cannot be fully carried out, bishops adopt measures which fulfil this requirement as nearly as circumstances allow. One such measure was the erection of quasi-parishes, districts with defined limits, ordered for the United States in 1868 (Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, n. 124). Another such was the institution of irremovable rectors (pastors with the right of perpetuity of tenure), ordered for England in 1852 (First Provincial Council of Westminster Decr. xiii), and for the United States in 1886 (Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, n. 33).

The power to appoint pastors is ordinarily vested in the bishop. Among the candidates possessed of the necessary qualifications the appointment should fall on the one who is best fitted for the office. Moreover, according to the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV, cap. xviii, de Ref) candidates for the office of parish-priest should (a few cases excepted) pass a competitive examination (concursus). This provision of the Council of Trent is sometimes by particular enactments applied in the selection of candidates for the office of irremovable rectors, as happens in the United States (Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, tit. ii, cap. vi).

With regard to the faculties and powers of pastors, those of parish-priests are sufficiently defined by the law, and hence are ordinary, not delegated. Of these faculties some are called rights strictly parochial, because in a parish they belong exclusively to the parish-priest, so that their subjects cannot with regard to them have recourse to another priest, except with his or the bishop's consent. These rights are the following: the right of administering baptism, holy viaticum, and extreme unction in all cases where there is no urgent necessity; the right of administering paschal communion, of proclaiming the banns of marriage, and of blessing marriages. To the parish-priest are also reserved the celebration of funerals (except in certain cases specified in the law), and the imparting of certain blessings, the chief one being blessing of the baptismal font. To pastors, who are not parish-priests, the right of assisting at marriages is given by the law as to parish-priests. The other rights usually are granted to them by the bishops and are defined in the particular laws; such is very commonly the case in the United States England, and Scotland, with regard to baptism, holy viaticum, extreme unction, and funerals. Mention should be made here of the custom which exists in certain dioceses of the United States, whereby the faithful of one district are permitted to receive such sacraments from the pastor of another district if they rent a pew in his church (Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, nn. 117, 124, 227, and the statutes of several diocesan synods). Rights not strictly parochial are those which belong by law to parish-priests, but not exclusively. Such are the faculties of preaching celebrating Mass, low or solemn, hearing confessions, administering Holy Communion. Pastors who are not parish-priests receive these faculties from their bishop.

Pastors are naturally entitled to a salary. This is furnished by the revenues of the parochial benefice, should there be one; otherwise, it is taken from the revenues of the church or from the offerings. Such offerings as the faithful contribute of their own accord, without specifying the purpose of their donation, belong to the pastor. This assertion is based on the presumption that these gifts are meant to show the gratitude of the faithful towards the priests who spend their lives in caring for the souls committed to their charge. This presumption, however, ceases wherever custom or law provides that at least a certain portion of these offerings should belong to the church. This is generally the case where churches, not possessing other sources of income, depend entirely on the offerings. An illustration of such laws is to be found in the eighth decree of the Second Provincial Council of Westminster, approved by Leo XIII in the Constitution "Romanos Pontifices" of 8 May, 1881. Accordingly, in countries where this is in force, the usual collections taken up in the churches belong to each mission, in addition to the pew-rents, and it is from these revenues that the salaries of pastors and assistants are ordinarily drawn.

Pastors, besides having rights, have also obligations. They must preach and take care of the religious instruction of the faithful, especially of the young, supply their spiritual needs by the administration of the sacraments, reside in their parish or mission, administer diligently the property entrusted to their care, watch over the moral conduct of their parishioners, and remove, as far as possible, all hindrances to their salvation. Moreover, parish-priests must make a profession of faith and take the oath prescribed by Pius X in his "Motu Proprio", 1 Sept., 1910; they must also offer the Holy Sacrifice on behalf of their flock on Sundays and certain holydays set down in the law. When the number of the faithful entrusted to the care of the pastor is so large that he alone cannot fulfil all the duties incumbent on his office, the bishop has the right to order him to take as many priests to help him as may be necessary. These are called assistants or auxiliary priests, and differ both from coadjutors who are given to pastors for other reasons determined by the law, and from administrators who take charge of a parish during its vacancy, or the absence of its pastor.

Positive law (Council of Trent, Sess. XXI, cap. iv, de Ref.), modified in some countries by custom, reserves to the parish-priest the right to choose his assistants, a choice, however, which is subject to the approval of the bishop, and it is also from the bishop that assistants receive their faculties. The amount of their salary is likewise to be determined by the bishop, and, as to its source, the same rules hold as those already mentioned with regard to pastors. As to their removal, (a) when their nomination belongs by law to the parish-priest, they can be removed either by him or by the bishop, (b) when their nomination belongs to the bishop, he alone can remove them; in any case a reasonable cause is necessary, at least for the lawfulness of the act, and the assistant who believes that he has been wronged may have recourse to higher authorities, as mentioned above with regard to movable pastors. Their office, however, does not cease with the death of the priest or bishop who appointed them, unless this was clearly expressed in the letters of appointment. For the recent legislation regarding the removal of parish-priests, see PARISH, section II, 2.


BAART, Legal Formulary (4th ed., New York), nn. 86-113; BOUIX, De Parocho (3rd ed., Paris, 1889); FERRARIS, Bibliotheca Canonica etc. (Rome, 1885-99); NARDI, Dei Parrochi (Pesaro, 1829-60); SANTI, Pr£lectiones juris canonici (New York, 1905); SCHERER, Handbuch des Kirchenrechts (Graz, 1886), xcii-iii; SMITH, Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, I (9th ed., New York, 1893), nn. 639-70; WERNZ, Jus Decretalium (Rome, 1899), tit. xxxix; RAYMUNDI ANTONII EPISCOPI, Instructio Pastoralis (5th ed., Freiburg, 1902); AICHNER, Compendium juris eccl. (6th ed., Brixon, 1887), 426-41; CRONIN, The New Matrimonial Legislation (Rome, 1908).

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APA citation. Papi, H. (1911). Pastor. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Papi, Hector. "Pastor." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Bobie Jo M. Bilz. Dedicated to Reverend J. Ronald Knott, Pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption, Louisville, Kentucky, 1983-1997.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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