The clergy are ordained to serve the People of God. It follows from this that clergy have the right as well as a challenge to take advantage of the opportunities which will help them to grow in their ability to fulfill this mission. The document of the American Bishops entitled The Program of Continuing Education states: "Every priest has a right and an obligation to continue his spiritual growth and education. He has a right to strong support from his superiors, peers, and the people he serves. He also has an obligation to his superiors and peers, but above all to his people to grow in grace and knowledge." (no. 3)
In another document of the American Bishops, To Teach As Jesus Did, the need for on-going development is further stated: “it is in the task of each generation of Christians to assess their own times and carry on the mission of Christ by means suited to the needs and opportunities they perceive... All should remain open to new forms, new programs, new methods, which give promise of fuller realization of this mission in the future”… (nos. 151 and 152, pg. 42).
At a time when the self-understanding of the Church is shifting with great rapidity, it is all the more urgent that clergy, together with the faithful, re-think and re-verbalize the Faith in terms that bespeak the presence of God in today's world. A re-examination of one's theology, understanding of Church and understanding of ministry is essential. Clerics, like other professionals, must engage in life-long learning if they are to be effective, to grow in faith, and to proclaim that faith clearly and convincingly to people in a rapidly changing world.
Within the context of ministry, one's effectiveness is integrally related to personal growth, the development of the total person. The booklet of the American Bishops, As One Who Serves, thus stresses that such development must include the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions of growth. It is the individual clergyman who is primarily responsible for taking the initiative in continuing his personal and professional education which the changing needs of the Church and the world demand of him. (The Program of Continuing Education, no. 16). Besides the personal development of the clergy, the faithful have a right to the best service the clergy can offer.
Priestly ministry is most effective as a witness to the Gospel when it addresses realistically the situation in which the faithful find themselves. "Priests cannot be of service to others if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of others." (Vatican II, On Priesthood, no. 2). In today's pluralistic and diverse world it is all the more imperative that the clergy engage in personal and group study of the newly generated knowledge and pastoral skills which will improve their ministry. Finally, so the "the various diaconal ministries" may be strengthened and enriched, the permanent deacon is also called to further doctrinal, spiritual, and service formation. "Scriptural, theological, and social sciences are so alive today that continuing education is a necessity." (Permanent Deacons in the United States, no. 161).
1. Section No. 1: Spiritual Growth: The spiritual development of the clergy is part of their continuing education since its aim is the total development of the person in ministry. We recognize that the spiritual development of the priest is a daily on-going process and a result of many avenues of growth; but we are dealing here only with two instruments of one's spiritual growth:
2. Retreats: The Gospel attests the fact that Jesus and His Apostles took time for themselves, time to be in communion with the Father and with each other. Our Tradition and Canon Law (Canon 276 § 2.4) requires that a time be set apart for spiritual renewal and growth, both as an individual and as a minister of the Church. For these reasons the policies regarding retreats are as follows:
3. The Diocese will provide a diocesan retreat for its clergy each year. On odd-numbered of years, the Diocese will provide a mandatory retreat for all priests. On even-numbered of years, the priest has three options:
4. Because of their different social situations and ministries, priests and deacons should have separate retreats.
5. The Continuing Education Committee is responsible for retreats and is charged with searching for and recommending retreat masters to be approved by the Bishop and to be invited by the Bishop or his delegate. All scheduling will be the responsibility of this committee. Clergy will be informed in advance of what to expect in each retreat.
6. Religious priests in diocesan ministry will be invited and encouraged to make diocesan retreats in order to foster unity and cooperation.
7. The institution of assignment will finance the annual diocesan retreat. Should one choose to make a retreat elsewhere, it will pay the equivalent of the diocesan retreat.
8. Prayer days: All clergy, religious and parish administrators who are involved in parish ministry are encouraged throughout the year to make days of prayer. We recognize that these days may be done in a group or privately. These days should be arranged and scheduled by the Priests Continuing Education Committee.
9. Priests' fraternities and support groups: Clergy have expressed a need for priests' fraternities and support groups, for either deacons, priests, or both. We recognize this need and encourage membership in these groups.
10. Section No. 2: Academic and professional growth: Priests, deacons, and parish administrators are encouraged to take advantage of any opportunities to further their education through independent study, reading programs, tapes, libraries, seminars, workshops and courses. The diocese has the responsibility to support and encourage its priests and parish administrators to participate in educational activities pertaining to ministry. Toward this end, each priest, deacon, and parish administrator is provided with the following annual minimum educational allowances:
11. Seminars sponsored by the diocese: While retreats and prayer days contribute to priests' spiritual development, seminars sponsored by the diocese can enrich them academically, professionally and personally. The Priests Continuing Education Committee will arrange for seminars in the diocese as needed.
12. Time permitted for continuing education opportunities other than those provided by the diocese:
Each priest, deacon or parish administrator is permitted at least one week of released time per year, in addition to vacation and mandated diocesan programs, to attend and participate in educational opportunities pertaining to his particular ministry. However, the diocesan sponsored programs should be given priority.
13. Extended periods of study: More continuing education, e. g. extended study periods, would be desirable and should be negotiated in each situation. Enrollment as part time students in local universities or other local educational facilities from time to time is also recommended insofar as this facilitates one's ministry.
14. Financing continuing education programs sponsored by the diocese:
15. Section No. 3: Sabbaticals and institutes: Because of their longer duration, sabbaticals and institutes warrant special guidelines:
16. Sabbaticals: A sabbatical is an intensive continuing formation effort for an extended period of time away from the priest's normal assignment for the academic or spiritual or ministerial growth of the priest in consultation with the Bishop. It may involve participation in a specific sabbatical program or a combination of different elements which fit the particular ministerial needs of the priest. All sabbaticals ought to be associated with institutions and/or programs aimed at providing this service.
17. A sabbatical is distinguished from:
19. Financing: the cost of priests' sabbaticals will be divided as follows:
20. Eligibility: Each incardinated priest of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux is eligible for a sabbatical after every seven years of service to the diocese, however, any incardinated priest having a particular need may apply for one at any time prior to the completion of the seven year duration. If a sabbatical is taken before the time that a priest ordinarily becomes eligible for a sabbatical, he shall count his next seven years until eligibility from the date he returns from the sabbatical.
21. Application procedure:
22. Parish replacements:
24. The Priest should have a great sense of accountability for his ongoing spiritual and professional growth: to God, to the Church, to the people he serves, and to his own integrity. In order that the Diocese may derive full benefit from any priest's engagement in study, the priest should be willing to share whatever new insight he has on a deanery and/or diocesan level.
25. Upon return from any sabbatical, the priest should make a report to the Clergy Continuing Education Committee and the Personnel Committee so that they would be knowledgeable of resource persons within the Diocese.
26. Permission to be absent from one's assignment for a non-diocesan program of Continuing Education will be requested from the Ordinary.