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." (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, P. 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 lifelong 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).
A. 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:
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 Section 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:
a. The Diocese will provide a diocesan Retreat for its clergy each year.
1.) On odd-numbered of years, the diocese will provide a mandatory retreat for all priests.
2.) On even-numbered of years, the priest has three options:
a.) Attend a directed retreat contributing to personal spiritual growth.
b.) Attend a retreat hosted by another diocese.
c.) Attend a retreat provided by the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.
3.) Because of their different social situations and ministries, Priests and Deacons should have separate retreats
b. 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.
c. Religious Priests in diocesan Ministry will be invited and encouraged to make diocesan retreats in order to foster unity and cooperation.
d. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
Policy on Priests Continuing Education.
B. 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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Financing Continuing Education Programs Sponsored By the Diocese.
a. An appropriate fee will be assessed for Priests Continuing Education Programs which are more than one day in duration. These fees may be paid from parish funds, or from Diocesan funds, in the case of a priest who is a Diocesan employee.
b. Normally, single-day programs will be funded by the Diocesan budget for priests continuing education. If, however, the Diocesan budget for Priests Continuing Education programs is to be exceeded by the funds needed for Priests Continuing Education Programs planned for a given fiscal year, the Priests Continuing Education Director, in consultation with the Priests Continuing Education Committee, may assess an appropriate fee for single-day programs. These fees may be paid from parish funds, or from Diocesan funds, in the case of a priest who is a Diocesan employee.
c. In addition to the cost of the annual retreat and other diocesan Priests Continuing Education Programs, each priest of the diocese is authorized to spend up to $500.00 per year to attend workshops, seminars or conventions. This will be funded by the parish or Diocesan department, whichever he is representing.
C. Sabbaticals and Institutes
Because of their longer duration, sabbaticals and institutes warrant special guidelines:
a. 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.
b. A sabbatical is distinguished from:
1.) Extended vacation, which is used for rest, relaxation and recreation,
2.) Sick leave, which is intended for the recovery of physical or psychological health,
3.) Graduate or special studies which are oriented toward special ministerial needs,
4.) Institutes, which are educational opportunities of less than two (2) months.
1.) Sabbaticals will regularly range from 2 to 6 months. In the case of special need, a priest may appeal to the Bishop for a longer sabbatical.
2.) If need be, the priest may do several different programs in shorter blocks of time, but they must be completed within one year from the date they begin, and the total time period of these programs may not exceed six months.
d. Financing: the cost of priests' sabbaticals will be divided as follows:
1.) The diocese will pay one-half of the total cost of the sabbatical program limited to an amount stipulated by the Priests Council. For its portion of the sabbatical costs, the diocese will budget annually an amount sufficient for each of two priests to attend a full six-month sabbatical. In the event that the budget is not completely used up within a given year, more priests may attend sabbatical programs or shorter institutes, as long as there is money left in the diocesan budget, and provided they comply with the stipulations of the application procedure.
2.) The priest will pay one-half of the total cost of the sabbatical program.
3.) The parish will pay the priest's salary and the salary or stipend of his replacement.
a.) In the event that a priest who is eligible for a sabbatical is assigned to a parish which cannot afford the replacement's salary, the priest may apply for a grant from the Diocese to compensate.
b.) If there is a problem with obtaining a grant from the Diocese to compensate for the parish's portion of sabbatical costs, the priest who is applying may refer the matter to the Bishop, who may then decide how much, if any, financial assistance may be given.
c.) If the priest will be changing parishes after his sabbatical, the parish to which he was assigned when the sabbatical application was approved will pay the parish's portion of his sabbatical expenses.
1.) 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.
2.) Application procedure
a.) Those who meet the time criterion mentioned above may apply for a sabbatical by sending to the Bishop a written request to do so. The request should briefly mention the time during which the priest will be away, the institution and its location. The request must be received by the bishop's office no later than nine (9) months prior to the day the proposed sabbatical is to begin.
b.) If the Bishop feels that the request should be processed he will forward it to the Clergy Continuing Education Director.
c.) The Clergy Continuing Education Director will send the priest an application form, which the priest must fill out and return.
d.) The Clergy Continuing Education Director will review the application to determine whether the proposed program meets the criteria in the definition of sabbaticals given above. Normally, the Clergy Continuing Education Director will also interview the applicant concerning the program he is requesting.
e.) If approved by the Continuing Education Director, the application will then be sent to the Vicar General to determine whether there are sufficient funds in the diocesan budget for priest sabbaticals, arid whether the parish can afford its stipulated portion.
f.) If approved by both the Continuing Education Director and the Vicar General, the application will be sent to the Bishop for final approval. In the case of special financial needs, see the section on financing above.
g.) Applications will be accepted on a first-submitted, first considered basis.
• If a priest who is eligible for a sabbatical in a given year applies for one, and the diocesan funds are exhausted for that year, his application will be considered for the next or later years depending upon the time when his application was submitted in relation to others who may also have applied for succeeding years.
f. Parish replacements
1.) Priests who take sabbaticals and will return to their parishes afterward, are responsible to arrange for qualified people to attend to the sacramental and administrative needs of their parishes in their absence.
2.) If an applicant will be reassigned when he returns from his sabbatical, and his permanent replacement has not been designated or will not be available as of the date his sabbatical begins, it is up to the applicant to work out with the bishop and the Priests Personnel Committee an arrangement for a temporary replacement(s) for the parish from which he is leaving.
a. Institutes are priest renewal programs, from two to seven weeks in duration, which may combine elements of an academic or professional or personal or spiritual developmental nature.
b. Although priests should be encouraged to take sabbaticals when they are eligible, if for some reason they cannot be out of ministry for two months or more, priests may attend an institute in lieu of a sabbatical. Since in this case the institute would replace the sabbatical, the priest will become eligible for another sabbatical or institute seven years from the date his institute ends.
c. Financial arrangements, application procedures, eligibility requirements and parish replacement arrangements in the case of priests engaging in institutes will follow the same guidelines as sabbaticals.
d. Institutes should be associated with institutions and/or programs aimed at providing this service.
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.
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.
Permission to be absent from one's assignment for a non-diocesan program of Continuing Education will be requested from the Ordinary.