By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — A handbook for priests articulating diocesan policies to ensure their rights and privileges has recently been published.
It is an attempt to place in concise, concrete form the policies that have been formulated in the course of years in the Diocese of Charleston for its priest personnel. In the process of composition, the personnel handbooks of a number of other dioceses were consulted and considered. The contents were scrutinized by church personnel administrators, canon lawyers, finance officers, and others.
In addition, the priests of the diocese were invited to critique and contribute their suggestions to the handbook prior to its final form.
In his “Episcopal Promulgation and Decree” of the Priests’ Personnel Handbook, Bishop David B. Thompson writes that before compilation of the book could begin, certain actions and events were required: the restructuring of the Curia, the establishment of a formal and representative Personnel Board, distinct but not separate from the bishop; and the implementation of the Synod of Charleston.
The resulting policies are designed to provide a foundation for consistent and equitable personnel administration for priests throughout the Diocese of Charleston.
Msgr. James A. Carter, Vicar General of the diocese, says that the handbook deals with “practical aspects of priestly lives and ministry,” such as taxes, retirement benefits, vacations, salary compensation, parish assignments, and others.
He stated that in the past, items such as these would be addressed by the Priests’ Personnel Board. An issue would arise regarding the life and ministry of priests, a recommendation would be made to the bishop, and a policy formulated by him.
However, in recent years, said Msgr. Carter, another body, the Presbyteral Council, has become active in the creation of new policies, resulting in the process becoming more consultative.
Msgr. Charles H. Rowland, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Columbia, assisted in reviewing the handbook for canonical correctness. He called the compilation of policies “a good collaborative effort,” adding, “everyone had opportunities for input.”
The Vicar General also stressed that the handbook is specific to the diocese. “Obviously, this handbook is not exhaustive, nor is it comprehensive, as is the Code of Canon Law. It is not intended to address every aspect of our lives,” Msgr. Carter wrote in his introduction to the book.
He said the policies deal with the same issues, such as salaries and health care, as do guidelines in other dioceses across the country, but not necessarily to the same degree.
In addition, Msgr. Carter added that diocesan personnel such as Dennis Atwood in Finance and Sandy Hill in Human Resources contributed material to the handbook in their fields of expertise.
Msgr. Joseph Roth, pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Myrtle Beach and member of the Priest Personnel Board, was cited by Msgr. Carter for his work in culling through the minutes of the committee meetings and pulling together various issues confronting the clergy.
The Vicar General emphasized that flexibility was key in attempting to formulate the rules and regulations in the handbook, so that the norms were not confining or legalistic. Msgr. Rowland said he envisioned the handbook being updated “every year or two as needed.” These policies aren’t set in stone, he stressed.
“From the beginning of his tenure, Bishop Thompson has been interested in trying to do everything he could to make the priests lives better,” said Msgr Carter. Added Msgr. Rowland, “This shows the pastoral care of the bishop of Charleston for his priests.”