The new parish ministers: A sociological study of lay ecclesial ministry in the Catholic church

David Edward DeLambo, Fordham University


Based on the results of two national surveys of parish ministry (1992 and 1997), this dissertation is a narrative and sociological analysis of a new and rapidly growing ministerial stratum in the Catholic Church: lay ecclesial ministry. Its evolution was made possible by the shift in Catholic theology brought about by the Second Vatican Council, which empowered the laity to play a meaningful new role in the mission and ministry of the church. A number of practical circumstances have also fueled the growth of lay ecclesial ministry, and perhaps made it inevitable. These circumstances include the declining number of priests, the increasing size of Catholic parishes, and the growing awareness at the parish level of unmet ministerial needs. Parishes are also becoming more intentional (e.g., developing mission statements and strategic plans), which frequently leads to the employment of lay pastoral staff. From a rather informal and familial beginning, lay ecclesial ministry has become more structured, with an increasing percentage of ministers reporting a work environment that somewhat approximates corporate life: job descriptions, job contracts, performance evaluations and the like. Because of its rapid growth, the practice of lay ecclesial ministry in parishes has far outpaced diocesan policies to support and regulate it. However, great strides have been made in recent years to rectify the situation. The reasons lay ecclesial ministers give for entering parish ministry are generally a combination of three factors: vocation, personal invitation and attraction. They find their work highly satisfying and believe they are making positive contributions in many aspects of parish life. Many express concern over their level of financial compensation, which while increasing dramatically, is still relatively low. Though it bears some of the marks of a profession, lay ecclesial ministry is not a profession in the standard sense of the term. It more closely resembles what sociologists call a “feminized semi-profession,” with a majority of females serving in roles subordinate, yet complementary to, a male superordinate profession (the priesthood). The analysis provided is a contribution to the study of contemporary Catholicism, women in ministry, and the sociology of professions.

Subject Area

Sociology|Religion|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

DeLambo, David Edward, "The new parish ministers: A sociological study of lay ecclesial ministry in the Catholic church" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9999821.