By Father James L. Bartoloma, J.C.L.
After consulting with the Diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning and the Presbyteral Council, Bishop Dennis Sullivan has decided to reorganize the deaneries within the Diocese of Camden.
According to Canon Law, the diocesan bishop may join several neighboring parishes together as “vicariates” and then appoint a priest to serve as the “vicar forane,” a Latin term which means a representative (vicarius) who is outside (foras) the cathedral city. This ecclesiastical office dates as far back as the fourth century when, after an earlier period of Church persecutions came to an end, Christianity was able to spread beyond the major cities to more rural areas. A bishop would then send priests into those areas to represent him and to be in charge of communication between the bishop and the local priests.
In the United States, the vicariates are more commonly called “deaneries” and the priests who the bishop places over them are called “deans.” The way that parishes are grouped together into deaneries is to help the ministry of priests as they work together with the dean to foster pastoral care within their area, and when the dean represents the bishop in different ways.
In Canon Law, some of the responsibilities given to the dean are to make sure that if a pastor is seriously ill he receives proper care, to promote spiritual conferences and workshops to the priests within the deanery, to see that the sacred liturgy is celebrated according to the laws of the Church, and that the Most Blessed Sacrament is properly reserved. The dean can also be given certain local responsibilities within his deanery and represent the bishop when called upon. An example of this would be if the bishop is unable to install a new pastor, oftentimes the local dean would be called upon to do so.
The previous Bishops of Camden reorganized the number and structure of the different deaneries from time to time, depending on circumstances within the diocese as well as how it was felt that the deaneries could best foster pastoral care of the parishes interacting together, and how the deans could most efficiently represent the bishop. Originally, the Diocese of Camden was divided so that outside of the cathedral city of Camden, there were only three deaneries which served two counties each. More recently, there have been nine deaneries within diocese. With the new arrangement, there will be a total of five deaneries:
Deanery 1: West Camden County
Deanery 2: East Camden County
Deanery 3: Gloucester and Salem Counties
Deanery 4: Atlantic County
Deanery 5: Cape May and Cumberland Counties
Although there is significant difference in their geographic sizes, for the most part there will be an equal number of parishes and priests within the five deaneries. These changes will be effective on Jan. 6, 2015.
Father Bartoloma is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Camden and the Director of the Office of Pastoral Planning.