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A. What is Certification?

Certification is a means of recognizing and affirming ministerial competence. It is a process through which the Church acknowledges that the professional standards of this ministry have been met. The individual and the Church benefit from certification inasmuch as the process helps maintain standards of professional competence. Certification does not in and of itself guarantees employment, placement or supervision.
In the United States, the Roman Catholic Bishops established the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) Commission on Certification and Accreditation to serve as the authorized agency for certifying lay ministers in the Roman Catholic Church.
The National Association for Lay Ministry, with the guidance and support of the USCCB Commission on Certification and Accreditation, established written Standards for Pastoral Associates and a Code of Ethics which pertain to this ministry.  (See National Certification Standards for Lay Eccesial Ministries)

B. Why Certification?

The Archdiocesan Office of Parish Life oversees the certification process in order to:
  1. Establish greater credibility, continuity and accountability for the role of Pastoral Associate by clarifying the specific status of and standards for this ministry.
  2. Increase the likelihood of effective ministry by advocating and measuring standards for competency.
  3. Establish procedures that lead to just employment practices, that promote the equitable treatment of ministers, and that provide job security.
  4. Create procedures to acknowledge and take into account the candidate’s prior education and experience.
  5. Motivate the Archdiocese to provide financial resources for the training of and salaries for Pastoral Associates.
  6. Enhance the value of collaboration in the Church by affirming the interdependence of distinct ministerial roles, especially of competent and professionally-trained lay ministers..

C. Policies on Certification

  1. All Pastoral Associates must be certified and commissioned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
  2. No Pastor or Parish Administrator is authorized to hire a Pastoral Associate unless the Archdiocesan Office of Parish Life has determined that the applicant is eligible for certification.
    New Pastoral Associates, with the required qualifications as outlined in Standards for Certification (see D. below), will be given conditional certification until they complete the process of full certification. Conditional certification also provides for the unique needs of those ministers who have been working as Pastoral Associates in parishes before the policies on certification were approved, but who do not possess the background called for in the Standards for Certification. 
  3. Pastoral Associates hold a Master’s Degree in divinity or in pastoral, theological or religious studies. Pastoral Associates are educated professionals in the field of pastoral ministry. Degree equivalencies will be considered on an individual basis and determined by the applicant’s ability to articulate and demonstrate knowledge of Catholic theology appropriate to the level of a Master’s degree in the appropriate field.

D. Standards for Certification

The following Standards for Certification are the result of consultation with varying Archdiocesan constituencies, with the Dioceses of Orange and San Bernardino, with the National Association for Lay Ministry, with the Archdiocese of Chicago, and with the staff of the USCCB Subcommittee on Lay Ecclesial Ministry. The Standards include six areas:
  1. personal qualities;
  2. spirituality and spiritual formation;
  3. theological competencies;
  4. administrative competencies,
  5. pastoral competencies;
  6. experience.
For purposes of clarity in reviewing candidates for the position of Pastoral Associate, and for the certification and hiring of Pastoral Associates, the following list of Standards is provided:

1. Personal Qualities

Pastoral Associates have a particular relationship to the Catholic Church Community. They are:
  • Fully initiated members of the Roman Catholic Church whose lives reflect the official teaching of the Church
  • Love the Church and are committed to the Church’s Mission
  • Demonstrate ministerial, psychological and spiritual maturity, as well as good physical health
  • Flexible and value collaboration in ministry

2. Spirituality and Spiritual Formation

Pastoral Associates demonstrate a commitment to their initial and ongoing spiritual formation. Pastoral Associates:
  • Recognize God’s presence and activity in their life
  • Appreciate a variety of forms of prayer, both communal and personal
  • Value and make time for personal spiritual growth
  • Receive regular spiritual direction
  • Make an annual retreat
  • Participate in the liturgy of the Church and serve the human and Christian communities
  • Understand the theory and practice of faith sharing and theological reflection and are willing to engage in related group processes
  • Have an ability to integrate ministry with prayer and sacramental life

3. Theological Competencies

Pastoral Associates possess a formal education at the graduate level that affords them a basic familiarity with Church teaching and sound pastoral practice in the following areas:
  • Scripture
  • Christology
  • Liturgy and the Sacraments
  • Catholic Church History and Vatican II Ecclesiology
  • Catholic Social Justice Principles
  • Moral Theology and Pastoral Ethics
  • Methods of Evangelization
  • Canon Law as applied to pastoral situations
  • Principles of Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue
  • Stages of Faith Development

4. Administrative Competencies

Pastoral Associates grasp the principles of organization, management and administration. Pastoral Associates:
  • Possess basic leadership, management and group process skills
  • Can communicate effectively and have good interpersonal skills
  • Can make decisions and assume responsibility for delegated tasks
  • Can negotiate and manage conflict
  • Can initiate and implement programs appropriate to areas of responsibility; including recruitment, training and supervision of volunteers
  • Can develop and maintain a budget
  • Can supervise, affirm and enable personnel and other ministers
  • Understand Church structures and maintain good working relations with Archdiocesan offices/leadership

5. Pastoral Competencies

Pastoral Associates lead and assist others in the areas of spirituality, community-building and pastoral guidance.
  • In the area of Spirituality, Pastoral Associates:
    • Can assist others to deepen their relationship with God and to contribute to the spiritual growth of the faith community
    • Can lead others in prayer, preside at rituals and direct theological reflection
    • Can share their own faith journey and enable others to do the same
  • In the area of Community Building, Pastoral Associates:
    • Can assist in shaping the parish vision
    • Can collaborate with others in ministry
    • Can be objective in pastoral situations
    • Understand and appreciate the diversity which characterizes parish life (e.g., culture, race, generation, ecclesiology)
    • Are aware of and open to renewal processes
    • Understand that the Church transcends parish boundaries
  • In the area of Pastoral Guidance, Pastoral Associates:
    • Are familiar with and are able to apply the basic skills of listening and the basic principles of pastoral counseling and spiritual direction
    • Are aware of available social services and know when to refer persons to appropriate helping professionals/resource persons
    • Have the capacity to relate to the sick, dying and bereaved
    • Are sensitive to the complexities of moral decision making and contemporary social issues, and are able to make appropriate pastoral responses
    • Are appreciative of the impact of cultural influences on one’s approach to faith and life

6. Experience

Pastoral Associates demonstrate effectiveness according to the Standards listed above and normally have three years of experience in full time salaried ministry prior to being commissioned.

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