WASHINGTON (March 19, 2002) -- Catholic colleges and universities and dioceses around the country gave more than nine million dollars in a recent 12-month period to support education for lay ecclesial ministry.
The aid came in the form of tuition assistance to men and women studying for such positions as religious educators, youth ministers, pastoral associates, and other church positions, many of which only have opened up to lay persons since the Second Vatican Council.
A report on the financial support given to laity for education for Church positions was released by the U.S. Bishops' Subcommittee on Lay Ministry. The study, titled Financial Assistance Survey, was undertaken by the Life Cycle Institute of The Catholic University of America.
"The study shows that lay ministry is becoming a part of the institution of the Church," said Bishop Joseph Delaney, Chairman of the Subcommittee. "This is a sign that anyone who ever has paid a tuition bill can understand."
Bishop Delaney also noted that the report also highlights the need for further funding in this area.
"We want top-flight, professional people involved in lay ecclesial ministry," he said. "These are people to whom we entrust souls, people who help others find God in the world around them and who are vital to faith development of children and adults alike."
According to the executive summary of the study, the survey looked only at assistance given to lay women and men, including vowed religious, who are candidates for graduate degrees in theology, ministry, pastoral/theological studies, religious education, spirituality, and canon law.
Of the dioceses polled, 153 (81 percent) returned completed questionnaires. Of the 124 graduate institutions listed in the 1999 CARA Catholic Ministry Formation Directory, 85 (69 percent) returned completed questionnaires.
The survey indicated that of the more than nine million dollars awarded, $1.6 million was from dioceses, and $7.7 million from the graduate institutions. Financial assistance was available from 56 percent of the responding dioceses and 79 percent of the responding institutions.
The form of assistance was somewhat different for each group: 88 percent of the graduate institutions awarded tuition waivers or grants; 98 percent of the dioceses gave funds for tuition. Both groups reported that low-interest loans are one form of financial assistance (12 percent of institutions and 11 percent of dioceses). Twenty-five percent of the graduate schools estimated that their financial aid covered 50 percent or more of the student's total tuition costs. The dioceses were not asked to make that estimate.
Individual relationships between specific institutions and specific dioceses also were reported, with 61 percent of dioceses limiting their assistance to persons studying at designated educational institutions and 34 percent of the institutions reporting that financial assistance is relatively more available to students from particular dioceses.
Financial need is more significant at the institutions than for the diocese; 61 percent of the institutions report that assistance is more readily available to students with demonstrated financial need, and 38 percent of the dioceses limit assistance to such persons.
Service within the diocese (or parish) is a key criterion for eligibility for assistance from the diocese: 98 percent reported that persons already employed are eligible, 76 percent - persons already volunteering in ministry and 64 percent - persons committed to work in the future. All of the dioceses reported that some individuals also receive aid for education from the parishes that employ them.
Diocesan policies for financial assistance were established before 1990 by 35 percent of the dioceses. The greatest percentage (56 percent) were established during the 1990s. Graduate institutions were not asked when they began their programs of financial assistance.
Sixty-two percent of the dioceses reported that the topic of financial assistance for lay persons has been considered by diocesan leadership in the last few years. In their open-ended comments, most recognized the need for more financial assistance; many mentioned current initiatives, and several referenced the scarcity of financial resources within the diocese. A number of dioceses noted that funding for the education of lay ministers is included within the goals of annual and capital campaigns.
Several dioceses mentioned funding for undergraduate theological education for their lay ecclesial ministers; others mentioned that funding for lay ministers was a priority set by diocesan synod or strategic planning. Both the Knights of Columbus and Our Sunday Visitor were acknowledged by some dioceses as providing funding for their financial assistance programs. Several dioceses referred to programs in which the individual pays one-third of the tuition, the parish pays one-third, and the diocese pays a third. At least one graduate school has a similar program in which it waives one-third of the tuition, the diocese pays one-third, and the individual pays a third. One graduate school awards a full-tuition scholarship and other assistance to all full-time, degree-seeking lay students admitted to its master of divinity program.