A rather comic story has emerged on various internet sites about the Pope’s words describing Parish secretaries, uttered when speaking to the Polish bishops in a closed session, the transcript of which was later published by the Vatican.
The Pope’s words were as follows: “There are parishes with parish secretaries who seem to be ‘disciples of Satan’ and scare people; parishes with closed doors.”
Now, I happen to know exactly what the Holy Father means. There are some parish secretaries who are hardly welcoming, and who can, even over the phone, project a cold and forbidding sense that your call really is intrusive, and that you should get off the line at once, because they, and Father, have much better things to do that waste their time on you. But, and this is important, behind every Gorgon of a parish secretary stands a parish priest, and she is simply his public face, and the coldness she projects she learns from him. The parish priest, for good or ill, is the one who sets the tone. The parish secretary is the one who activates his will. So the Pope’s criticism of parish secretaries is really a criticism of high and mighty parish priests.
I do not know if this works the other way round, namely if a really nice parish secretary means that the parish priest she works for is a truly evangelical and welcoming pastor. But one thing is for sure: the parish secretary is the one who mans the phone, and therefore, for many, is their first point of contact with the parish. People who ring up my parish often comment that the parish secretary is a really nice lady; and those who meet her in person appreciate her warm personality. This is not just a matter of being nice; it is a way of projecting the parish’s mission. The parish secretary is a key worker in this mission, and if she does her job properly, then she makes a huge contribution.
While some parish secretaries may indeed seem like ‘disciples of Satan’, the vast majority are doing a wonderful job. Well done to them, and many thanks! Priests rely on them, and a good secretary can make the stressful life of a parish priest much easier, especially given that so many priests by character are not really that au fait with paper work.
As for the phrase ‘disciples of Satan’ this is resonant for a reason the Pope could not possibly have imagined when he uttered it. The session with the Polish bishops was closed. The phrase was a colourful one that tripped off the tongue, I am sure. Yet someone in the Vatican communications department decided not to cut this phrase from the transcript. Why not? If anyone has bad secretaries, it is the Pope himself.