Literally, one who has the cure (care) or charge of souls, in which sense it is yet used by the Church of England,
Curate (Lat. curatus, from cura, care), literally, one who has the cure (care) or charge of souls, in which sense it is yet used by the Church of England, “All Bishops and Curates”. In France, also, the cognate cure (Spanish, cura) is used to denote the chief priest of a parish. In English-speaking countries, however, the word curate has gradually become the title of those priests who are assistants to the rector, or parish priest, in the general parochial work of the parish or mission to which they are sent by the bishop of the diocese or his delegate. Technically speaking the Curate is the one who exercises the cure of souls, and his assistants are vicars and coadjutors; but in this article the word curate is used in its accepted English sense, viz. assistant priest, and corresponds, in a general way, to the vicarius temporalis, auxiliaris presbyter, coadjutor parochi.
In the first three centuries of the Church there was but one church in each diocese, located generally in the principal city, i.e. in the city where the bishop resided. To this church the faithful of the city and the surrounding villages went on Sundays and feasts to assist at Mass and receive the sacraments. When the faithful became more numerous as the Church developed, the number of churches was increased not only in the city but also in the surrounding country, and services were performed in these churches by priests, who, however, were not permanently appointed; i.e. the bishop remained the only parish priest, but had a certain number of priests to assist him in the administration of the sacraments in his parochia, or diocese (Lesetre, La Paroisse, Paris, 1906; Duchesne, The Origin of Christian Worship, London, 1906, 11-13). After the fourth century parishes began to be formed in the rural districts, but it was not until after the year 1000 that they were formed in episcopal cities (Lupi, De parochiis ante annum millesimum, Bergamo, 1788; Vering, Kirchenrecht, 3d ed., 1893, p. 598). From this it will be seen that just as the bishop found his diocese too large for individual ministrations and care, so the parish priest, in the course of time, found it necessary to secure the aid of other priests in attending to the spiritual needs of his people.
In English-speaking countries, also in a number of European states, at the present day, the curate holds his faculties directly from the bishop, but exercises them according to the wish and direction of the parish priest or rector. This applies not only in the case of a true parish priest or a missionary rector (both irremovable), but also in the case of a simple rector, who by the authority of the bishop governs a given area styled a mission. Curates are, in general, removable at the will of the bishop. Nevertheless, this power of the bishop ought to be exercised with prudence and charity, and in such a way that the curate shall suffer no loss of reputation, e.g. by being sent without just and reasonable cause from one mission to another, such arbitrary change being legitimately interpreted by common consent as tantamount to a punishment. In such a case, if the curate feels that he has been unfairly treated, he has (in England) the right of appeal to the Commission of Investigation, which exists in each diocese. Meanwhile he must obey the order of the bishop. The form of investigation and trial is the same for curates as for rectors and parish priests (see Wernz, op. cit. below, II, 1052). It is to be noted that the Commission of Investigation provided for the United States by a degree of Propaganda (July 20, 1878; cf. Acta et Deer. Conc. Bait. III, 292-96) was abrogated by the Propaganda Instruction of “Cum Magnopere” of 1884, which provides in each diocese for a summary, but substantially just, process in all criminal and disciplinary causes of ecclesiastics (Conc. plen. Bait. III, cap. III, 308-66. cf. Acta et Decreta, 287-92). This Instruction obtains in Scotland, and has lately been extended to England for the larger dioceses (Taunton, p. 220).
The general law of the Church with regard to curates is mainly concerned with their appointment and their right to proper support. By common ecclesiastical law the appointment of curates belongs to the parish priest and not to the bishop (c. 30, X, 3, 5; Council of Trent, Sess. XXI, cap. iv, de Ref.). But the bishop can oblige the parish priest to accept a curate when the former cannot do his work, either on account of physical or mental weakness or on account of ignorance; and it belongs to the bishop, and not to the parish priest, to judge whether one or more curates are necessary, also to provide for their examination, approbation, and the issuing of faculties to them. In English-speaking countries, also in France, Spain, Germany, and Austria, curates are appointed by the bishop (or vicar-general), who determines their salary and may remove them from one mission to another. By a particular reply of the Congregation of the Council, August 14, 1863, it is expressly provided that this custom, derogatory to the common law, shall be observed until the Apostolic See makes other provision.
The bishop can assign to the curate a salary from the income of the church. If the income of the church is not sufficient the parish priest is not to suffer; but according to the common opinion, the bishop, as far as he can, must provide from other sources for the curate. By common law the Stole fees (q.v.) belong to the parish priest, therefore the bishop cannot make them part of the salary of the curate. Still, the Council of Trent says that the bishop can assign a salary from the fruits of the benefice, or otherwise provide; hence it seems to some that he might use the stole fees as part of the salary of the curate. The custom of each diocese is a sure guide on this point; in any case, there is always the opportunity of appeal to Rome in a case of more than ordinary difficulty. The authority of the curate is gathered from his letter of appointment, the diocesan statutes, and legitimate custom. Its actual limitations may also be gathered from the manuals of canon law most used in the various Catholic countries. As a general rule, curates are not moved without good reason from the churches which they serve; such a reason should be the promotion of the curate, the good of a particular parish, or the general good of the diocese. This latter is fairly comprehensive and gives the bishop a wide discretion. Bishops are advised to act as far as possible, in a manner agreeable to the parish priest or rector.
In England the synods of Westminster provide that in each mission one priest is appointed to be the first (primus), with the duty of attending to the cure of souls and the administration of the church or congregation. Alms given for Masses are the property of each individual priest. Stole fees are not always dealt with in the same way in each mission. It is recommended that a course be followed which is most conducive to lightening the burdens of the mission. Curates ought to inform the head priest as often as they are absent from the presbytery, even for a day; they should not be absent for a Sunday or a Holy Day of obligation without the leave of the bishop or vicar-general, except in case of urgency, in which case the curate, on leaving home, ought as soon as possible to inform the bishop of said urgency, and should leave a suitable priest to supply his place. Curates must not consider that they are freed from work merely because they are not charged with the administration of a mission. It is their duty, under the rector, to help him by preaching, by hearing confessions, by teaching children the catechism, by visiting the sick and administering to them the sacraments, and by fulfilling all the other duties of a missionary. Rarely should curates take meals elsewhere than in the presbytery at the common table; much less should this become habitual. In Ireland the synods of Maynooth forbid any curate to incur a debt of over £20; should he do so, he is liable to censure. If disputes arise between the parish priest and the curate, the matter is to be referred to the bishop, and in the meantime the curate is to abide by the decision of the parish priest. Every week the curate is to meet the parish priest in order to receive from him instructions as to the arrangements for the coming week (it is to be noted that in some parts of Ireland the curate Sictes apart from the parish priest). Absence from the parish, even for one night is to be notified to the parish priest; absence for three days is to be notified to the bishop. Absence for five days requires the written permission of the bishop, as does also absence on Sunday or a Holy Day of obligation. Certain other statutes are incorporated in the synods of Maynooth which apply equally to curates and parish priests. Thus, no person is to be declared excommunicated unless the bishop has given his written authority for such proceedings. Priests are on no account to make personal remarks about their parishioners in church. All parochial moneys received are to be entered in a book which is kept by the parish priest. Sick priests, before they receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, are to hand over to the vicar forane or other responsible priest, the pyx, holy oil vessel, registers, and all other things which pertain to the church; should the priest die, his colleagues are to take the utmost care that all papers, letters, etc. are locked up and so safeguarded from the danger of falling into the hands of unauthorized lay people.
The Second Council of Quebec deals in detail with the ecclesiastical status (rights and duties) of curates in French Canada (see Discipline du Diocese de Que bec, Quebec, 1895, pp. 211, 252, and Gignac, Cornpend. jur. eccl. ad usum Cleri Canad., ibid., 1901, De personis, 398 sqq.). In the United States also, and in other English-speaking countries, the statutes of various dioceses and the legislation of some provincial synods (e.g. Fifth New York, 1886) regulate in similar detail the duties of a curate, e.g. the continuous residence that his office calls for (see Obligation of Residence) and other statutory priestly obligations. Apropos of the relations between parish priests and their curates, many modern diocesan and provincial synods repeat with insistence the immemorial principles that govern the exercise. of ecclesiastical authority in all that pertains to the cure of souls (cures animarum), viz.: on the part of the parish priest, paternal benevolence and mildness of direction, due recognition of the priestly character of his assistants, equitable distribution of the parochial duties and bur-dens, good example in religious zeal and works, wise counsel of the young and inexperienced, practical guidance in all that pertains to the spiritual and even the temporal welfare of the parish; on the part of the curate, willing obedience to his superior, due consultation in all matters of importance, filial cooperation, respect for the parish priest’s office and priestly reputation, a peaceful and even patient attitude when the curate seems wronged, and recourse to the diocesan authority only when charity has exhausted her suggestions (Synod of Munster, 1897, 147 sqq., in Laurentius, op. cit. below, pp. 170-71). Similar advice and suggestions are found in many modern writings on the priesthood (e.g. the works of Cardinals Manning, Gibbons, Vaughan, and those of Mach, Keating, etc.). (See Competency; Congrua; Parish; Parish Priest; Vicar; Chaplain; Priest.)