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Canada: Bishop to permit non-priests to administer baptism and marriage

 The Archbishop of Ottawa, Marcel Gervais, has said he plans to allow religious sisters, deacons and other lay people to preside over baptisms and marriages. They will also be allowed to oversee burials. Speaking to the Ottawa Citizen, he said the idea was not just helping to solve to problem of the shortage of priests, but was also "setting up a new model of church." He said: "We want to move away from the consumer model, where the priest supplies all the needs of the consumers, to a model of participation." Under the bishop's plan, parishes that do not have a priest in residence will be given pastoral administrators, a practice already quite established in many parts of the world. Officially granting laypeople permission to baptise, marry and bury parishioners is a new development. Sr Jeannine Gauthier, who has been parish administrator at Notre Dame de Lourdes in Vanier for four years, is responsible for the maintenance and administration of the parish, and has now been given permission to baptise, marry and bury parishioners, when no priest or deacon is available. "This is a totally new mode of functioning. The bishop is excited and I'm excited," she told the Ottawa Citizen. Mgr Keiran Conry, director of the Catholic Media Office for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said the development did not represent a major change in church practice. He said: "I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often. It has always been permitted for the sacrament of baptism to be conducted by a layperson when no priest is available. With marriage it is the couple perform the sacrament when they make promises to each other, and so a priest doesn't have to be there. A burial is a commemorative event, not a sacrament, and so a layperson, properly licensed, would be able to to preside over the service."