Pastoral Council Guidelines
I. Purpose of Guidelines
The purpose of these guidelines is to illuminate the role of the parish Pastoral Council and the responsibilities of those persons named as Pastoral Council members of the parish established pursuant to Canon 536 of the Code of Canon Law.
II. Pastoral Councils in Church Decrees and Canon Law
Pastors also know that they themselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world. On the contrary, they understand that it is their noble duty so to shepherd the faithful and recognize their service and charismatic gifts that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart. – Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, 30.
By reason of the knowledge, competence or pre-eminence which they have, the laity are empowered, indeed sometimes obliged, to manifest their opinion in those things which pertain to the good of the Church. If the occasion should arise, this should be done through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose and always with truth, courage and prudence and with reverence and charity towards those who by reason of their office, represent the person of Christ. – Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, 37.
Canon 536 – After the diocesan bishop has listened to the presbyteral council and if he judges it opportune, a pastoral council is to be established in each parish; the pastor presides over it, and through it the Christian faithful along with those who share in the pastoral care of the parish in virtue of their office give their help in fostering pastoral activity. This pastoral council possesses a consultative vote only and is governed by norms determined by the diocesan bishop.
III. Purpose of the Pastoral Council
The Pastoral Council is a consultative body for the Pastor. Through reflection, prayer, planning, motivation and support, the Pastoral Council serves the Pastor by helping identify and encourage those ministries or services that are needed for the growth of a living parish community, evaluated and implemented on a regular basis. Thus, the Pastoral Council must carefully consider the needs of the faithful and search within the community to recommend to the Pastor ideas and means that will adequately respond to these needs. This responsibility of the Pastoral Council does not diminish the continued mission and responsibility of the parish as a whole. Each baptized parish member remains responsible in his or her own way for the mission of the parish. In this way, the Pastoral Council is an instrument to help the Pastor and the parish better discern, clarify, and communicate its responsibilities for proclaiming the Good News.
The main objective of the Pastoral Council is “to promote pastoral activity that will help the parish achieve its supreme purpose, the salvation of souls.” The Parish Council assists the Pastor with discerning and achieving the overall good of the parish and its mission. The work is both contemplative and active. With the Pastor, the Council practices discernment. Through reflection, prayer, planning, setting goals and priorities, it responds to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the parish and to the Bishop’s pastoral vision for the diocese. In action, Council members take leadership in the coordination, motivation, support, and evaluation of pastoral activities in the parish. Concerned with the overall pastoral development of the parish, the Pastoral Council serves as liaisons to the various parish groups and/or coordinates the implementation of specific initiatives at the request of the Pastor. (cf. Parish Pastoral Guidelines, Archdiocese of Washington)
The Pastoral Council carries out its function by:
- Informing the Pastor of the needs and concerns, gifts and resources of the whole parish and its members;
- Developing and reviewing a parish mission statement and periodically re-evaluating and revising it;
- Developing a parish pastoral plan;
- Participating in ongoing pastoral planning;
- Recommending policies, procedures and programs which would assist in the implementation of the mission statement and the parish pastoral plan;
- Reviewing and evaluating the effectiveness of existing programs;
- Reflecting on Diocesan pastoral priorities and recommending how they can be implemented in the parish;
- Serving as liaisons to parish groups, programs, and ministries;
- Review the annual parish budget created and administered by the Finance Council.
All members of the Pastoral Council will agree in an oath of confidentiality to maintain discretion in matters as the Pastor may direct. Such matters may include: human resources, contributions of individuals, etc. A breach of confidentiality will result in the dismissal of the member from the Council.
Pastors and Pastoral Council members have a responsibility to report practices which violate applicable law. Such a report must be made to the Vicar General of the Diocese of Charleston. In addition, if consultation with the Pastoral Council results in recommendations to the Pastor that are not accepted, and the Pastoral Council is concerned that an adverse situation will result, the members may seek advice from the Vicar General.
The Pastoral Council, as an important consultative body for the Pastor, should reflect the face of the parish and represent the various pastoral activities that are carried out within the boundaries of the parish. The six members of the Council are:
- representative of the parish,
- knowledgeable about the Catholic faith,
- practicing Catholics who are registered members of the parish,
- knowledgeable of the various programs, apostolates, and initiatives of the parish,
- committed to the evangelizing mission of the Church.
The membership of the Pastoral Council shall be appointed by the Pastor and who are skilled in family life, business, education, human development and the like. He or she must be a member of the parish (i.e. enjoy domicile or quasi-domicile within the territorial boundaries of the parish or be registered in the parish). Members cannot be related to the Pastor. Existing members of the Pastoral Council may assist the Pastor in identification and orientation of new members when vacancies will arise.
There are two officers:
- Chairperson – Prepares agendas in consultation with Pastor and two additional members. The Council members elect the Chairperson.
- Secretary – Keeps track of attendance at meetings and keeps accurate minutes of all meetings. Copies of meeting minutes as well as documents and other information pertinent to issues discussed during meetings are to be maintained by the Secretary, copies of which must be secured and maintained at the parish. The Council members elect the Secretary.
Parochial Vicars and Deacons may serve as non-voting ex officio members.
Members of the Pastoral Council may not be employees of the parish (i.e. business managers, accountants, bookkeepers). No member of the Pastoral Council should use such position, or use any information obtained while serving in such position, in any manner that creates, tends to create, or even appears to create any conflict of any kind between the member and the parish nor any circumstance or possibility of personal profit or advancement.
B) Terms of Office
Members of the Pastoral Council are to be appointed by the Pastor in writing for one renewable three-year term of office to coincide with the beginning of the fiscal year, that is, July 1. The terms of office may initially be staggered, or reappointed for three years after the first year, another after the second, etc.
When a new Pastor takes office, the Pastoral Council is immediately dissolved.
A Council member loses his or her seat at the completion of term if not renewed, by resignation, breach of confidentiality, abandonment of duties, death, moving out of the parish territory, unless the member continues to be a registered member of the parish or if he or she is no longer a member in good standing.
Meetings of the Pastoral Council are to be held when necessary, but not less than quarterly. The Pastor presides over the meetings. His presence is required for meetings to be held unless he has appointed a representative (e.g. Parochial Vicar). Meetings are to be attended by the Pastor, officers and at least a quorum of the council membership. A summary of topics discussed are to be recorded and distributed to all members prior to the next regularly scheduled meeting. Meetings are open to all parishioners who may participate as observers. The Pastoral Council and Pastoral may meet in a closed session when matters require it.
The chairperson is responsible for setting the agenda in consultation with the Pastor and two additional members at least two weeks prior to the scheduled meeting. Agenda items may be submitted by any parishioner.
A quorum of the membership is the minimum number of members who must attend and which members are to be included, that is, at least one officer plus three members plus the Pastor of his representative.
Meetings should have an agenda that consist of the following:
- Opening Prayer
- Approval of the summary report from the previous meeting
- Old business (to include discussion and/or disposition of issues raised previously)
- New Business
- Closing Prayer
V. Mode of Operations
The mode of operations for the Pastoral Council should be conciliar-consensus. While the Code of Canon Law places the authority and responsibility on the Pastor, it does not do so to the exclusion of the participative process. The Code intends a cooperative Pastor-Council relationship for the best interests of the parish community and the diocese.
The Finance Council collaborates with the Pastoral Council so that the parish’s pastoral plan is financially feasible, and that the budget which the Finance Council develops provides sufficient support, insofar as is economically feasible, for implementation of the parish’s pastoral plan.
A representative of the Finance Council should attend each Pastoral Council meeting. Likewise, a member of the Pastoral Council should attend each Finance Council meeting.
These guidelines may be amended with the approval of a majority of the Pastoral Council members and the Pastor.