I happened to note in the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” yesterday that the Archbishop of Philadelphia has just announced that he would soon be establishing the first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in the long history of that local Church. I know something of how he feels in that this diocese did not have such a council until about five years ago which is somewhat amazing in that such structures were highly recommended in the days and years following the Second Vatican Council. So I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in learning something about all the advisory groups which assist a local bishop in administering a local Church.
The law of the Church (aka “Canon law”) mandates every diocesan bishop to establish and meet with several bodies within his diocese. Every bishop must have a “College of Consultors” and he is required to “listen” to their wisdom and counsel on a number of matters (largely financial). For instance, a local bishop is not allowed to borrow sizeable sums of money or float bonds binding the diocese financially without seeking their approval first (after which he must secure the permission of the Holy See for, in our case, amounts in excess of three million dollars). In the event of the death of the bishop, the Consultors elect an administrator and with him govern the diocese until a new bishop is installed. There are many other matters which a bishop either must or should listen to his Consultors, but this is the first of those advisory bodies which the church requires. I have a seven member College of Consultors who were appointed by myself last year and whose terms will last until my successor is in place.
The Presbyteral Council is the second body required by Church law and the ordinary (another name for the bishop) must seek their wisdom and advice also on a number of matters. In addition to financial matters, the Presbyteral Council must advise in the closing or merging of parishes in a diocese. From a strictly church law perspective, the Presbyteral Council does not have an extensive required portfolio, but from a practical and pastoral perspective (I like to alliterate as you can see) any bishop is foolish not to bring them in on many others matters affecting a local Church. From the beginning of my time, I think I have worked very hard to place before the Presbyteral Council all matters of major substance concerning the diocese and I have tried to listen and follow their advice. We just finished extensive discussions on the possibility of a diocesan capital funds drive and a strategic plans for our schools. The “Light is On For YOU” effort held Thursday a week ago when every parish heard confessions from five to eight p.m. and the “Catholics Come Home” effort which found it way onto our TV screens in December and January were agreed to in advance by the Council. I have found throughout my time as bishop that this group serves an indispensable service to the diocese.
The final consultative body required by Canon Law is the Diocesan Finance Council. About sixteen men and women (three pastors and myself are the only clerics on the Council) meet at least five times a year to monitor and guide me and the diocesan Finance Office in the management of the funds entrusted to us by the faithful. They approve an annual budget and monitor it throughout the coming year. They supervise the investment portfolio and its managers monthly as to performance and risk. They receive the annual audit and choose the auditing firm. At my insistence (and this in no way binds my successor as Church law does not require it), they must approve any expenditure of more than $50,000 outside of the annual budget. At the moment they are meeting with and quite concerned for those parishes consistently unable to pay their bills to the diocese or others. This men and women on this Council are also indispensable, at least for this bishop, for their knowledge of finance, insurance, investment strategies is incredibly helpful. These women and men serve a term, which generally does not exceed ten years and love their faith and Church enough to share their time and talent with me. If you were able to watch these people in action, you would have a very fine feeling about their stewardship of the treasure, which you share for the spread of the Gospel.
That brings this discussion to the final advisory body, the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Here we have about twenty-four women and men, almost all lay, who meet five times a year to discuss major pastoral issues facing the diocese. When I began this Council about five years ago, their first task was to assess the effectiveness of the diocesan newspaper (the St. Petersburg edition of the Florida Catholic) and to recommend new ways of communicating with God’s people in our five counties. They worked hard for over a year and recommended that we leave the family of the paper and strike out on our own. Amazingly, there was very little push-back from this decision and, while admittedly I miss being able to pick up the paper every other week and read and through pictures see what is going on throughout the diocese, I think pastorally it was an acceptable initiative. Their advice and counsel has also been sought on all the major plans and programs of the diocese. While Church Law does not require “Pastoral Councils,” I am pleased that we established one here as how else would the laity who are not auditors, accountants, investment managers or finance related, give input into the life and operation of the Church they love?
All four bodies have recently given me the support which I need to initiate three major projects about which you will be hearing a lot more in the months ahead: a remodeling and renewing of St. Jude’s Cathedral, a restructuring of some of our elementary schools, and a capital funds drive to ensure the continuation of faith education in Catholic schools and religious education programs, as well as to provide for the costs of educating our future priests.
Thanks for your time and patience in reading this “primer” on why a “bishop is not always right and needs the help of others.”