By: Laura Keener
Another initiative of the 2006 Synod document was completed, Dec. 3, with the promulgation of the revised Diocesan Norms for Parish Pastoral Councils. Guidelines for Parish Pastoral Councils had not been updated since 1985, and updated guidelines were identified as a policy in the Synod document. Additionally, pastors were asking Bishop Roger Foys if the diocese had guidelines or updated guidelines.
“As many councils as there are, that’s how many different guidelines we had,” said Bishop Foys. “There was no one specific guideline that said, ‘this is what a parish council is, this is what a parish council does and this is how it operates.’”
Bishop Foys said that under the previous guidelines it was optional for a parish to establish a Parish Pastoral Council. But the 2006 Synod document directed that parishes be required to establish a Parish Pastoral Council. (Policy Admin 4) The Synod also directed that “the Diocese will provide norms for the establishment and function of parish pastoral councils.” (Policy Admin 5)
“If we are going to mandate parish councils in every parish we need to have guidelines so they are all following the same structure,” Bishop Foys said.
The revised guidelines were developed by representatives from lay pastoral councils, priests and staff and reviewed by the Presbyteral Council and Deanery Pastoral Councils before being presented to Bishop Foys for review and possible promulgation.
“I didn’t, purposely, exercise any input because I wanted this to come from the various councils,” said Bishop Foys.
The diocesan norms in establishing Parish Pastoral Councils and their role have always conformed to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which states:
— “If the diocesan bishop judges it opportune after he has heard the presbyteral council, a pastoral council is to be established in each parish, over which the pastor presides and in which the Christian faithful, together with those who share in pastoral care by virtue of their office in the parish, assist in fostering pastoral activity.” (c. 536 §1)
— “A pastoral council possesses a consultative vote only and is governed by the norms established by the diocesan bishop.” (c. 536 §2)
The diocesan norms acknowledge the consultative function of the Parish Pastoral Council by requiring “consensus” and specifying that final decisions are the responsibility of the pastor.
“Recommendations made by the council to the pastor should involve consensus. Consensus is a process of deliberation that requires open dialogue, listening, prayer and discernment. The pastor will consider the advice and recommendations of the council in his decision making. Whatever form this takes, the pastor always retains the responsibility for the final decision.” (Diocese of Covington, Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines, 2017)
The consultative role of Parish Pastoral Councils should not be minimized. “If advisory councils or committees have studied the matter, then that advice is extremely valuable,” said Bishop Foys.
Another important update to the guidelines is the inclusion of the Deanery Pastoral Council representative as an “ex officio” member of the Parish Pastoral Council. The Deanery Pastoral Council member is the parish’s representative to the diocese and the deanery. There are five deaneries, organized geographically, throughout the diocese. Each parish belongs to a deanery.
Through the Deanery Pastoral Council member information is gathered from the diocese and deanery and relayed back to the Parish Pastoral Council. For example, each year the diocesan Curia develops its annual pastoral plan. This plan is sent to the Deanery Pastoral Councils for their review and each Deanery Pastoral Council member reviews the plan with his/her Parish Pastoral Council.
The Deanery Pastoral Council member also delivers any information and concerns from the Parish Pastoral Council to the deanery and the diocese. For example, the Deanery Pastoral Council member relays feedback to the annual diocesan pastoral plan to the Deanery Pastoral Councils and the diocesan Curia.
“It’s giving back and forth of information,” said Bishop Foys. “If a parish doesn’t have a Deanery Pastoral Council member on their parish council the structure falls apart.”
Bishop Foys said that each parish might choose to develop particular guidelines for its Parish Pastoral Council as long as those guidelines do not violate diocesan guidelines. Each parish that develops particular guidelines should submit them to the diocese for review.
“Not to scrutinize them but to make sure, then, that every parish has a working structure for their Parish Pastoral Council,” said Bishop Foys.