I feel a certain urgency to address two questions that were put to me by the CWL at their Council meeting that I attended this week. The first is the question of a pastoral council, and the second is the question of our building project. The second will have to wait till next week. Allow me today to address the first.
Should we reinstate the pastoral council? I believe the short answer to this question is: we need to think it through very carefully before we proceed. Here’s why.
A document produced by the Archdiocese of Vancouver for the Clergy Study Week in 2006 brings forward this argument for the existence of a parish pastoral council: “In order for a parish to have the fullness of God’s light and guidance, the people must be consulted.” This is probably the most powerful argument that can be brought forth. It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that the best way of consulting the people is to set up a parish pastoral council.
The difficulty which arises with a pastoral council is when it is erected in a parish where there is a pastoral team – a group of lay-people who are employed by the parish to work together with the priests to ensure the ecclesial life of the parish.. It is not obvious how these two entities can be made to work fruitfully together. Let’s bring this closer to home. When I was here from 1999 till 2006, we had a pastoral council. But the situation was very different. We had very few pastoral staff. Accordingly, we felt the need for ongoing consultation with laity in the parish. The pastoral council, in such a context, seems to be, if not necessary, at least highly desirable. But things have changed. After my departure in 2006, Fr. Pierre, with the help, no doubt, of the Holy Spirit, has put together a top-notch pastoral team: Theresa, Edwin, Rocelyn, Mildred, Fr. Gabe, and now me…
These laypeople who are now working with us, most of them full-time, think “parish”, as we do, and they provide us, as priests, with the vision and the creativity that we lack, left to ourselves. Up to a certain point, they play the role of a pastoral council, which reduces considerably the urgency of setting up the latter.
There are further difficulties. How do we ensure that a pastoral team and a pastoral council co-exist and work together fruitfully? If they are made to operate as distinct entities, the end-result will be the kind of dispersion that we wish to avoid. If they are combined into a single entity, the first problem that arises is that our pastoral team, already very busy, is committed to yet another meeting, at least monthly. Further, if we limit the number of members of the pastoral council so that the total number of members will not exceed a workable number, the pastoral team will tend to carry too much weight on the pastoral council, and prevent it from being what it is supposed to be. If, on the other hand, we ensure that the pastoral team are a minority on the pastoral council, then we have a very large council, and meetings become difficult to manage. Finally, I know from experience that these considerations are not purely speculative. In our mega-parish in Quebec City, we have tried for five years to make the two work together. Our experience has borne out all the difficulties that I have evoked here.
Given the difficulties of establishing a pastoral council where there already exists a pastoral team, I believe we have to find, and that we can find, a better way. I have some ideas that I would like to discuss with the pastoral team. Please bear with us, as we reflect together as a team. I am confident that we will come up with a formula that will enable us to give a voice to the membership of our parish in a sustained sort of way, without falling into the many difficulties that arise from the co-existence of a pastoral team and a pastoral council. In the meantime, please help us with your prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit…