Canon Corner 5/12/22
Featured column from The Lumen:
by Father David Esquiliano, JV, JCL
How can we assist our priests with governance?
As the number of priests in our diocese keeps dwindling, the laity needs to be more involved. Many participants of our recent synodal process expressed their desire to assist their pastors in the governance of the parish. We priests are grateful for all the help we can get from parishioners. So, how can you help us in the governance of the parish?
Before we go into specifics of how the laity can be involved, it is important to understand that church law establishes that parishes are always under the care of a priest, that is a pastor (c 515 §1).
The pastor represents the parish in all juridical affairs, and he is entrusted with the administration of all the goods of the parish (c 532). The church does not envision parishes led by laity, but always under the care of a priest.
Even “if, because of a lack of priests, the diocesan bishop has decided that participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish is to be entrusted to a deacon, to another person who is not a priest, or to a community of persons, he is to appoint some priest who, provided with the powers and faculties of a pastor, is to direct the pastoral care.” (c. 517 §2)
Pope Francis has also warned that we need to be careful not to blur the roles of laity and clergy by clericalizing the laity. We all have our specific roles.
The church has laid out other roles in which the laity can assist the pastor in the governance of the parish, and that is through the Pastoral and Finance Councils. Not all parishes have the former, but all are required to have the latter.
Canon 536 §1 reads, “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.”
In our diocese pastoral councils are allowed, although not required. They are formed by six to 12 members of the parish presided by the pastor. According to diocesan policies, “the primary concern of the council is to foster a vision of parish life that is faithful to its mission.” This is a consultative body whose role is to advise the pastor on parish life.
The second body, the Finance Council, is s group of parishioners who “assist the pastor in the administration of the goods of the parish.” (c. 537). According to diocesan policies, finance councils are to be constituted by five to eight members, who serve up to two terms of three years each.
These members are appointed by the pastor himself with consultation from other members of the Finance Council. Like the Pastoral Council, they are a consultative body.
In our diocese, within the finance council, there are two members who are known as lay directors. Lay directors are required in all parishes in our diocese. While the name may give the impression that they assist directing the parish in conjunction with the pastor, their role is to represent parishioners in the civil corporation which governs the parish.
The lay directors are nominated by the pastor and appointed by the bishop. They may serve up to two terms of three years each.
There are many things we learn in seminary, but we cannot learn everything that we need to know to manage a parish. As pastors we appreciate the input we get from members of our pastoral and finance councils, even if we do not always agree with them and do what they recommend.
If you would like to assist your pastor in any of these councils, let him know. Tell him also what you think you could bring to the table, and he may consider you when there is a vacancy.
The diocesan synod meetings showed us that the laity would like to help their priests with administration, to give them more time for ministry. How can we help?