In every parish within the Diocese of Rochester, a pastoral council has been established, per the discretion of Bishop Matthew Clark, to act as a consultative body to the pastor of each community. There is nothing wrong with that, as many dioceses have decided to implement these structures. I was scanning through the Code of Canon Law the other day and came upon Canon 536, which happens to be the section of the code which describes the pastoral council. Here is what the Canon says, with my emphasis:
“Can. 536 §1 If, after consulting the council of priests, the diocesan Bishop considers it opportune, a pastoral council is to be established in each parish. In this council, which is presided over by the parish priest, Christ’s faithful, together with those who by virtue of their office are engaged in pastoral care in the parish, give their help in fostering pastoral action.”
The Canon states that the pastoral council is to be presided over by the “parish priest.” This got me to thinking. We have a large number of parishes in the diocese currently headed by lay pastoral administrators (16 parishes spanning several churches). Is it appropriate for a lay person to preside over meetings of a pastoral council?
One local parish recently quoted the Diocese of Rochester guidelines on pastoral councils, which would appear to permit these to be led by lay administrators:
Not trusting anything coming from the Diocese of Rochester on Church law, I decided to dig a little deeper. Once again, Ecclesiae de Mysterio, a Vatican document which deals with the collaboration of laity in priestly ministry which is ignored by the Diocese of Rochester, provides us with a clear answer. The following is from Article 5, section 3:
“It is for the Parish Priest to preside at parochial councils. They are to be considered invalid, and hence null and void, any deliberations entered into, (or decisions taken), by a parochial council which has not been presided over by the Parish Priest or which has assembled contrary to his wishes”
In parishes led by pastoral administrators, it would appear that the lay administrator does not enjoy a right to preside over a parish pastoral council. Only the parish priest may do this, as clearly stated in the Code of Canon Law and verified by Eclessiae de Mysterio. How many Diocese of Rochester parishes led by lay persons are obeying this law? Does the mythical priest “moderator” of lay-run parishes preside over each of these parish council meetings as they are required to?
We continue to tread in murky waters with this whole pastoral administrator nonsense. I pray that our next bishop will cut loose all of these administrators and restore our parishes once again to priest control. After all, lay persons are not permitted to run parishes.
“[Canon 517.2] is participatio in exercitio curae pastoralis and not directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the Parish; these competencies, according to the canon, are the competencies of a priest alone.” (source)