Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Pastoral Councils in the Diocese of Rochester

April 12th, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

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)

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24 Responses to “Pastoral Councils in the Diocese of Rochester”

  1. avatar snowshoes says:

    Thank you Dr. K. In exercising our God-given responsibility as confirmed Catholics to try to bring back the sinner when we recognize his situation, you have charitably done the homework to demonstrate the utter seriousness of the error here, that Catholic parishes, the living cells of the Mystical Body of Christ, are only constituted with an “other Christ”, a “parish priest” at its head. Without him, it isn’t a parish. The people must demand their priest-pastor from the Bishop.

    Forgive me for not doing the research myself, but has any other previous heretical movement used this horrific tactic to, as it were, pervert the Church from within by putting non-priests in the place of the parish priest? God bless you.

  2. avatar Bernie says:

    Well, one of our lay administrators who, as a member of a parish staff, “worked” for a priest pastor has said that now that she is an administrator of a parish the priest “works” for her. It’s pretty clear the final decisions rest with her and not the priest.

  3. avatar Louis E. says:

    Is she subject to any particular canonical penalties for her unauthorized decision-making?

  4. avatar Dr. K says:

    Not sure, Louis. However, I do believe that any decisions rendered by a pastoral council led by a lay administrator could be challenged. For example, renovating the church, selling off property, etc.

  5. avatar James says:

    What we are forgetting, or choosing not to remember is that we have a shortage of priests to perform these “administrative” duties. It is not possible to have a priest in charge of every parish- there isnt enuogh time or sanity in our diocese to do such- and a good many priests in the diocese have asked not to be pastors for that very reason. Lets not forget that we are confined by the limits of reality here folks.

  6. avatar Dr. K says:

    It is not possible to have a priest in charge of every parish

    It is possible, and it is required by the Church.

  7. avatar James says:

    1. “It is possible”- Then please post your proposal to have a priest in charge of every parish in our diocese- i’d like to see how you do the math. Then, name the priests who are willing to do it. History has proven this is impractical, inefficient, and detrimental to the parish. If you’d like, i can post some parishes from the late 1990’s that shared priest pastor with outher parishes- those parishes are now closed; and clearly not b/c the parishoners wanted to close the church. Again– look at the practicality.

    2. “It is required by the church” : I submit that the Vatican cant be that concerned about enforcing the semantics of the code b/c they have not removed Bishop Clark, and have not sent us priests to run every parish. Simple as that-

  8. avatar Dr. K says:

    Then please post your proposal to have a priest in charge of every parish in our diocese

    My proposal is to cluster every single parish of the diocese into 3 parish clusters and assign 2 priests to each. Each parish would retain its own identity, but would share the services of these two priests with two other parishes.

    I submit that the Vatican cant be that concerned about enforcing the semantics of the code b/c they have not removed Bishop Clark, and have not sent us priests to run every parish.

    We could guess all day why Bishop Clark was not removed (possibly he has friends at the Vatican who protected him, maybe the Vatican wants to avoid a schism should they remove the bishop and he starts his own church, maybe they are taking the biological approach, etc.). It’s irrelevant. It’s not up to the Vatican to send us more priests. The bishop is the one to request priests from other countries and dioceses to come to Rochester.

  9. avatar James says:

    “3 parish clusters and assign 2 priests to each”: Again friends– lets think practical, and look at history-

    With each priest only being allowed to say 3 masses per weekend– thats 2 masses per church in Dr K’s proposal. That wont fly in the larger parishes.

    Additionally, history tells us that doesnt work- Think back to the late 1990’s when Fr Dennis Shaw/ Fr Larry Tracy had the Community of Hope– didnt work. 1996-2004 when Fr Paul Tomasso/Fr Dan McMullen had St Anthony’s, Holy Apostles, and St Francis– didnt work. 1999-2006 Fr Bob Werth and Fr Ray Flemming had the 19th ward churches– didnt work. There are many more examples.

    The reality is that with all the duties of a priest (as defined by the church) there isnt enough time in the day for one man (or woman!!!) to “pastor” 3 parishes without a significant amount of help. Not even Fr Antinarelli could do this. (Everyone admits to this fact) The configuration of a pastor and a vicar helps, but as history tells us– isnt the fix.

    So again– i ask those who insist that “it is possible”– please post your proven solution to have a priest in charge of every parish. I dont believe in tearing down others, but i do think its important to call out those who are critical of situations to produce a time tested and practical solution.

    2: In regards to Bishop Clark and Rome– 30 years, 2 popes– sure must have a lot of friends in high places to keep him in power. Or– as i initially submitted- the Vatican doesnt care. Its really that simple!

  10. avatar Mary says:

    James-I can name a handful of Orthodox priests from this diocese who have been shuffled around and told they are no longer permitted to perform their priestly duties for no good reason. There are stories of seminarians who have been told they were not called to be priests when they shared their Orthodox beliefs. The diocese continues to claim we are lacking priests, but they are silencing legitimate priests and turning away future priests who do not espouse their agenda. If I can name several and I am not really in-the-know, I imagine there are many more.

    In other American diocese where the Faith is preached, there have been great vocation booms. The fact that our diocese has one of the very lowest number of vocations says something (in my opinion) about the teaching and preaching in this diocese, both from Bishop Clark and from most of our priests.

    And if we did truly have a priest shortage, it would still not give license to break the laws of the Church.

  11. avatar James says:

    Thanks, Mary. I agree with your observations.

    But– lets not stray from facts and reality: the priest shortage is nation wide– while some areas have a greater shortage than others, there is a shortage everywhere. This brings us back to the question of how do we place a priest in charge of every parish in our diocese??? Show me the math folks— lets have your solution, ready to start today!

    Its interesting that by the admission of this blog, Bishop Clark has power over everything that happens in this diocese (liberal movement, gay movement, orthodox happenings [or lack thereoof]. etc). He is in charge of this diocese, nothing happens without his blessing– yet he is not personally at every meeting, he doesnt write every policy, or draw every detail of what happens in the DOR. He holds the power to veto it and change it– yet others work under him. This is the same model that the vatican heirarchy uses– Others work under you for you while you are in charge. My question is, why is this same model so unacceptable at the parish level? Whats good for the goose isnt good for the gander? One priest cant do it in a parish for the same reason the pope cant personally run every detail of Rome (although he is responsible for it), and Bishop Clark cant personally run every detail of our diocese (although he is responsible for it). The priest cant run every detail of the parish–(although he is responsible for it).

    We are holding a double standard friends—- In order to be a successful church– others must be involved in all aspects of parish life as is the case on the diocesan level and world level. While the final say must come from the priest (or bishop) (per cannon law), there is nothing wrong with lay involvement to the extent in which there is at present, and no cannon laws are being broken. Bishop Clark ( a priest) ( for better or worse ) is in charge of everything. If you dont believe it– look around as he is still here after 30+ years!!!!! Its that simple friends!

  12. avatar Dr. K says:

    James, the article is about lay administrators presiding over pastoral councils. How do your comments relate to that? I don’t believe I criticized lay persons assisting the parish priest through legitimate means.

  13. avatar James says:

    I will simplify my intrepretation: Lay administrators presiding over pastoral councils is perfectly legit- All parish administrators (be it a priest, deacon, sister, or lay individual) report to the Bishop (who is a priest). Bishop Clark ultimately makes all decisions in this diocese and calls all the shots. [ as specified by cannon law as Dr K points out, and has been proven in this blog].

    I’m still waiting to see a proven plan for a priest in every parish—

  14. avatar Dr. K says:

    Did you read the post? Lay persons presiding over parish councils is certainly not “legit.” Any decisions rendered by a pastoral council convened without the parish priest are “null and void.”

  15. avatar James says:

    The law says nothing about actual presence at the parish council meeting- Bishop Clark may act as the pastor and preside over a parish council meeting without being there- as long as his delegate (parish administrator) is present and follows his agenda. As a priest and bishop, he makes all final decisions in all parishes in this diocese. He does not need to be present at the actual meeting.

  16. avatar Abaccio says:

    Bishop Clark is nowhere the parish priest. James, you’re grasping for straws, here.

  17. avatar James says:

    You all dont have to agree with me– but the FACT remains that it is happening all over our diocese and all over the United States. How wrong can it be if the Vatican isnt stopping it– (and we know they could). The role of lay pastors/administrators continues to expand almost daily. I dont need to post the list of lay administrators in our diocese this year compared to just 2 years ago….. Actions speak louder than words friends!

  18. avatar Dr. K says:

    You sound happy, James. Good for you. Enjoy a diocese with no priests.

  19. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Fire in the Thornbush was written in 1982. Someone correct me, but I don’t believe the priest shortage was a major problem at that point. The idea to use women as pastoral administrators is not an idea the Bishop is using to respond to a priest shortage. It’s an idea he first promulgated in 1982 to respond to a changing church which gives women a more prominent role. Since Ordinatio Sacerdotalis squashed the idea of making women priests, in order to make women equal the priesthood itself needed to be brought down.

  20. avatar Dr. K says:

    If you say that PPC’s are perfectly “legit” when under the administration of a lay administrator ( which they are), they counter with not recognizing Bishop Clark as a “parish priest”

    Holy cow, read the article! I cite Canon Law for you. I cite Ecclesiae de Mysterio. It’s all there, with links.

    Pastoral Councils must be presided over by a priest. Must!

    I have known a few young men who thought they had a vocation and they were turned down not because of their adherence to Church law, but because they psychologically were unfit–but of course who would actually admit that?

    Were they really psychologically unfit? I encourage you to read Goodbye, Good Men to get the truth about these psychological screenings.

  21. avatar Dr. K says:

    Psychologically unfit HOW?

    Either they were truly loony or they were “rigid”, the latter being a buzzword for orthodox.

  22. avatar Dr. K says:

    The young men who were “weeded” out were exactly the ones that needed to be–one could not relate to women in any way other than finding them sexually threatening; one was indeed “rigid” in that he couldn’t understand anyone else’s point of view but his own; one was a gay man who would not or could not admit it and had buried it so deeply that he was obsessed with sex; one young man actually was ordained, but left several years later because he had problems keeping his vow of celibacy ( those of us who knew him while he was a seminarian could have told his mentors that); one other very fine young man was “rejected” because he was very introverted and shy..yes he was very “orthodox”

    And you know this detailed information how?

    With (1) (2) and (5), it sounds like someone went through the trouble of cooking up reasons why these men shouldn’t be ordained.

  23. avatar annonymouse says:

    James, you need to read up on canon law. A parish that does not have a pastor (a pastor can only be a priest) is to have a priest moderator (who may be in charge of a number of parishes, much like the good Doctor suggests). The lay or deacon pastoral administrator ought to report to the priest moderator, not the bishop. In your world (and apparently the world of the DoR) there is no difference in functions, duties and reporting relationships between a pastor and a pastoral administrator, while in canon law, there are great differences. The oversight of pastoral councils (councils NOT required by canon law, by the way) is apparently one of them.

    And an objective look around the nation will reveal a number of dioceses with no priest shortage whatsoever, and a plethora of seminarians. You will find a distinct correlation between number of priestly vocations and orthodoxy of the diocese.

    What young man wants to give his life to a wishy-washy God and a wishy-washy faith? Like it or not, the dioceses with vocations are the dioceses with priests who are valiantly signing up to fight evil and save souls for God!

  24. avatar militia says:

    What good, holy young man who wants to serve the Lord in true servanthood for the rest of his life would want to kneel in front of this bishop and give a vow of obedience? Better to wait until the next bishop comes. Except for the married transitional deacon being ordained this year, I believe no more are scheduled, yet there are more seminarians than have been since — when? I don’t like arguments about the priest shortage and how by 20xx we’ll only have so few. We need to stir up our own trust in the Holy Spirit to provide and if we get a good bishop there is no reason we shouldn’t see the same kind of growth as other exemplary dioceses have experienced. Pray to the Lord of the Harvest. Our lack of trust is one more thing that has been taken away from us.

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