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Monday, September 07, 2009

How Can Our Voices Be Heard in the Church?

Have you ever wondered whether or not the Church leaders, from the Cardinal to Pastors, ever listen or hear what the rest of the Church has to say?  Well the answer is Yes.

Back in the 1960’s, the Church leaders in Rome felt it was time to “open the windows and doors” and bring in the laity. This included the religious sisters and brothers. The Church called Vatican II Council.  One of the ways they chose to listen to the people was to ask for councils on all levels. These leaders did not have a set of blue prints as to how this should be done. Many of the fore runners on forming these consultative bodies, called councils, tended to be religious communities. Many religious communities began to change their manner of governing their communities, from one person in charge to a group. 

Parishes were asked to start councils in their parishes.  Most pastors were not sure how to do this. They gathered their parishioners and began to rely on people’s political and business experience. There wasn’t a lot of printed Church materials available.  Early constitutions that were prepared in parishes were very legalistic. These governance documents were sent from parish to parish; only the name was changed.  People did their best to make the councils work. What many of the councils began to do was to look at budgets, repair parking lots, report on what was going on presently, and argue about who had the power. There was little discussion on planning for the future and talking about pastoral issues. This is not saying these were not important items.

Around 1983 a committee was formed to review what was going on with consultative bodies and update the 1917 Code of Canon Law.  After months of study and revision, it was suggested that there should be different types of councils in dioceses and parishes.  There should be Pastoral Councils (who would concentrate on pastoral issues such as spiritual life, social justice etc.) and Finance Councils (looking at the administrative/maintenance issues). These councils would be in parishes and dioceses. Dioceses adopted this format as well.

In the late 1980’s, Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago formed a task force to put together an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council called the APC.  This council would act as one of his consultative bodies. This would be a way for him to hear from the people in the parishes. Each parish is different, made up of people with specific gifts and needs, with a unique history, demographics, age levels, educational backgrounds, racial/ethnic diversity, etc., yet it is part of the Archdiocese and contributes to the richness of the local Church.  Cardinal George has continued the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in Chicago as well as other consultative bodies.  Presently there are several different consultative bodies in our Archdiocese, such as an Administrative Council, Presbyteral Council, Archdiocesan Finance Council, Archdiocesan Women’s Committee, School Councils, etc.  These groups are the Cardinal’s way of hearing from the wider Church.

An example of hearing from the people in Chicago is through the APC. The APC is  made up of two people from each of the thirty-one deaneries.  The people on the deanery councils come from the parishes in their deaneries.  Each parish is asked to appoint two parish representatives to attend the deanery meetings.  It is from that pool that the two people are discerned to become Deanery Delegates on the APC.  These deanery delegates, along with a few other delegates from such groups as religious sisters, brothers, young adults, youth, etc. make up the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. They meet with the Cardinal five times a year.  This group is very important to the Cardinal.  It is his way to hear from the wider Church.  Each year the delegates bring issues from the people in their deanery, parishes or other communities to the Cardinal. From that list, the Cardinal selects a few issues he wishes the members to do further consultation with their local community and to offer suggestions as their ideas on how the Cardinal might deal with the particular issue.

In our Archdiocese, every parish is to have a Parish Pastoral Council and Finance Council. These consultative bodies are very important in the church today.  It is a way to help the church to stay in touch with the signs of the time. 

So if this blog has jogged your mind and you would like to be more involved in sharing in the life of the Church, get involved in your local parish. Perhaps you can become a member of your parish pastoral council, commissions, organizations, parish finance council, or your deaneries etc.  Membership on these different groups changes from time to time. 

From the Cardinal to the pastors, to the leaders of congregations and other groups, your voice is needed.  Why not take some time to be involved in the life of the Church and let us hear from you?

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