Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Archdiocesan Pastoral Council: A marvel to witness

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published December 5, 2013

Our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is an assembly of approximately 25 men and women who represent the wide diversity of this local Church. They come from large urban parishes and small rural parishes; they are racially and ethnically diverse; some are native-born Georgians and others have come from other parts of our country and other nations. There are clerics, religious, and laity. When I meet with them, I have the feeling that I am speaking with the entire archdiocesan community in microcosm, which is the intent and purpose of having an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. The Archbishop can have a regular personal meeting with the people of the Archdiocese.

Ordinarily, the council members themselves set the agenda topics of our quarterly consultations. I always want to talk about what is important to them. Over the years, we have discussed many and varied issues, from the benefits and cost of our annual Eucharistic Congress to gender fairness in our Scouting programs. We reviewed the need for Catholic schools that are more accessible to children with disabilities and the challenges of having parish communities that are truly multicultural while also being united. We have discussed how to be more supportive of our priests and how to improve all of our vocational efforts. In each one of those discussions, as well as many others, there consistently was honest engagement, often with conflicting opinions, always however expressed with a respect for those with whom a person might disagree. The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is often the Church at her best—diverse yet respectful and civil in expressing differences.

This last meeting of the council, which took place in mid-November, had the topic for discussion supplied by the Vatican itself. As the message from Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, informed the world, Pope Francis has asked bishops everywhere to consult with their faithful regarding the issue of the pastoral challenges facing the family in the context of evangelization.

The news spread quickly—faster than most bishops ever could have anticipated as the media portrayed this message as a plebiscite of the faithful on the topic of marriage in the contemporary world. That was newsworthy but certainly not exactly accurate. It is true that the Holy See wants bishops to consult their people, but the consultation is intended to help the bishops prepare their own observations that are to be submitted to the office of Archbishop Baldisseri in anticipation of the preparation of a working paper for the forthcoming Extraordinary Synod on Marriage which will take place in Rome this coming October. Nevertheless, the excitement was already unleashed, and the word on the street is that the faithful are to be engaged in a referendum on marriage.

Our Pastoral Council spent the first part of our three-hour meeting discussing how the Archdiocese of Atlanta might make the survey available and more user-friendly for our folks. There were lots of suggestions, and we concluded that an online tool such as Survey Monkey would be the best method. We also discussed having the survey available in several languages. We likewise considered preparing a survey that had multiple-choice responses. The issue of the method of how to invite responses took up a good portion of our time together.

Then the council members began discussing the questions themselves and offering me their opinions and reactions to the questions. This was the most beneficial portion of the meeting for me since it revealed the depth of faith of the membership as well as the wide variety of opinions that they held regarding this topic. Members spoke candidly and without fear of being misunderstood or criticized for their opinions. The discussion was the result of a level of trust and respect that has been established in this consultative body for nearly eight years. They trust each other and they trust their Archbishop to understand their viewpoint as the response of a person of faith and integrity. It was a marvel to witness.

As one of the members of the council was leaving, he pulled me aside and said, “You’ve got your hands full trying to care for people with so many obvious and varying opinions!” He was correct, but that belongs to the very nature of the Church, drawing people together around our teaching, our worship, and our outreach and response to the world. The greatest challenge for the Church has always been to do that with charity!