Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Archdiocesan Pastoral Council: Questions And Answers

Published November 16, 2006

Why have an archdiocesan pastoral council?

“Council” is the process for gathering the insights of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the whole Church. It is a belief that is actually older than the Church, going back to covenant and creation. In the Christian Scriptures, when a crisis confronted the infant Church, it was resolved through prayerfully seeking the wisdom of the community.

As a community of faith in North Georgia, we are entrusted with the responsibility of carrying forward the mission of Jesus: to make the presence of God vital, palpable and active among the people, and to work toward a realization of the dignity of every human person. We do this together with the Archbishop.

As shepherd of the archdiocese, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory seeks the counsel and wisdom of the people of God. While there are several consultative groups at the Archbishop’s disposal, there is none specifically designed to offer the unique insights of the laity. An Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is that kind of group.

Will the council have decision-making authority?

No. Like the priests’ council and the finance council, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is gathered to advise the Archbishop as he guides archdiocesan policies and direction. A council is not a democratic body, and the differences are important.

In a democratic proceeding, there are winners and losers. Unless a “position” can gather the necessary votes, another carries the day. The voice of the majority sets the program. People come to the group representing a constituency; they return accountable to that constituency.

A council must recognize the needs of the minority as well and work toward the best possible direction for all concerned. A council must recognize the fact that truth is not always the opinion of the majority, nor is it always articulated by the most educated. The goals of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council are set by the Gospel, and its members come to seek the truth—the truth of what is best for the mission of the Gospel.

Can’t the archbishop ignore the advice of the council?

Yes. However, people should not imagine a scenario in which the Archbishop calls a council and then just does as he pleases. To quote Bishop Kenneth Untener, former Bishop of Saginaw, Mich.: “… councils cannot make a particular decision … that binds a bishop to something he cannot accept. While this would rarely happen, let’s look at it anyway. Let’s assume that the decision-making process is a process together. … If the bishop cannot accept a decision, he is answerable for why he can’t. If he’s bound to follow the communal nature of the Church, if he’s bound by the … Gospel … , then he can’t answer, ‘because I don’t want to do it that way’ or ‘because I don’t agree with it.’”

Who should be on an archdiocesan pastoral council?

Members of the council must be Catholics who can fully participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Members should come from all parts of the archdiocese and represent a variety of ethnic, gender, age and economic groups.

The members bring with them unique insights into how the Gospel is lived or can be lived in their situations. Each new age asks new questions of the Gospel of Jesus: What is “love” in this situation? How is human dignity enhanced in 2007 in North Georgia? How should an invitation to believe be packaged today as distinct from the time of Jesus?

Around the council table, variety is wealth. The members bring as many perspectives as possible.

How are the members selected?

Each pastor submits nominees for the council. This group is divided by deaneries. Two members are selected from each deanery. In addition, there will be two priests, one deacon, one Religious sister and one religious brother. Five to seven additional members will be selected by the Archbishop.