By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published November 16, 2006
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory has announced the formation of the first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, with the discernment process for council members beginning in November and the first meeting planned for April 2007.
In a letter to pastors, Archbishop Gregory said, “Since coming to the Archdiocese of Atlanta I have desired to initiate a council of lay advisors to assist me in understanding the needs and wishes of the people that we serve here in North Georgia.”
Defined in the “Code of Canon Law,” pastoral councils are comprised of “members of Christ’s faithful who are in full communion with the Catholic Church” and charged with the function “under the authority of the bishop … to study and weigh those matters which concern the pastoral works in the diocese and to propose practical conclusions concerning them.”
In the 1966 document on the laity from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Gifts Unfolding: The Lay Vocation Today with Questions for Tomorrow,” pastoral councils were called “one of the most important structures developed since Vatican II to foster consultation,” offering the faithful the opportunity to “make their needs known, contribute their gifts, and to experience church community.”
Atlanta’s new pastoral council will be consultative, said Chancellor Deacon Dennis Dorner who is in charge of the formation process for the council, adding that its purpose is “to help the archbishop by being the voice of the people of the archdiocese.”
In his letter, Archbishop Gregory told the pastors “I have found from past experience that this type of council is most helpful in gauging the pulse of the local church.”
Pastors were asked to use a discernment process, enlisting the help of three laypersons in their parishes, and to provide the name of one potential candidate for the council by Nov. 22. Others submitting names for consideration are the priests’ council, deacons and communities of men and women Religious.
The archbishop’s goal is for the new pastoral council members to be “truly … representative of all of the people living in the archdiocese.”
The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC) will consist of 12 deanery representatives (two from each deanery), five to seven discretionary representatives appointed by Archbishop Gregory, two priests, one deacon, one man Religious and one woman Religious, for a total of 22 to 24 members. Deacon Dorner will also participate as a representative of the archdiocesan staff and as facilitator.
With the establishment of this council, the Atlanta Archdiocese will join the ranks of the approximately 60 percent of all U.S. dioceses that have created pastoral councils as a method of involving the laity as consultants in the decisions of the church at the diocesan level. The USCCB, in its March 2004 “Laity Report on Diocesan and Parish Pastoral Councils,” noted that “in locations where diocesan parish councils have been established, the bishops are directly involved in the work of the councils and believe DPCs provide fairly effective consultation and representative feedback that is of benefit in their episcopal leadership role.” In addition, the majority of bishops look to DPCs for “long-range planning and visioning,” while many bishops find that these councils are useful for “short-term, task-oriented project implementation … considering diocesan policy changes, implementing diocesan goals, serving as an integral voice with clergy and Religious, and being a general sounding board for various issues.” Statistics reported by the USCCB suggest that these councils “can be and are a helpful resource.”
The parish representatives will convene in February 2007 for a general orientation to the APC. After meeting in groups by deaneries—the archdiocese consists of the six deaneries of Northwest Metro, Northeast Metro, South Metro, Northwest, Northeast and South—those gathered will participate in a discernment process to select two representatives and two alternates from each deanery, who will have an opportunity to make a commitment to serve. Archbishop Gregory will make the final decision about the representatives.
A “formation day” has been set for March, with a commissioning Mass to be held at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta.
Deacon Dorner said that the APC will be based on the model used by the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., where Archbishop Gregory served prior to becoming the head of the Atlanta Archdiocese. The Belleville Pastoral Council “spent a year at the beginning as a focus group” to consider the various models to use. The plan they finally arrived at “worked well,” said the Atlanta chancellor, so “we decided not to reinvent the wheel.”
Atlanta APC members will serve for three years, and for the first term they will be staggered by random selection to serve for two, three or four years, so that members do not rotate off the council all at once.
Meetings will be held four times a year at a daylong event on a Saturday. The agenda for the meetings, which will be reviewed and set by the archbishop and an executive committee, will include items submitted by the archbishop, APC members, priests’ council and parish pastoral councils.
The APC’s work, noted Deacon Dorner, will include the development of appropriate action and implementation plans and the communication of the minutes of the meetings to parishes for their use and communication to parishioners. Of course, the main “output” of the APC meetings will be recommendations to the archbishop.
Kathy Mulvin served two terms as a member of the Belleville DPC and was impressed not only by the work accomplished by the council but also by the willingness of then-Bishop Gregory to be “open to all ideas.” She said, “He asked for your opinion on everything—he was really interested. He has a real compassion for his flock.”
One of the changes made during her time on the council was an alteration to the annulment process in their diocese. She said “there was a lot of prayer at first” as they worked through the nuances of defining an effective model of a pastoral council for their diocese. Mulvin believes that they were able to “discuss important things and get a lot done.” Bishop Gregory, she said, was “always there, stayed for the good and the bad. … He was great.”
Rich Bagby, who is now a diaconal candidate and who also served on the Belleville DPC, was enthusiastic about this “wonderful program.” He praised Archbishop Gregory for being such a “good listener” and for making the council “his priority” as they met together to discuss the various issues of the church.
Now finally seeing the long-awaited formation of a pastoral council in his new church home of Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory said, “I am looking forward to the establishment of our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. I found that group of great assistance to me during my service in the Diocese of Belleville.”
He added, “I never ceased to be inspired by the conversations that took place at those council meetings. I am certain that the people who will serve on our new archdiocesan council will bring a depth of Faith, a love for our Church, and zeal for our mission that will only enhance our local Church.”