Making Parish Councils Pastoral

The book compares what experts recommend for councils with what the church teaches.

Making Parish Councils Pastoral, available from Amazon, defines the “pastoral” council as the participation of councillors in the apostolate or mission of the Catholic pastor, namely, the apostolate of parish leadership.  For comments about the book, click here.

Bishops entrust parishes to pastors, and councillors share in the pastor’s ministry by investigating some aspect of church life, reflecting on it, and recommending their conclusions.  The first half of Mark F. Fischer’s book (chapters 1-7) contains success stories from actual councils that have genuinely achieved the “pastoral” ideal.

The second half of the book (chapters 8-13) analyzes Vatican documents that spell out the church’s “pastoral” vision for councils, starting with Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of Bishops (no. 27).  The book argues that “pastoral” councils do not exist primarily as an expression of the lay mission of bringing the gospel to the world, but serve rather to support the pastor’s mission of providing wise leadership.

The book includes a chapter on how good pastors draw councillors into their own priestly spirituality.  The ordained priest serves the priesthood of the laity by helping Christians unite the gift of their own lives with that of Jesus Christ, the leader and pioneer of faith (Heb. 12.2).  It concludes with a chapter on how parish councils can become more pastoral.

Fischer’s book compares thirteen guidelines for parish pastoral councils, one guideline chosen from each of the regions into which the Catholic Church in the USA is organized: Norwich (2001), Rochester (2002), Scranton (2006), Charlotte (2007), Nashville (2004), Youngstown (2000), Rockford (1999), Fargo (2005), Des Moines (2001), Gaylord (2005), Sacramento (2005), Anchorage (2005), and Pueblo (2002).

Making Parish Councils Pastoral, published in 2010 by Paulist Press, clarifies the role of the pastoral council as a  planning body that helps pastors make wise decisions on behalf of the parish — not as an executive body that coordinates a system of committees or commissions.  The book sharpens the focus of councils and makes their goal more specific, giving them a greater chance of  success.


Table of Contents

  • Introduction.  The “pastoral” council is not meant to coordinate parish ministerial committees, but to augment the ministry of the pastor by helping him make wise decisions.
  1. Introduction to Pastoral Councils and Pre-Test.  This chapter includes a 10-question true-or-false quiz by which you can test your pastoral council IQ.
  2. What Councils Do.  How a council helped a new pastor avoid embarrassing himself by studying  what existing committees were doing and whether a new ministry was really necessary.
  3. Councils and Committees.  A  committee advised a pastor how the parish could extend its outreach by supporting a Catholic school in Buseesa, Uganda.
  4. Pastoral Council and Parish Staff.  A bishop challenged a pastor to change the parish’s plans, and the council helped the pastor win over the bishop and stay on course.
  5. Pastoral and Finance Council.  What happened when a pastoral council wanted to change parish income estimates and the finance council wanted to exclude them from administrative decisions.
  6. Selecting Pastoral Council Members.  How a pastor attracted new members to the council by advertising in advance what he wanted to consult the council about.
  7. Pastoral Council Spirituality.  Pastors invite councillors to share in their own priestly spirituality by consulting them about how to meet significant parish challenges.
  8. How “Pastoral” Are Councils? By precisely defining councils in terms of the threefold mission of the Vatican II Decree on Bishops — investigating, reflecting, and recommending conclusions — the book suggests that many councils fall short of the pastoral ideal.
  9. Origins of the Pastoral Council.  Although the Vatican II Bishops Decree did not mention “pastoral” councils at the parish level, Vatican documents extended the “pastoral” ideal to parishes in 1973 and 1983.
  10. What “Pastoral” Means.  The council is not pastoral because it prays, uses consensus, or avoids administration.  It is pastoral because it helps the pastor by its study, reflection, and recommended conclusions.
  11. Canon 536 and Pastoral ActivityCanon 536 did not define “pastoral activity” in terms of the pastor’s work.  It selectively ignored the language of the Bishops Decree, and vaguely defined the council’s role by saying that it “gave its help in fostering pastoral activity.”
  12. The Uneven Documents from 1987-2001.  The Vatican documents Christifideles laici (1987), Ecclesiae de mysterio (1997),  Ecclesia in Asia (1999), and Novo millennio ineunte (2001) appeared to broaden the pastoral council’s role by defining it as a “participative structure” and a  means for “collaboration, dialogue, and discernment,” but added nothing to the fundamental definition.
  13. The Documents of 2002 and 2004.  The Vatican documents entitled “The Priest, Pastor and Leader” (2002) and Apostolorum successores (2004) reaffirm the definition of the pastoral council as a body that helps the pastor by pastoral planning.
  14. How to Make a Council More Pastoral.  The final chapter shows how councils can achieve greater success by concentrating on their explicit task of study, reflection, and planning.

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