Member Criterion

A Midwest Pastor asked whether councillors must be Catholic (05.20.12)

We are currently receiving nominations for our parish Pastoral Council. One of those nominated is not Catholic. He is an outstanding individual who faithfully attends Mass with his Catholic wife and child and has been active in parish activities—I didn’t know he wasn’t Catholic. I believe he would be a great asset to the Council. Present council and I are looking for guidance. Our present Council Constitution simply says that one must be a registered active member of the Parish—he is.

Mark F. Fischer replied:

The answer is not completely clear, but there is evidence suggesting that full communion with the Catholic Church is the norm. Canon 512 §1 states that members of the pastoral council should be “Christian faithful in full communion with the Catholic Church,” but that canon pertains to Diocesan pastoral councils.

Back in 1965, the pastoral council was first envisioned at the diocesan level (Christus Dominus, no. 27). In 1973, the pastoral council idea was extended to the parish (in Omnes Christifidelis no. 12). This document of 1973 also uses the language, “faithful in full communion with the Catholic Church” (no. 7).

In the Code of Canon Law, only one canon (no. 536) refers to the parish pastoral council. It does not specify that members should be Catholics.

In 2002, the Congregation for the Clergy published a document entitled “The Priest, Pastor and Leader.” It speaks of the council as being composed of “the faithful,” but does not say Christians in full communion.

So as I said, the matter is not completely clear. The council is supposed to be “representative,” but that word is hard to define, and certainly does not mean legally representative. If documents referring to the diocesan pastoral council are normative for the parish pastoral council, then full communion is the norm.

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