What is a Parish Pastoral Council?
Parish pastoral councils help in fostering pastoral activity (Canon 536),
distinct from parish finance councils, which aid the pastor in the
administration of parish goods. (Canon 537)
The experience of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles over the past thirty years
has clarified the answers to the following questions: What do pastors stand to
gain by having a council? and What do parishioners accomplish by serving in
Pastors establish councils because they seek practical advice on pastoral
matters. They believe that God's Spirit speaks through their people. They
consult their councils because they want to know what is wise and prudent.
Outside experts cannot judge what is best for a particular parish, because they
are not part of it. Councils offer what no expert can offer: a judgment about
what is right for a particular parish. That is the pastor's primary motive for
having a council.
Parishioners want to serve on councils, we believe, in order to advise the
pastor wisely and prudently. Every leader needs good counsel. Recommendations
developed by a pastoral council will be good to the degree that the council
reaches its goal. That goal is to investigate pastoral matters and to reflect
on them thoroughly, so as to draw sound conclusions. Council members believe
that God's Spirit is present in their community. They study the pastoral
situation so as to help the parish see it more clearly. They have the
satisfaction of doing an important task, which contributes to the well being of
The Pastoral Council as a Planning Body
The foundations of pastoral councils rest in the Church's official documents
and in the teachings from Christian antiquity about communion, participation,
gifts, and consultation. However, what do pastoral councils actually do? The
answer, in a phrase, is pastoral planning. Councils help pastors plan the
parish's pastoral program. Next, we will look at the purpose of councils, their
particular functions, and how pastoral planning builds consensus and helps the
parish discern the future, which God offers.
The Purpose of a Pastoral Council
Pope Paul VI stated that the pastoral council is "to examine and consider all
that relates to pastoral work and to offer practical conclusions on these
matters, so that the life and activity of the People of God be brought into
greater conformity with the Gospel. When we look at this definition, we see that
it has three parts.
The first part of the definition states that councils examine pastoral
matters. The term "pastoral matters" is very broad. In short, it means,
whatever pertains to the work of the pastor, including the well being of the
community, the needs of the parish and concerns that will need attention in the
future. The pastoral council identifies these issues and studies them
The next part of the definition states that the council "considers" the
issues it has examined. Its aim is to get a deeper understanding of the
concerns. No council will be satisfied with a dry recitation of facts and
figures about the parish. It wants to understand their meaning:
- What do facts and figures say about the faith of the parish?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses in the parish?
- What problems loom on the horizon?
When the council "considers" pastoral matters, it seeks to discern how God is
present in the situation. It prays to discover how God invites the parish
community to act.
The final part of the definition has to do with practical conclusions. The
council has investigated a situation and reviewed it. It now has to make a
judgment. It has to recommend to pastors what the council believes they should
do. It has to judge, not what is right for parishes in general, but what is
right for this particular parish. The goal is to bring the parish more into
conformity with the Gospel.
The three aspects of Pope Paul's definition express the purposes of the
council: to examine, to consider, and to draw conclusions. The role of the
parish pastoral council is, through ongoing pastoral planning, to maintain the
integrity of the parish mission and the goals and objectives related to it.
Within this model, programs and events continue to take place in the parish
through the efforts of many dedicated parishioners, always in the context of the
parish mission and its pastoral plan.