Presbyteral Councils

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The 1983 Code of Canon Law mandates the establishment of a presbyteral council in each diocese. According to the code, the presbyteral council "is to aid the bishop in the governance of the diocese according to the norm of law, in order that the pastoral welfare of the portion of the people of God entrusted to him may be promoted as effectively as possible" (c. 495n. 1).

The impetus for establishment of councils of this kind in Catholic dioceses throughout the world came from the Second Vatican Council intent on reforming diocesan consultative bodies, including the cathedral chapter. Lumen gentium (n. 28), Christus Dominus (n. 27) and Presbyterorum ordinis (n. 7) describe the theological relationship of presbyter to bishop as that of coworkers and friends. A circular letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Clergy (April 11, 1970) traces the development of presbyteral councils at Vatican II. In 1987, speaking in the United States, Pope John Paul II called "the development of presbyteral councils committed to the solidarity of priests with one another and with their bishop in the mission of the Universal Church," a "most encouraging sign."

Role and function. The intention of the 1983 Code of Canon Law is clear: the more serious matters of diocesan governance require the collective wisdom of the presbyterate acting in concert with the bishop. Specifically, the presbyteral council must be consulted on such concerns as the advisability of a diocesan synod (c. 461 n.1), the establishment of parishes (c. 515 n.2), modification of parishes (c. 1222 n.2), offerings of the faithful on the occasion of parish services (c. 531), norms for parish pastoral councils (c. 536), and imposition of a diocesan tax (c. 1263).

The code determines the membership of the council. About half of the counselors are to be elected by the presbyterate (c. 497 n.1). The others are members by reason of their position in the diocese or by reason of being appointed by the bishop.

Canon law gives the resident bishop the right "to determine the questions to be treated by [the presbyteral council] or to receive proposals from its members" (c. 500 n.1). According to the code, the bishop of the diocese presides at council meetings, but in practice it is the custom in many places for the bishop to be a participant in the discussions while the meeting is chaired by an officer of the council. The content of council discussions and resolutions may be published. Each council is to draw up its own statutes (c. 496). The council ceases when there is no diocesan bishop (c. 501 n.2) or when the bishop determines the council needs restructuring. In either case, the new bishop or the bishop after dissolving the council has one year to establish the council anew.

College of consultors. The 1983 code calls also for a College of Consultors whose members are selected from among the members of the presbyteral council (c. 502 n.1). The consultors do not have a general mandate; their responsibilities are limited to those explicitly stated in canon law, namely, the election of the diocesan administrator when the see becomes vacant (c. 421 n.1); certain duties when the office of bishop is impeded or vacant (cc. 272, 413 n.2, 419, 422, 485, 501 n.2); and designated financial duties such as the hiring of the finance officer (c. 494), consent for acts of extraordinary administration (c.1277), and consent for the alienation of certain ecclesiastical property (c. 1292 n.1).

The College of Consultors is to have between six and twelve members, serving for a five-year term. In some smaller dioceses the members of the Presbyteral Council are the same as those of the College of Consultors.

Bibliography: j. a. coriden, et al., The Code of Canon Law. A Text and Commentary (New York 1985) 400407, and passim. j. f. stafford, "Priests, Bishop and the Presbyteral Council," Touchstone 2:1 (Winter, 1986).

[r. p. hynes]