WASHINGTON (March 23, 2004) -- A recent survey of U.S. bishops shows that structures for laity to provide a consultative voice to the Church have expanded.
Numerous consultative bodies now exist in different dioceses and eparchies. They include committees and boards that provide advice and expertise on issues ranging from financial investments and Catholic education to liturgical and pastoral needs. Bishops report great satisfaction at the effective consultation and advice coming from lay men and women on these councils.
Undertaken by the Bishops' Committee on the Laity, the survey of the Latin and Eastern rite bishops of the United States collected data on the establishment and utilization of pastoral councils on both the diocesan/eparchial and the parish levels. On the diocesan/eparchial level, 60 percent of dioceses and eparchies currently have an active pastoral council, up from 44 percent as determined by a 1997 study. Bishops are directly involved in the work of these councils, which meet an average of four times per year and include lay people, clergy, and religious. Bishops are turning to pastoral council members primarily to provide representative feedback and long-range planning consultation.
On the parish level, bishops strongly encourage pastors to establish parish pastoral councils; an average of 85 percent of parishes have reportedly done so. Bishops suggest that pastors look to local councils for pastoral planning and undertake broad consultation with parishioners that also empowers the parishioners to implement plan objectives. The emphasis on visioning and planning for the parish's future reflects a change from past usage of councils that predominantly centered on activities and short-term task implementation.
In 70 percent of dioceses and eparchies, bishops have established other consultative bodies in addition to or instead of the pastoral council. The laity are involved in commissions and teams exploring topics as practical as building, construction, investments, pensions, and personnel issues. Lay women and men also provide consultation on diverse topics such as ethnic minorities, intergenerational issues, justice and peace, liturgy, marriage and family, women, and youth. Lay presence also has been significant in the composition of sexual misconduct review boards.
The summary and analysis of the recent survey of bishops, including a comprehensive list of the consultative bodies reported as active in dioceses and eparchies, is available at the Laity Committee's website (www.usccb.org/laity/summary.htm).
The recent survey provides a snapshot of the establishment and utilization of diocesan and eparchial pastoral councils that serves to follow up on a 1997 study of this issue. The results of this earlier work are also available at the Laity Committee's website.