We have had a number of inquires in recent times about the difference between Parish Finance Committees and Parish Pastoral Councils. As a result, we have included the following extract from the Church Administration Handbook written by Father Brian Lucas, Father Peter Slack and Bill d’Apice (published by and available from St Paul’s Publications):
Parish Consultative Bodies
Canon law provides for formal consultative bodies.
A parish pastoral council is only obligatory if the local bishop, after consulting the council of priests, has determined this in diocesan law. A parish finance council is obligatory by virtue of universal law.
A pastoral council deals with the pastoral issues within a parish, such as planning, staffing, strategic direction as determined by the parish priest.
A finance council deals with the administration of the temporal goods of the parish. While each has a distinct role it is important that they work together for the overall good of the parish. Some common membership may assist in this regard.
An Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry Of Priests published in the name of a number of dicasteries in 1997 refers to these two main consultative bodies within parishes.
It states in Article 5:
2. Diocesan and parochial Pastoral Councils (can. 514, 536) and Parochial Finance Councils,(can. 537) of which non-ordained faithful are members, enjoy a consultative vote only and cannot in any way become deliberative structures. Only those faithful who possess the qualities prescribed by the canonical norms (can. 512, 1 and 3; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1650) may be elected to such responsibilities.
3. It is for the Parish Priest to preside at parochial councils. They are to be considered invalid, and hence null and void, any deliberations entered into, (or decisions taken), by a parochial council which has not been presided over by the Parish Priest or which has assembled contrary to his wishes (can. 536).
4. Diocesan councils may properly and validly express their consent to an act of the Bishop only in those cases in which the law expressly requires such consent.
Parish Finance Council
The parish priest is the canonical administrator of the parish’s goods. In fulfilling this responsibility he is assisted by the parish finance council.
The requirement for a finance council is set out in canon 537:
In each parish there is to be a finance committee to help the parish priest in the administration of the goods of the parish, without prejudice to can. 532. It is ruled by the universal law and by the norms laid down by the diocesan Bishop, and it is comprised of members of the faithful selected according to these norms.
Each diocesan bishop is to issue norms relating to the operation of the parish finance council. These norms would usually cover such matters as membership, terms of appointment, and specific responsibilities.
The canon law does not specify any particular type of expertise for membership of parish finance councils but there is some guidance from canon 492 which governs diocesan finance councils that the members be expert in financial affairs and civil law.
The assistant priest should attend meetings since he is a collaborator in the work of administering the parish.
Membership should cover a variety of areas of expertise depending on the needs of the particular parish. This could include banking and investment, property management, architecture, building maintenance, law, and business expertise. A balance of male and female members, and where possible, across a range of ages, ensures that a variety of perspectives are accessible.
One must be careful not to overstate the role of the finance council. It is responsible for assisting the parish priest with the stewardship of the material goods of the parish. It should not presume to determine pastoral priorities, or act as a form of de facto parish pastoral council.
The parish finance council is a consultative not an administrative body. It does not function the way a board of directors might govern a corporation.
Normally the parish finance council would not meet without the parish priest, and if it did so, it would be simply to prepare for a formal meeting. It does not take decisions but makes recommendations on an agenda determined by the parish priest.
The members of the parish finance council may form a core group to assist the parish priest manage particular projects, such as major capital works. For example, one or more might be part of a building committee, or project control group. It is often advantageous to have a small group managing a project, with specified delegations so that decisions can be taken in a timely way. As discussed in section 18.5 of the Church Administration Handbook potential conflicts of interest need careful management.
A frequent complaint that some commercial enterprises have in their dealings with non profit bodies, including churches, is that it takes too long for the various committees to work through their internal process to make decisions. It is essential that proper canonical processes be followed even if this results in some delay. Such delays can be minimised if a clear and streamlined process is adopted and there is an easy and efficient communication between parish and the bishop when approvals are required.
A sample of particular law which governs the membership and function of the finance council is included in appendix C of the Church Administration Handbook.
Parish Pastoral Council
The legal basis for parish councils is set out in the Code of Canon Law:
Canon 536 1 If, after consulting the council of priests, the diocesan Bishop considers it opportune, a pastoral council is to be established in each parish. In this council, which is presided over by the parish priest, Christ’s faithful, together with those who by virtue of their office are engaged in pastoral care in the parish, give their help in fostering pastoral action.
2 The pastoral council has only a consultative vote, and it is regulated by the norms laid down by the diocesan Bishop.
The statutes or charter for pastoral councils, whether determined by the bishop for the diocese generally, or the parish priest in a particular case should make provision for membership, duration of the term, the main areas of consultative responsibility, as well as the circumstances when it may be dissolved, and how it may be re-constituted.
While finance councils are compulsory and pastoral councils are not, this does not mean that one is of greater significance than the other.
Members are appointed by the parish priest and should include those who share in the pastoral care of the parish, such as the assistant priest(s), the pastoral associate(s), the school principal(s), youth minister, liturgical coordinator.
The claim that these people should not be on a body, to which it is suggested they are accountable, misunderstands the function of the pastoral council. They are accountable to the parish priest, not the pastoral council. Their counsel and that of other parishioners assists the parish priest in his responsibilities for governance of the parish. The participation of key employees with other parishioners in the pastoral council is an exercise of collaboration.
The orientation of the pastoral council is to propose, study, and facilitate pastoral initiatives, responding to the needs of that local community. It is best understood as a co-ordinating body rather than a governing body.
Where the diocesan bishop has not mandated pastoral councils, they may be established at the initiative of the parish priest.
A bishop has to consult the college of consultors and the finance council for acts of extraordinary administration, in order that the financial and pastoral dimensions are respected. In the parish it would be good practice for the parish priest to have access to both the pastoral and financial perspectives available in the institutions established within the parish to provide advice and assistance.
There is sometimes a tendency to see these two consultative bodies in isolation. One cannot consider the administration of temporal goods without some awareness of the mission to which they are ordered. As well one cannot consider pastoral initiatives or the mission of the parish without some awareness of the resources that are available for practical implementation.
Some common membership can facilitate communication and for serious matters a joint meeting may be advisable.