Pastoral Council holds first meeting with archbishop

Archbishop Seán O’Malley met with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, a consultative body, for the first time Sept. 25. In accordance with canon law, the council was disbanded when Cardinal Bernard Law resigned; however, Bishop Richard Lennon asked the council to continue to serve during his time as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

Archbishop O’Malley intends to meet with council members several times before he begins the process of nominating new appointees.

The council is comprised of up to 70 lay, ordained and religious members. The group is two-thirds lay members, with about 20 ex officio members — those who hold a seat by virtue of their office, such as the regional bishops. Approximately 45 members attend regularly.

The council’s mission is to advise and support the archbishop on a range of matters, some of which he brings to their attention and others that they bring to his attention. The council meets about four times a year.

Council members are nominated because they have had previous experience on a parish council or other Church body. If appointed, members serve five-year terms.

Kathleen Heck, a council member and chair of its subcommittee on communications, noted that advising three different leaders of the archdiocese in the span of a year has been unique.

"They are three very different men, with different management styles, but all with the same goal -- and that's a living, breathing archdiocese," she said.

She recalled that Cardinal Law would begin meetings by informing the council of his recent activities and would conclude by listening to suggestions from council members. Bishop Lennon would address the meeting’s agenda immediately and try to generate many comments from the group.

Archbishop O’Malley, Heck said, did not want to be the one who spoke. He was intent on listening to the council. His approach may be because it is not yet clear how long-standing members will work with the new archbishop, she suggested.

"He wanted to take the maximum opportunity to hear what people had to say, and he really did that," she stated.

Heck described the agenda of the first meeting as “general.” The council members answered this question: “Looking back on your term, what did you find that was positive. What could be made better?”

Archbishop O’Malley wanted to hear what their experiences had been and what major topics should be tackled by the next council. He listened and took notes while approximately 45 members offered feedback.

One suggestion voiced by several council members was to convert to rolling terms, where one third of the body steps down at a time.

Heck, among others, feels that rolling membership will make the council more effective.

"If not everyone leaves at once, when you take things up that are continuous, you don't have to start all over again every five years," she explained.

Father Lawrence Pratt, pastor of The Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Church in Hingham, was impressed with how attentive the archbishop was to the council’s suggestions.

"He really listened the whole time," said Father Pratt. "He wants the APC to operate similar to a pastor working with his parish council. It was a good meeting."

Archbishop O’Malley may be open to the possibility of rolling membership, said Father Pratt, because the archbishop’s last two dioceses have had rolling membership on their pastoral councils.

The steering committee of the council is scheduled to meet with the archbishop in November to discuss the issue of rolling membership and other recommendations made by the group.

Archbishop O’Malley concluded the meeting saying he would seriously consider their suggestions.

At the initiative of Cardinal Law, the council began working in May 2002 to make itself more effective. The steering committee spent the following summer realizing this goal, developing a communications committee and a structure committee.

At the proposal of the communications committee, the archdiocese launched “For the Record” (appearing in The Pilot), a tool for the archdiocese to respond to misrepresentations by the media and other matters of public concern. The communications committee also suggested posting the financial records of the archdiocese on its website. The structure committee asked that rolling membership be considered.