What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: February 26, 2009
Church law does not require a bishop to have a diocesan pastoral council, but for the second time now, I have discovered the great wisdom and the blessing that such pastoral councils can provide for the diocesan bishop.
Both in the Diocese of Belleville and now here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, I have been blessed to have the wisdom and faith witness that the council members offer me with their insight and encouragement in addressing church issues within a local community.
Our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council has been functioning now for more than two years. During that time, we have addressed such diverse issues as Catholic school tuition, equity among the Scouting programs in the Archdiocese, availability of reconciliation times in our parishes, the complexity of serving the pastoral needs of our fast-growing multicultural, multi-racial community, the issues that our immigrant Catholics face in a sometimes very hostile environment, the costs and spiritual advantages of our annual Eucharistic Congress—among many others. Last Saturday we had an extended discussion of the national effort to notify our Washington elected officials of our strong opposition to any future Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) legislation.
While there is no current specific pending legislation before Congress that would advance this effort, there have been suggestions that such legislation may well be proposed. Some of the details that are associated with such a bill are draconian in nature. This potential legislation could undo hard-fought efforts to protect human life and the lives of mothers and the rights of parents of unborn children. It might also sacrifice the rights of medical personnel to refuse in conscience to participate in abortions as well as to deregulate the medical safeguards that are currently in place for women who seek such a procedure. In short, FOCA could make abortions even more frequent, dangerous and unregulated. The reason the Catholic community and our allies in the pro-life movement are undertaking this effort, even in anticipation of such potential legislation, is to send a clear and united message to our legislators: “Don’t even think about it!”
The pastoral council’s discussion was enlightening and frank. It revealed to me the desire of our people to advance the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life and to make sure that the full range of life issues are adequately addressed. There was lively discussion on how best to achieve this Gospel mandate. There were a variety of opinions on what would be the most successful strategies and approaches. I marveled at how our council members interacted with one another—not every approach enjoyed unanimous endorsement. But every member was clear in wanting the message of life to be advanced and promoted.
Our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is developing into a forum of wisdom and dialogue. They know that they can speak with me about a wide range of concerns. They know that they can raise even delicate issues without fear of retribution or censure. They can speak candidly with one another knowing that there is a foundation of faith and love that unites us. Even when there is disagreement in our conversations (and there have been such disagreements), there is always charity and respect.
Would that such an environment was present throughout the Church in every area of our common life. Our pastoral council members respect one another and they know that their Archbishop respects and loves them.
What I appreciate most about these meetings is that because of the diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, ages, genders, cultures and life experiences of the members of our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, I always feel that I am having an important discussion with the entire Archdiocesan family in microcosm. It is a great blessing for me to have the wisdom and the witness of faith of the council members as I listen to the heart of the Church at each session and enjoy the opportunity of speaking with my people in such candid and important conversations.