Bishop Anthony B. Taylor has instituted a Diocesan Pastoral Council, giving the laity more input on matters that relate to the Church in Arkansas.
“To respond to Pope Francis’ encouragement to involve the laity more fully in the process by which decisions are made in our diocese and also to receive their insights regarding the life of the Church in general in Arkansas,” Bishop Taylor told Arkansas Catholic about why he decided to form the council, which met for the first time at St. John Center Nov. 30.
The council follows a directive in the Church’s canon law (no. 511) that states, “In every diocese and to the extent that pastoral circumstances suggest it, a pastoral council is to be constituted which under the authority of the bishop investigates, considers and proposes practical conclusions about those things which pertain to pastoral works in the diocese.”
Canon law states these councils should include “members of the Christian faithful who are in full communion with the Catholic Church,” including laity and those who have different roles in their diocese, professions and social conditions.
Bishop Taylor emphasized to the council members at their first meeting that his experience with a pastoral council while serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City guided his goals for this one. The selection process, he explained, had specific standards.
“We have representatives of various bodies in the life of the diocese and then some people that would be chosen to bring additional skills or demographics, people that need to be at the table,” Bishop Taylor said.
Lay members will represent various ministries and groups, including the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics, Knights of Columbus and youth/young adults.
The diocese has several boards that advise Bishop Taylor on Church matters, including the Presbyteral Council, Lay Review Board, Finance Council, the Clergy Personnel Board and regular meetings with diocesan directors. Two new members will also be added to the Clergy Personnel Board.
In the wake of the Church sex abuse scandal in the United States, Catholics throughout the world have called for more input, transparency and an end to clericalism. Forming a Diocesan Pastoral Council allows lay people to have a greater voice within their diocese.
“This Church belongs to all of us, not just the clergy, and the laity have much to contribute as we deal with the challenges before us,” Bishop Taylor said.
The set-up for the Diocesan Pastoral Council will be similar to the Presbyteral Council, which is made up of diocesan priests as well as priests from religious orders and missionary extern priests, which are clergy from other dioceses serving in the state.
The Presbyteral Council meets almost monthly often allowing outside speakers to present matters that impact parishes within the diocese. This can include everything from proposing a new permanent diaconate formation program to an initiative like One Church, which asks all parishes to support a chosen parish in need. The priests then advise the bishop on a variety of topics.
The Diocesan Pastoral Council will meet quarterly or more often when needed, Bishop Taylor said.
“Often the same items will occur on the agendas of both of these bodies — like two houses of Congress — so I will have more and better advice to help me make better decisions,” Bishop Taylor said of the Diocesan Pastoral and Presbyteral councils. “Of course, Congress enacts legislation whereas these are consultative bodies with only a consultative vote.”
According to the Diocesan Pastoral Council constitution, there will be 10 voting members and six non-voting. Voting members will serve for three-year terms, which are renewable. Meetings will only be convened by the bishop.
At the first meeting, Jeff Hines of Fort Smith was named chair of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and Cynthia Solis of Danville as vice chair. Hines will work with the bishop and others on agenda items, conducting meetings and representing the council when asked by Bishop Taylor and Solis will assist.
“Our responsibility is to proclaim Christ and to help build the kingdom of God. I hope we can do that for more people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, that we can reach out to our communities,” Hines said. “We want to help bring the resources of the diocese to our communities wherever they are. I’m glad the bishop is asking for more lay input so that will help him do a better job.”
Topics discussed at the meeting included this year’s new events surrounding the Mass for Life in January, including a Eucharistic procession, as well as Arkansas Right to Life’s March for Life.
The most prominent discussion entailed the work of the Hispanic Ministry Office on the V Encuentro, or “Fifth Encounter,” an evangelization program that has energized the Catholic Hispanic community in Arkansas and around the country. Sister Norma Edith Muñoz, MCP, director of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Little Rock, said she hopes to gain more ideas from the pastoral council on how to better focus on areas of concern for Arkansas Hispanics.
Member Lloyd Cambre, state treasurer for the Knights of Columbus State Council, said following the meeting that he’s looking forward to working with Sister Norma, as the K of C will push this year for greater Hispanic involvement in councils.
“I think individually we will learn a lot, along with the bishop will hear different perspectives so that’s really good,” Cambre said.
Msgr. Scott Friend, vicar general, noted that, given the increasing number of Hispanics that will make up the Catholic Church in Arkansas in the next 15 years, Hispanic Catholics need to be trained for leadership positions in parishes, the diocese and various boards and ministries.
Solis, 30, youth and young adult representative, said she’s excited to be the voice of the youth in this new council and in her role as vice chairperson.
“I hope I can be able to inspire young adults and youth as they see me into this new position with the council,” Solis said. “I hope to share a lot of great news with them, as well as be representing them — their voice, all their concerns.”
Alma Stewart, representative of the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics, said the bishop forming this council is a positive step forward.
“I know that we need a pipeline back to our church from the diocese, the council; we need to be represented,” Stewart said.
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