Report charts history of diocesan pastoral councils
The first historical analysis of diocesan pastoral councils in Australia is seen as an important contribution to an ongoing conversation about the role of such councils in the life of the Church now and in the future.
As part of its response to The Light from the Southern Cross, a national review of diocesan and parish governance and management, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said it would gather information on the theological foundations for diocesan pastoral councils and their history in Australia.
Historian Damian Gleeson was engaged to write a report on the history of diocesan pastoral councils, which surveys the period since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Dr Gleeson’s report, Diocesan Pastoral Councils: An Australian Historical Study, reveals that while a significant number of archdioceses and dioceses have had pastoral councils during that time, only five are operating currently.
Dr Gleeson said much was written about diocesan councils in The Light from the Southern Cross and in the Bishops Conference’s response to that report, but both seemed to underestimate their achievements while they were operating.
“Diocesan pastoral councils have generally had a solid track record of shared decision-making, respectful engagement between clergy, religious and laity by working in ‘harmony’ with the Ordinary (Bishop), and implementation of faith-focused and broad pastoral services across the Australian landscape,” he wrote.
The research also suggested strong achievements from councils with a majority of elected or appointed lay members.
Dr Gleeson concluded that the “attitude, energy and enthusiasm of a bishop are the largest factors influencing the existence, meaningfulness and longevity” of a diocesan pastoral council.