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The Archdiocese of Boston has announced the membership of the newly reconstituted Presbyteral Council, a body of priests who assist the archbishop in governing the archdiocese. Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley asked that the members of the council be elected by vicariate rather than by age as they were in the past. The new council was scheduled to hold its first meeting March 18.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law mandates that presbyteral councils exist in each diocese “to aid the bishop in the governance of the diocese according to the norm of the law, in order that the pastoral welfare of the portion of the people of God entrusted to him may be promoted as effectively as possible.” When a new bishop is installed, the council of the former bishop ceases to exist.
Previously, clergy serving on the archdiocese’s Presbyteral Council were elected by “seniority bloc” explained Father Arthur M. Coyle, archdiocesan secretary for Pastoral Services. Priests were grouped into 20 blocs based on their ages. Priests in each bloc elected one of the priests in their bloc to represent them.
In a Dec. 16 meeting with priests throughout the archdiocese, Archbishop O’Malley expressed his desire to reconstitute the council basing membership on vicariates rather than age. Priests in each vicariate would elect a priest as a representative on the council.
"This arrangement is to allow the members of the Presbyteral Council to discuss with their brother priests in the vicariate the concerns that need to be taken to the Presbyteral Council," Archbishop O'Malley said in his address. "I would like the Presbyteral Council to truly represent all the priests."
The archbishop felt that a council based on vicariate membership would be most effective in ensuring that all priests are represented, said Father Coyle.
"It's more natural for priests in a geographical area to have a priest representing them [from their area] than to have priests from throughout the archdiocese that were ordained in a four year span" representing them, Father Coyle continued. He said that under the former method of structuring the council, priests had greater difficulty communicating with their representative, who may have been from the other side of the archdiocese .
Membership by vicariate facilitates better representation because priests have easier access to their council representatives, said Father Coyle.
"The vicars are supposed to call meetings of the priests within their vicariate, and therefore those priests would be gathered together for a meeting or for a meal, and their representative would be there to hear their concerns and bring concerns of the council back to them," he continued.
Constituting the council by vicariates instead of age blocs is done in a number of other dioceses, said Father Coyle. However, each diocese can decide how membership on the council will be elected.
There are also a number of members on the council who are appointed rather than elected. According to the statutes of the council, the archbishop is free to appoint members, who “will be attentive to the various ministries within the archdiocese,” such as ethnic and other apostolates.
Father Coyle explained that several parochial vicars were appointed to the council because many of the elected members happened to be pastors, who tend be older and to have been ordained longer than parochial vicars. The archbishop wanted to “balance the age” of the Presbyteral Council, he said. Elected and appointed members on the council serve five-year terms.
The statutes of the Presbyteral Council call for at least five meetings a year, but Father Coyle said that the council will most likely meet once a month.
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, a bishop must consult his presbyteral council on “more serious matters of diocesan governance.” These matters include the suppression of parishes — a part of the ongoing reconfiguration process. The archbishop must first consult the council before closing a parish.
Father Joseph V. Keil, parochial vicar at St. Agatha Parish in Milton and the youngest person on the Presbyteral Council, is looking forward to serving on the council and to “all the work ahead.”
"Being the youngest person on the Presbyteral Council, it is certainly an honor to have been asked ..." said Father Keil. "I am very excited to be working with my fellow priests and working with Archbishop O'Malley on the important work of the archdiocese."
Father Keil recognized that he will be serving on the council during an crucial time in the Archdiocese of Boston.
"I think in some ways it is an exciting time to be in the archdiocese with all the reconfiguration, which I think is difficult work, but very important and vital work," he said. "I truly believe the archdiocese will be stronger on the other side of reconfiguration, so I'm excited."