Consultation for Leaders of the Church

We have come to the time of our Fall Festival! If you are reading this on Saturday, the festival is tomorrow, but for you who are reading  this on Sunday, it’s a day to enjoy what has been planned by so many of your fellow parishioners. I am most grateful to those who turned their sights to this Sunday long ago and began the preparations for our festival. Have a great time!

On Sunday evening I will begin a retreat for priests at Christ the King Retreat Center in Buffalo. The retreat will end at noon on Thursday, so you might want to keep in mind that I will not be around as I typically would be on Tuesday or Wednesday, nor will I be at the parish on Thursday morning. Please do keep me in your prayers during my retreat, and I will certainly be praying for all of you.


This morning I saw a rather small photo printed in the newspaper depicting Pope Francis meeting with his eight cardinal advisors, who constitute what has been established formally as the Council of Cardinals. After a little digging I found that the cardinals are Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga (Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras), who coordinates the group, Francisco Javier Errazuriz (Archbishop Emeritus of Santiago, Chile), Oswald Gracias (Archbishop of Bombay, India), Reinhard Marx (Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany), Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya (Archbishop of Kinshasa, Congo), George Pell (Archbishop of Sydney, Australia), Sean Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., (Archbishop of Boston in the United States) and Giuseppe Bertello (an Italian who, after years in the Vatican diplomatic corps, is President of the Governorate of Vatican City Sate). These cardinals were specially chosen by Pope Francis as a top level of advisors. They met for the first time with the Holy Father from October 1-3 in Rome, and were scheduled to travel with him to Assisi on October 4, the day we honor St. Francis of Assisi.

 In the now famous interview published in America magazine and other Jesuit journals (which you can read at, Pope Francis was asked about his experience in Church government. He explained that he frequently consulted others when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He went on to say:

The consistories [of cardinals], the synods [of bishops] are, for example, important places to make real and active this consultation. We must, however, give them a less rigid form. I do not want token consultations, but real consultations. The consultation group of eight cardinals, this “outsider” advisory group, is not only my decision, but it is the result of the will of the cardinals, as it was expressed in the general congregations before the conclave. And I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation.

 To me these are interesting details. If you really strain your memory, you might recall that in early March, before the beginning of the conclave that elected Cardinal Bergoglio on March 13, the cardinals held “general congregations.” These were meetings in which the cardinals—even those over age 80 who could not vote in the conclave—could really speak their minds about the needs of the Church before the conclave began. Evidently the cardinals desired that an inner circle would be formed to advise the Pope, and that is exactly what Pope Francis did. I noticed that almost all of the cardinal advisors are “residential archbishops,” which is Catholic lingo for bishops who head archdioceses. They are not the kind of archbishops who were named to that office by virtue of their service in the Vatican Curia, and so might be more astute at making decisions about leading a flock.

In the interview, Pope Francis reflected on being a superior in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order), saying that at the beginning he had many faults. He became a superior when he was only 36 (“That was crazy,” he exclaimed), because so many Jesuits had left the priesthood. He said, “That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared.” Perhaps many of you remember those days in our own Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: since the 1960s about 180 priests have resigned from active ministry, and most of them left between 1968 and 1978. So the future pope found himself in a position of great responsibility at a young age, and he now describes himself as having been “authoritarian,” with a “quick manner of making decisions.” So he learned to consult.

In our local church, Archbishop Nienstedt has several levels of consultation available to him. The very broad consultation of our planning process in 2010 is an example of extraordinary consultation: town hall meetings, surveys, and a dedicated voice mailbox available for comments made it possible for all people to make their opinions known when it came to the merging of parishes. An ordinary and required consultative body for the Archbishop is the Presbyteral Council—the priests who are deans of a geographic area known as a deanery, and other priests who are appointed to that council. The Presbyteral Council meets regularly and serves as a sounding board for Archbishop Nienstedt. Many years ago I served on that Council, and I recall that every once in a while a matter would come before us because it was required by Church law. A former church building cannot be sold, for example, unless the bishop has heard the opinion of the presbyteral council of the diocese. From among the priests on that council the bishop chooses members of the College of Consultors, which is a body of 6-12 priests who advise the bishop on the most important decisions.

At the parish level, the pastoral council and the finance council are advisory bodies for the pastor of the parish. I hope you will keep that in mind whenever you hear we need people to serve on these councils here at St. Peter’s.

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