Education Capsule

Presented by Mary Lou Burke

October 21, 2002




The diocesan church, which is a portion of the People of God, is served by a bishop who is assisted by a presbyterate, the paradigm of a particular church in the Roman Catholic communion of churches. The canons offer detailed descriptions of the various offices which help this church to function. Some are instruments of collegial action, ie, diocesan synod, Presbyteral Council, College of Consultors, Pastoral council, Finance council and others are administrative aids to the bishop, ie, vicar general, chancellor, moderator of the curia, finance council.

In small dioceses, several offices may be held by one person, in large dioceses, roles may be multiple and their effective coordination may be channeled through cabinet-like departments.



The canonical concept of consultation implies much more than a passive hearing of the opinions of persons or groups which one is required to consult. There is genuine wisdom, God's wisdom in the community and the leader must strive to learn it. The group must be brought together, they must be fully informed of the issue, not kept in the dark, about rules or facts. There should be full and free discussion. Those consulted must give opinions sincerely. If the leader acts contrary to the consensus of the consultors, he or she should give reason, preferably in writing. (C 127)



Largest and most broadly representative of consultative bodies is the diocesan synod. It is a group of priests and other faithful which offers assistance to the diocesan bishop for the good of the whole diocesan community (c 640). It is not a permanent body but is celebrated when circumstances warrant.

The Cod of Canon Law 1917 required them to be held every 10 years but they seldom occurred. Only a diocesan bishop can convoke a synod but first must consult the Presbyteral Council before doing so (c 461). He presides (c 462). Certain persons must be invited to a synod and many others may be (c 463). "Free discussion" is to characterize the exchange within the synod (C465). All members have consultative roles but bishop is sole legislator if canonical rule making is part of the agenda ( c466) Outcome is to be communicated to the metropolitan of the province and to the conference of bishops (467)

Since Vatican II most dioceses which celebrated synods used them as listening, planning and energizing the diocese.


A Consultative group of priests is to exist in every diocese. It is described as a sort of senate to the bishop and representative of the entire presbyterium. It's purpose is to help the bishop in governing the diocese and to promote the pastoral welfare that portion of the People of God. (c 495)

It followed from the Second Vatican Council. One half of the members should be elected by the presbyters of the diocese, others ex-officio, others appointed by the bishop. Members serve for a designated term. (c 501)

This group should be the primary source of counsel for him on all issues related to the welfare and ministries of the diocesan church. Bishop convenes the council and presides. (c 500)



Small group of priests is appointed by the diocesan bishop from among the members of the Presbyteral Council. They play key role when diocesan see is vacant (cc 421,272,413, etc) It has 6-12 members and serves a 5 year term.



This body reflects the diocesan church and is composed of laypersons, religious and clergy. This springs out of the Second Vatican Council. It embodies the themes of the active participation of the laity, their co-responsibility for the church's mission and the need for collaboration in ministry. Bishop calls council, presides over it, listens to it. (C 514)



Each bishop establishes a council to assist him with the financial management of the diocese. Its members, lay or clerical, are to be skilled in financial affairs and civil law. Their term is 5 years (c 492) It prepares the annual budget for the diocese and approves yearly financial report.



A vicar is one who takes the place of another (vicarius a substitute) A vicar general acts with the bishop's authority in his stead. "General" means not limited to some specific area of the diocese (c 475)

Vicar general has same executive authority in the diocese as the bishop. He acts in executive or administrative area, he does not share the legislative or judicial authority. Canonically it is the most powerful office in the diocese after the bishop.

He must be a priest, at least 30 years old, learned in canon law or theology and have sound doctrine, integrity and pastoral experience (c 478)



They have authority in particular areas of the diocesan church. They are appointed by the bishop for parts of the territory (vicariate).



The duties of chancellor are to collect, arrange and keep the document of the diocesan curia ( c 482.1) He or she acts as a notary. It comes from Latin cancellarus, usher or gatekeeper and was secretary to the judge and keeper of the court records.

In the US, they are often "executive offices" or "general manager" of diocesan administration. They need not be a cleric.



Primary place where Catholics experience church. It is "community of believers". Parish stems from Greek.

Paroikia (neigborhood or district). Parish is usually territorial, based on residence within boundaries or personal based on language, nationality, military, college etc. There are about 20,000 Catholic parishes in the US.

A bishop establishes parishes and can alter or combine them or even suppress them but only after consulting the Presbyteral Council.

Parish councils are made up of parishioners and those who minister in the parish, exist to help promote the pastoral councils of the parish. They have a consultative role. The councils are required if bishop so decides. (c 536)

Each parish is also to have finance council to aid pastor in administration of parish property and finances (c537)



Pastor's role includes broad teaching, sanctifying and governing responsibilities. Title "pastor" comes from Latin word for shepherd. It has been used for the central ministerial role since New Testament times.



This is canonical name for the ordained presbyter (c 546) who is appointed to help the pastor. He shares the pastor's concern for the parish community and collaborates with him in ministry to it.