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CARING FOR ALL GOD’S PEOPLE – New Archdiocesan guidelines issued

How are the finances and property of the parish to be managed? Are pastoral councils really necessary? How are couples to be prepared for marriage and how is the Sacrament of Marriage to be celebrated? Praxis Parochorum, ‘the practice for parishes’, 2017 seeks to answer these questions and offers guidelines on a wide range of topics to aid the proper running of parishes.

Praxis Parochorum and an accompanying document Pastoral Administrative Manual (PAM) have just been published by the Archdiocese. See Archbishop’s Official Letter of Promulgation on page 3.

Archbishop Joseph Harris states the documents, both dedicated to hospitality, are for clergy (priests, deacons) and persons involved in administration of parish communities. They offer “some basic guidelines that will help us all to be more effective in caring for all God’s people.”

The topics of the 42-page Praxis include the Appointment of Parish Priests, Care of Parishes, the Parish Office, Parish Pastoral Councils and Finance Councils, Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage and the other sacraments, and Parochial (Parish) Bank Accounts.

This 2017 edition builds on the 1997 Praxis. When promulgated it will abrogate the earlier document to become the established norms operative in the Archdiocese.

Explaining “Why a Praxis”, the document notes many perceive laws and norms as a list of “Don’ts with accompanying negative consequences”, an approach, which is unhealthy and can be deemed as “lacking in pastoral concern”. It states, therefore, “It is imperative that a healthy and correct presentation of Laws and Norms be presented in this issue of the Praxis.”

The more specific administrative manual PAM was developed to “document the processes and procedures for structured pastoral administration in this Archdiocese”. It is to be used by pastors, deacons, sacramental ministers, parishes, ministries, departments and commissions operating in the Archdiocese. The 31-page document treats with Vicariates, the Eastern Antilles Interdiocesan Tribunal, Finance Councils, Publications, Pastoral Council Norms, Sacramental Life and the Continuing Formation of Priests.

PAM attempts “to stimulate the consciousness of those involved in Church Administration to the fact that what they are involved in, is in fact, ministry and therefore, a consistent and sound ecclesiology, must be foremost in our minds and hearts so that we can faithfully give witness the Gospel of Christ”.

Another objective is to “give an established policy for the Parochial Ministries of the Finance Councils and Pastoral Councils. It is meant to go beyond these ministries into an approach to administration at every level of Church involvement promoting discipline, productivity and charity”.

Speaking with Catholic News on August 14, Chancellor Fr Roger Paponette said, “Both documents are legal” and one of the strong points in them is collaboration.

“I would love for the parishioners particularly [those in] the three main positions, parish secretary, and the two Chairs [of the Finance, Pastoral Council] to become acquainted with them and understand the spirit behind them; to help others understand we all have a responsibility for the good of the Church. When we neglect that responsibility the Church community suffers.”

In the Praxis, the positions of parish secretary, Chair of the Finance Council and Chair of the Pastoral Council are deemed core functions of each parish. “In other words it is not left to the goodwill of priests. We must have them,” Fr Paponette said.

The parish secretary must be appointed jointly by the parish priest and Chancellor and any changes are to be made jointly. The parish priest and the Archdiocesan Financial Administrator at the Chancery are to appoint the Chair of the Finance Council. Fr Paponette said in that way a direct link between every parish and the Chancery would be strengthened, allowing for the good flow of information and ensuring the Archdiocesan goals and procedures were followed.

The Chair of the Pastoral Council will be jointly appointed by the parish priest and Vicar General. Fr Paponette said this is “to encourage the vision of the Archdiocese throughout the diocese so there is no plan that goes counter”.

He emphasised the need for collaboration, with persons offering their gifts and talents, and everyone working in harmony not just for the good of Church but also society.

He said sometimes groups of individuals in parishes “hold on to certain positions and reinterpret” their role. For example, a parish council can become involved in hiring and firing of personnel although this is not in accordance with their roles and functions.

“The proper role of the Pastoral Council is in assisting the pastor in visioning and pastoral planning. Also, they should be involved in assessing and proposing improvements or new plans and/or projects for the good of the community,” Fr Paponette said.

As regards parish projects, PAM states, “For acts of ordinary administration (minor projects and routine maintenance above $20,000), the Pastor must consult the Finance Council and produce a feasibility report.” For “major acts of Administration” – construction, renovation, acquisitions or alienation – “75 % of the project cost must be acquired before the start of any construction”. Major projects must be submitted to the Building and Maintenance department, the Archdiocesan Building Committee and have final approval from the Archbishop. Fr Paponette said anything requiring more than $20,000 had to have the full participation of the Finance Council. He indicated the council was in a position to advise and impress upon the parish priest to make the best use of funds available.

Commenting on the benefits of the documents, Vicar General Msgr Christian Pereria said it was good for priests and laity to have clarity about what was expected of parish leaders, priests and “those involved in leadership”. He added, “Many people were doing what they thought or perceived was best.” He said the Praxis “allows for greater focus on the mission of the Church, ensuring people have a sense of belonging and participation.”