Consultation is a long-standing tradition in the Church. The Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, Christus Dominus, 27, provides that pastoral councils be established. "The duty of [the council] will be to investigate and weigh pastoral undertakings and to formulate practical conclusions regarding them."
Today's councils reflect an understanding of participation, communion, gifts, and consultation, concepts stemming from at least the origins of Christianity. The Archbishop of Los Angeles endorses councils as an effective means for sharing responsibility among the People of God and asks pastors to establish councils in every parish.
Pastoral councils focus on those things which pertain to pastoral works. The aim of a council is to make the life and activity of the Church conform ever more closely to the Gospel. Pastors establish councils because they seek practical, wise, and prudent advice on pastoral matters. Council members offer wise counsel so that the pastor may plan the pastoral program systematically and carry it out effectively. However, having a council that gives advice is not enough. A pastoral council is useful only to the degree that pastors accept and implement its advice.
The word "pastoral" does not simply refer to the topics that the council studies, that is, to "pastoral matters." It derives from the office of the pastor. The council studies pastoral matters because the pastor, as leader of the parish, requests the council's help. He initiates and establishes the council. He convenes its meetings. He presides over them as one who loves his people and seeks their greatest good.
In consulting the council, the pastor asks it to focus on matters essential to the parish's mission, activity, and program – anything, in effect, apart from faith, orthodoxy, moral principles or laws of the universal Church. For example, parishioners may consider various aspects of the liturgy, encourage greater hospitality, desire better religious education, propose physical renovations, envision increased parish income, examine the need for more or different social services, and so on. Councils help pastors see what the needs are and to plan to fulfil them.
In the archdiocese the following principles guide each parish pastoral council:
When leadership at a parish changes, the newly designated pastor/administrator or other person in charge is encouraged to convene the existing parish pastoral council promptly and discuss with the members any plans for the parish and for the council. The newly appointed parish leader has the prerogative to continue the existing parish pastoral council or initiate a process to select new members during the leader's initial year.
The archdiocesan policies on Parish Pastoral Councils are detailed in Communion and Consultation: Pastoral Council Guidelines (English version and Spanish version).