The Presbyteral Council of the Archdiocese of New York, according to its own statutes, is the “pre-eminent consultative body” among priests to Archbishop Dolan, who serves as president of the council.
The council’s scope includes all manner of concerns that pertain to the pastoral welfare of the archdiocese. It takes up issues, often in consultation with area conferences of priests, and weighs proposals from other experts before making its recommendations to Archbishop Dolan, who is present at each of the council’s nine yearly meetings.
“The Presbyteral Council would be the front line for him. Archbishop Dolan has told (us) that many times,” said Father Joseph LaMorte, the council’s chairman, in an interview.
At the group’s last meeting, which took place at St. Joseph’s Seminary Jan. 13, Archbishop Dolan spoke at the outset, first giving a report on the current state of the archdiocese and then closing with some of his hopes and concerns for the future.
The archbishop’s talk touched on such important areas as Catholic Charities, communications and education, seminary preparation and priest personnel, development and finance, among others. To cite one specific example, he spoke of the pastoral planning initiative now just beginning to unfold in the archdiocese, reminding the priests of the “culture of planning” being advocated by Bishop Dennis Sullivan, vicar general, as the archdiocese studies its needs and available resources for the coming years.
The January meeting represented a departure of sorts for the archbishop, who normally makes his remarks near the end of the two-hour meetings after first listening to the discussion and reports of other members and presenters.
Regular meeting features include reports by Father LaMorte and the chairmen of the standing committees, which are education, Msgr. Edward Barry, vicar of Northeast Bronx and pastor of St. Barnabas parish; pastoral life, Father Michael Keane, pastor of Holy Name of Mary, Croton-on-Hudson; priestly life, Msgr. Edward Weber, vicar of Rockland County and pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, West Nyack; and social action, Father Fabian Lopez, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Manhattan.
Members also hear reports from ad hoc committees and other presenters on new initiatives or areas of interest, and discuss new and unfinished business.
The current Code of Canon Law mandates presbyteral councils. Cardinal O’Connor instituted the archdiocesan council shortly after he became Archbishop of New York in 1984, explained Father LaMorte, who was elected chair in 2009 and has served on the council since his appointment by Cardinal Egan in 2000. Msgr. John Jenik, vicar of the Northwest Bronx and pastor of Our Lady of Refuge, is the vice chair; Father William Luciano, pastor of Christ the King in Yonkers, is the recording secretary/treasurer.
The archdiocesan Presbyteral Council has 22 elected representatives: one from each area conference or vicariate in the archdiocese, as well as priests serving in education, retired priests and chaplains outside of the education apostolate.
There are also six appointed members, including the auxiliary bishops of the archdiocese, and seven ex officio members, who belong by virtue of the office that they hold, for a total of 35 members plus Archbishop Dolan. Members serve for a three-year term and may be re-elected.
Father John McLoughlin, pastor of St. Ursula’s parish in Mount Vernon, who is in his third term on the council, said his service “widens my perspective of the Church” beyond that of his own parish. He said he enjoys being able to be part of a council charged with reviewing issues and making recommendations to Archbishop Dolan, and also listening to the perspective of the archbishop.
When asked, Father McLoughlin quickly listed some of the issues discussed at recent meetings: consideration of retirement policies for priests, Mass attendance in the archdiocese and a suggestion for a convocation involving all priests in the archdiocese.
“We’re handling significant issues that bring to the attention of the archbishop what the priests in parishes are thinking and feeling—and what their needs and expectations are,” Father McLoughlin said. “He’s giving us the archdiocesan perspective.”
Father Keane, who is serving his second term on the council, told CNY that the pastoral life committee is working with Terry Cullen-Seidel, director of Inter-Parish Finance, on issues as varied as dealing with parish bulletin publishers and formulating job descriptions for parish managers and other employees. The key is being able to provide practical information that helps pastors handle pastoral and administrative needs, Father Keane said.
Father Joseph Franco, pastor of Sacred Heart in the Bronx, is a first-term council member. He told CNY that his work with the council has given him an appreciation for how “democratic” the Church can be. He said issues brought to the floor regularly require that he and other members go back to their area conferences to find out what the pastors in their own vicariates think.
Father LaMorte, who is pastor of St. Gregory Barbarigo in Garnervile, called his role and responsibilities as the council’s chairman “an exciting area of the archdiocese to be involved in.”
His work brings him into frequent contact with Archbishop Dolan.
“He’s very concerned about the life of the priest,” Father LaMorte said. “It’s good for us. We can bring topics to him. We know he’ll take them seriously.”