The documents of the Second Vatican Council affirmed that all members of the People of God are called to participate in the threefold ministry of Christ and the Church according to their particular gifts, their state of life, and their office. One of the ways through which the people accept a greater responsibility for the pastoral work of the local church is through participation in a parish's councils and commissions.
While canon law clearly lays responsibility for (and authority over) the teaching, governing and sanctifying work of a parish upon the pastor, he relies upon the advice and assistance of parishioners in accomplishing this work, especially via the parish finance and pastoral councils. (Actually, this responsibility and authority belong to the Bishop, who delegates certain aspects to the pastor).
Canon 537 from the Code of Canon Law states: "In each parish there is to be a finance council which is governed, in addition to universal law, by norms issued by the diocesan bishop and in which the Christian faithful, selected according to these same norms, are to assist the pastor in the administration of the goods of the parish without prejudice to the prescript of canon 532." (Canon 1280 also pertains).
The parish finance council is advisory only. Canon 532 states that the pastor is ultimately responsible and has the necessary authority for administering the temporal goods of the parish. It reads "In all juridic affairs the pastor represents the parish according to the norm of law. He is to take care that the goods of the parish are administered according to the norms of canons 1281-1288."
Diocesan policies relating to parish finance councils are contained in the "Parish Manal of Financial Policies and Procedures." The pertinent section is available here:
Contact email@example.com with any questions regarding the functioning of your parish finance council.
Canon 536 from the Code of Canon Law states: "If the diocesan bishop judges it opportune after he has heard the presbyteral council, a pastoral council is to be established in each parish, over which the pastor presides, and in which the Christian faithful, together with those who share in pastoral care by virtue of their office in the parish, assist in fostering pastoral activity. A pastoral council possesses a consultative vote only and is governed by the norms established by the diocesan bishop."
In the Diocese of Madison, it is policy that every parish (or group of parishes sharing a single pastor) should have a pastoral council.
For reasons of clarity and consistency, pastoral councils are asked to forego trying to create their own "bylaws" and simply use these standard diocesan policies to guide their work. (Regardless, any such pastoral council bylaws cannot contradict the bylaws of the parish corporation, laws of the State of Wisconsin, particular law of the Diocese of Madison, or the Code of Canon Law).
To facilitate their work of assisting and advising the pastor, councils often structure themselves into committees with specific focus areas. Some common committees include:
A pastor who has responsibility for multiple parishes often creates ONE pastoral council to jointly represent ALL of the parishes for which he is responsible. In addition to streamlining the administrative workload, this approach can help foster collaboration among these parishes. This approach is encouraged and recommended by the diocesan planning office.