One of the most frustrating things about serving on consultative bodies in the Catholic Church is the way they often don’t do the very thing they’ve been entrusted with: the job of providing observations, critiques, and recommendations to their bishop or pastor. I’ve seen the same dynamic play out repeatedly in my twelve years of serving. A pastoral matter or other concern is raised; the bishop or pastor presents some initial thoughts or observations, and then turns it over to the consultative body to discuss. Here is where things often go south: instead of offering an informed opinion on the matter, one person comes up with a ministry or event idea instead. Others pick up on that person’s excitement, and by the end of the discussion the consultative body has never really “consulted” on anything. Rather, it just assumes the role of an organizing committee for a special project—a special project that typically does nothing to address what may in fact be a serious or chronic ailment.
Sometimes the conversation goes in this direction not because of the membership itself, but because the bishop or pastor specifically asks for ministerial work, and not consultation. He then might allow the ministerial to proceed, perhaps because he doesn’t understand what a consultative body actually does. Or, he does understand—but doesn’t trust in the group’s ability to consult or simply doesn’t want a consultative body in the first place, and is only playing along for the sake of appearances. Even then the bishop or pastor has an opportunity to salvage the discussion by taking the idea for the ministerial or event to the respective diocesan office or parish director for development. But more often than not, this doesn’t occur. The special project thus consumes the rest of the consultative year, with every meeting devoted to a report on the work being done.