(Fr. Kevin Matthew Ph.D., D.C.L., S.T.L.)
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When I hear the word “consultation” my mind automatically returns to St. Paul’s Universality in Ottawa where I studied with Fr Gary Roche, an Irish Missionary working in Papua-New Guinea. We were speaking one day about a new church that a particular parish priest had decided to build with the approval of his bishop as is the normal approach in many western Dioceses. In shock horror he pointed out that in Papua-New Guinea if they thought about building a new Church they would start spreading the idea gently, discussing it with all the people, and in about five years when all the problems had been sorted out and consensus reached, they might then be able to commence the project. One of us has something to learn about being Church and I don’t think it’s them!

It surely must have been a Priest with great pastoral experience who once defined a Church Committee as: “A collection of the unfit chosen from the unwilling by the incompetent to do the unnecessary.” Those pessimistic times are no longer with us and the reality is that Catholics are awakening to a deeper understanding of their dignity and an unquenchable desire to participate actively in the life of the Church.



The process of consultation is one that has inherent beauty, but one which will always be plagued with difficulties. Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus (+390) had this to say about the assemblies of bishops:

If it is necessary to write the truth, I intend to avoid every assembly of bishops, inasmuch as I saw no council with a successful and favourable end, nor one which averted problems instead of causing and increasing them. There are always arguments and struggles for power… Nor can the bishops be corrected: if someone should accuse them of unscrupulousness, he himself would be brought to judgement quicker than he could suppress their evil ways. (PG, Letter 130, vol. 37, col.226)

Despite the difficulties, the Synod still remains as the normal form of government in the Oriental Churches.

For centuries European Dioceses operated with Cathedral Chapters of Canons who advised the Bishops. Diocesan Consultors was to be a future concept introduced into the Church from the United States in the late nineteenth century.

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