Editors note: The following remarks originally appeared as several separate comments under Dr. Seifert's post below. We asked for and receive Fr. Forlano's permission to collect and post them here.
As a priest working in the hispanic community, I am in the position where a majority of my parishioners are living in ways objectively contrary to Church teaching on the dignity of marriage. (Most couples are married civilly, if they are married at all). These people love the Church, are faithful to Mass, and participate in many aspects of parish life. While I would not allow anyone in an irregular marriage to be a lector at Mass or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, I don't have the same standard when it comes to the pastoral committee. I would not be able to have a "pastoral committee" if I were to exclude those who were not in communion with the Church. Through the friendship that I've been able to develop with these couples, I've been able bring several marriages to convalidation and to bring others to receive the sacraments they were lacking. The marital state of most of my pastoral committee has not been an obstacle for me in preaching the Gospel to them or the larger congregation.
The canonical argument rests on whether a parish pastoral council position is an "ecclesiastical office". One of the conditions for an ecclesiastical office is that it is established "by divine or ecclesiastical law" (Can. 145). Is a position on a parish pastoral council constituted by divine or ecclesiastical law? It is definitely not divinely constituted, and from my reading and understanding, it is not required by Church law to have a pastoral council. Can. 536 says that pastoral councils are established in each parish "if the diocesan bishop judges it opportune" and that "A pastoral council possesses a consultative vote only and is governed by the norms established by the diocesan bishop." (emphasis added). One can argue whether what Schönborn did was prudent, but as the diocesan bishop, he sets the norms. Can. 536 also seems to make a distinction between the "Christian faithful" on the council and "those who share in pastoral care by virtue of their office in the parish." (emphasis added) Who are the ex officio members of the parish pastoral council? Usually they include the pastor, the parochial vicars, the deacons, the school principal.
It is obvious that someone who holds an ecclesiastical office "must be in the communion of the Church" (Can. 149).
To one of Katie's earlier points, the pastoral council is not a governing body in the Church, it is "consultative" only. I've been on parish pastoral councils where there have been non-Catholics (e.g., non-Catholic spouse of a parishioner who has children in the school and is volunteering his time because of his love for the parish and expertise in finance, accounting, or marketing). I wonder what gifts Mr. Stangl had to offer that he was elected by many of his fellow parishioners? One also doesn't get put on the ballot to run for pastoral council without the prior approval of the pastor. The pastoral problem is the result of the pastor nullifying the election of someone whose nomination he presumably approved in the first place. If he was a known practicing homosexual, how did his nomination get approved? If he was a homosexual activist of any sort, the pastor would have known about it. This obviously was not the case. So Fr. Swierzek finds out the man is gay after he is elected. What is the pastoral approach?
It is here where a personalist pastoral approach needs to be employed. There must have been a serious pastoral mishandling of the situation for it to get the attention of the Archbishop and for him to have a personal meeting with Stangl and his partner. The Archbishop was providing a personalist pastoral approach that was most likely lacking on the parish level. As Buttiglione said, Schönborn didn't say anything that was affirming of the man's homosexual relationship nor that denied Church teaching. I would be surprised if the meeting with Stangl wasn't used as a teaching moment, like with the woman caught in adultery, in which he said something to the effect of "go and sin no more." Schönborn's move was intended to keep the man connected to the Church, for there is no possibility of conversion without an encounter with Christ.
This is the pastoral challenge we all face. Most of the couples who come to the church to be married, even if they have been through Catholic school, and are Mass goers to some extent, are cohabitating and are clueless on Church teaching on sexual morality. What I find amazing (and hopeful) is that there is, despite everything in the culture against them, an attachment to the Church on some level. The pastoral opportunity for Fr. Swierzek was lost because he reacted with formalism and legalism instead of awe and wonder at the fact that a 26 year old homosexual man in 2012 desired to serve his parish.
P.S. I found this article helpful for understanding Cardinal Schonborn's rationale and Buttiglione's defense.
Rev. Philip M. Forlano is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a parochial vicar at St. Stanislaus Parish in Lansdale, PA.