By John Carey ALL PRIESTS and lay people in the Westminster archdiocese are to be given„a chance to suggest improvements in the way the archdiocese is run.
They are being asked to complete ballot forms saying whether or not they are happy with the system of "pastoral areas" and whether there are any "adjustments" which the authorities could make.
The consultation fulfils a promise made five years ago when Westminster was divided into five pastoral areas each under the direct care of its own bishop. The area system was proposed in the document Nanning far the Spirit and it was announced then that the people of the archdiocese would be asked their views after five years.
However, although such an assessment has always been planned it has been given a new sense of purpose by the National Pastoral Congress: now it is hoped that the ballot will help to involve the people more actively in the life of the local Church as well as assisting the archdiocese to implement the Congress' findings.
Altogether about 1,000 ballot forms have been produced and they will be sent out from the beginning of November. While priests will be consulted individually as well as through deanery and area meetings, lay people will be contacted through their parish and area pastoral councils.
Each parish without a council is being asked to form a special group for the exercise.
Cardinal Hume has asked that the forms should be returned by the end of November. They will then be put through a computer so that the findings can be properly analysed.
The leaflets containing the forms also contain an explanation of the background to the consultation. In it the archdiocesan authorities make it clear that they are themselves satisfied with the way the experiment has gone so far. They refer to the "fresh' approaches" which have been tried and say that the Congress confirmed "that our work and our plans were on the right lines."
There is now closer cooperation between bishops, priests and people and in general "we are more willing to examine ourselves and to change where necessary", they say.
They add: "At the heart of it all in the Council of Diocesan Affairs, we have a working model of team ministry in which the archbishop is freed from the detail and the whole team of bishops work harmoniously together with efficient support. Ecumenical contact is more apparent and there is a more planned approach to items such as budgeting, pastoral planning, lay involvement, etc."
The results of the consultation are likely to show widespread support for the new system. The main question mark may concern the role of the central services and reflect some frustration with "excessive bureaucracy".