DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     August 31, 1998     vol. 9, no. 170

THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS

To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO
    INTRODUCTION
          The Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio below Apostolos Suos was released on the Solemnity of Ascension Thursday, May 21, 1998 by the Holy Father and deals with reigning in the bishops from launching their own initiatives without full support from Rome or their colleagues. Many believe the Bishops' Letter "Always Our Children" by a group of liberal American bishops on homosexuality may have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back and prompted the Holy See to issue this Letter. Below is part two.

HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II APOSTOLIC LETTER ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO ON THE THEOLOGICAL AND JURIDICAL NATURE OF EPISCOPAL CONFERENCES (1)

    Part Two of INTRODUCTION to APOSTOLOS SUOS

    I. INTRODUCTION 4. Alongside the tradition of Particular Councils and in harmony with it, starting in the last century, for historical, cultural and sociological reasons, Conferences of Bishops began to be established in different countries. These Conferences were set up for specific pastoral purposes, as a means of responding to different ecclesiastical questions of common interest and finding appropriate solutions to them. Unlike Councils, they had a stable and permanent character. The Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars issued on 24 August 1889 mentions them expressly by the name "Episcopal Conferences".(28)

          The Second Vatican Council, in the Decree Christus Dominus, not only expressed the hope that the venerable institution of Particular Councils would be revitalized (cf. No. 36), but also dealt explicitly with Episcopal Conferences, acknowledging the fact that they had been established in many countries and laying down particular norms regarding them (cf. Nos. 37-38). Indeed, the Council recognized the usefulness and the potential of these structures, and judged that "it would be in the highest degree helpful if in all parts of the world the Bishops of each country or region would meet regularly, so that by sharing their wisdom and experience and exchanging views they may jointly formulate a programme for the common good of the Church".(29)

    5. In 1966, Pope Paul VI, by the Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae, called for Episcopal Conferences to be established wherever they did not yet exist; those already existing were to draw up proper statutes; and in cases where it was not possible to establish a Conference, the Bishops in question were to join already existing Episcopal Conferences; Episcopal Conferences comprising several nations or even international Episcopal Conferences could be established.(30) Several years later, in 1973, the Pastoral Directory for Bishops stated once again that “the Episcopal Conference is established as a contemporary means of contributing in a varied and fruitful way to the practice of collegiality. These Conferences admirably help to foster a spirit of communion with the Universal Church and among the different local Churches.(31) Finally, the Code of Canon Law, promulgated by me on January 25, 1983, established specific norms (Canons 447-459) regulating the objectives and the powers of Episcopal Conferences, as well as their erection, membership and functioning.

          The collegial spirit which inspired the establishment of Episcopal Conferences and guides their activity is also the reason why Conferences of different countries should cooperate among themselves, as the Second Vatican Council recommended (32) and the subsequent canonical legislation reaffirmed.(33)

    6. Following the Second Vatican Council, Episcopal Conferences have developed significantly and have become the preferred means for the Bishops of a country or a specific territory to exchange views, consult with one another and cooperate in promoting the common good of the Church: “in recent years they have become a concrete, living and efficient reality throughout the world”.(34) Their importance is seen in the fact that they contribute effectively to unity between the Bishops, and thus to the unity of the Church, since they are a most helpful means of strengthening ecclesial communion. Even so, the growing extent of their activities has raised some questions of a theological and pastoral nature, especially with regard to their relationship to the individual Diocesan Bishops.

    7. Twenty years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held in 1985, acknowledged the pastoral usefulness, indeed the need, in the present circumstances of Episcopal Conferences. It also observed that {in their manner of proceeding, Episcopal Conferences must keep in mind the good of the Church, that is, the service of unity and the inalienable responsibility of each Bishop in relation to the universal Church and to his particular Church".(35) The Synod therefore called for a fuller and more profound study of the theological and, consequently, the juridical status of Episcopal Conferences, and above all of the issue of their doctrinal authority, in the light of No. 38 of the conciliar Decree Christus Dominus and Canons 447 and 753 of the Code of Canon Law.(36)

          The present document also is a fruit of that study. In strict fidelity to the documents of the Second Vatican Council, its aim is to set out the basic theological and juridical principles regarding Episcopal Conferences, and to offer the juridical synthesis indispensable for helping to establish a theologically well-grounded and juridically sound praxis for the Conferences.

NEXT WEEK: Part One of II. Apostolos Suos

    FOOTNOTES:
  • (28) Sacra Congregatio Episcoporum et Regularium, Instructio “Alcuni Arcivescovi”, De collationibus quolibet anno ab Italis Episcopis in variis quae designantur Regionibus habendis (24 August 1889): Leonis XIII Acta, IX (1890), p. 184.

  • (29) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 37; cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 23.

  • (30) Paul VI, Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae (6 August 1966), I. Normae ad exsequenda Decreta SS. Concilii Vaticani II “Christus Dominus” et “Presbyterorum Ordinis”, No. 41: AAS 58 (1966), 773-774.

  • (31) Congregation for Bishops, Directory Ecclesiae Imago, De Pastorali Ministerio Episcoporum (22 February 1973), 210.

  • (32) Cf. Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 38, 5.

  • (33) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 459, 1. Such cooperation has in fact been fostered by the International Meetings of Episcopal Conferences, the Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano (C.E.L.AM.), the Consilium Conferentiarum Episcopalium Europae (C.C.E.E.), the Secretariado Episcopal de América Central y Panama (S.E.D.A.C.), the Commissio Episcopatuum Communitatis Europaeae (COM.E.C.E.), the Association des Conférences Episcopales de l'Afrique Centrale (A.C.E.A.C.), the Association des Conférences Episcopales de la Région de l'Afrique Centrale (A.C.E.R.A.C.), the Symposium des Conférences Episcopales d'Afrique et de Madagascar (S.C.E.A.M.), the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (I.M.B.S.A.), the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (S.A.C.B.C.), the Conférences Episcopales de l'Afrique de l'Ouest Francophone (C.E.R.A.O.), the Association of the Episcopal Conferences of Anglophone West Africa (A.E.C.A.W.A.), the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (A.M.E.C.E.A.), the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (F.A.B.C.), the Federation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Oceania (F.C.B.C.O.) (Cf. Annuario Pontificio 1998, Vatican City 1998, pp. 1112-1115). Nevertheless, these institutions are not properly Episcopal Conferences.

  • (34) John Paul II, Address to the Roman Curia (28 June 1986), No. 7c: AAS 79 (1987), 197.

  • (35) Final Report, II, C), 5: L'Osservatore Romano, 10 December 1985, p. 7.

  • (36) Cf. ibid., II, C), 8, b.


August 31, 1998       volume 9, no. 170
THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS

DAILY CATHOLIC

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