DAILY CATHOLIC     FRI-SAT-SUN     July 24-26, 1998     vol. 9, no. 144

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- At a press conference in Rome today, introducing the new apostolic letter Apostolos Suos, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explained that a statement issued by an episcopal conference cannot be considered authoritative unless the bishops adopt it unanimously, because the truths of the faith are not decided by majority votes.

          The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was helping reporters to analyze the motu proprio formally issued today by Pope John Paul II, setting forth the proper role of the national bishops' conferences. (For a fuller description of the apostolic letter, see yesterday's CWN news feature.)

          Cardinal Ratzinger briefed the press along with several other ranking Church officials: Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague, the president of the council of European bishops' conferences; Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, the secretary of the Congregation for Bishops (who was representing the newly appointed prefect of that Congregation, Cardinal Moreiera Neves, who has not yet arrived in Rome to take up his new post); and Archbishop Julian Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts-- the body charged with the interpretation of Canon Law.

          The Pope's letter affects the 108 episcopal conferences around the world. (It does not affect the 12 groups which bring together the heads of episcopal conferences in various geographical regions, nor does it affect the synods of bishops that govern Eastern Catholic Churches.)

          Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out that the Pope's letter upheld the position of individual bishops who might be in the minority within an episcopal conference, but remain the authoritative teachers of their own dioceses. He emphasized that each bishops carries personal responsibility for the work of the episcopal conference, and that responsibility cannot be delegated to committees or staff aides.

          Archbishop Monterisi observed that the papal document had been prepared in response to a request made by several bishops during the special synod of 1985. During the ten-year process of preparing the document, he added, there had been an extensive process of consultation with all of the world's episcopal conferences. The first draft of what would eventually become Apostolos Suos was conveyed to the world's bishops in January 1988, and the bishops' responses were incorporated into later drafts prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in collaboration with the Council for Legislative Texts.

          Archbishop Herranz, the head of that latter body, said that the apostolic letter itself has "the power of universal law," and that individual episcopal conferences may not change the rules set forth by the Holy Father in this letter. It is, he said, "an ordinary instrument of the legislative activity by the Supreme Pastor of the Church."

          Archbishop Herranz said that the most important new teaching contained in Apostolos Suos involves the doctrinal authority of the bishops' conferences. On that point, the Pope made it clear that a doctrinal statement could be considered final only if it was endorsed unanimously by every diocesan bishop belonging to the conference.

          All of the participants at the press conference agreed that a document issued by a committee of bishops, or by the conference staff, would have "informational" value, but must be regarded as "provisional." Such documents should not be published in the name of the bishops' conference, they said.

          Archbishop Herranz also pointed to other new elements in the apostolic letter, such as the requirement that the president of the episcopal conference must be an active diocesan bishop, rather than an auxiliary or titular bishop, and that the voting system within the conference must not allow auxiliary bishops to hold a majority.

Articles provided through Catholic World News Service.
CWN is not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provides this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

July 24-26, 1998       volume 9, no. 144


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