DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     September 14, 1998     vol. 9, no. 180


To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO
          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 four.




    11. To provide a correct framework for better understanding how collegial union is manifested in the joint pastoral action of the Bishops of a geographic area, it is useful to recall—even briefly—how individual Bishops, in their ordinary pastoral ministry, are related to the universal Church. It is necessary, in fact, to remember that the membership of individual Bishops in the College of Bishops is expressed, relative to the entire Church, not only in so-called collegial acts, but also in the care for the whole Church which, although not exercised by acts of jurisdiction, nonetheless contributes greatly to the good of the universal Church. All Bishops, in fact, must promote and defend the unity of faith and the discipline which is common to the whole Church, and foster every activity which is common to the whole Church, especially in efforts to increase faith and to make the light of truth shine on all people.(47) “For the rest, it is true that by governing well their own Church as a portion of the universal Church, they themselves are effectively contributing to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which is also the body of the Churches”.(48)

          Bishops contribute to the good of the universal Church not only by the proper exercise of the munus regendi in their particular Churches, but also by the exercise of the offices of teaching and sanctifying.

          Certainly the individual Bishops, as teachers of the faith, do not address the universal community of the faithful except through the action of the entire College of Bishops. In fact, only the faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of a particular Bishop are required to accept his judgement given in the name of Christ in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. In effect, “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth”; (49) and their teaching, inasmuch as it transmits faithfully and illustrates the faith to be believed and applied in living, is of great benefit to the whole Church.

          The individual Bishop too, as “steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood”,(50) in the exercise of his office of sanctifying contributes greatly to the Church's work of glorifying God and making men holy. This is a work of the whole Church of Christ, acting in every legitimate liturgical celebration carried out in communion with the Bishop and under his direction.

    12. When the Bishops of a territory jointly exercise certain pastoral functions for the good of their faithful, such joint exercise of the episcopal ministry is a concrete application of collegial spirit (affectus collegialis),(51) which “is the soul of the collaboration between the Bishops at the regional, national and international levels”.(52) Nonetheless, this territorially based exercise of the episcopal ministry never takes on the collegial nature proper to the actions of the order of Bishops as such, which alone holds the supreme power over the whole Church. In fact, the relationship between individual Bishops and the College of Bishops is quite different from their relationship to the bodies set up for the above-mentioned joint exercise of certain pastoral tasks.

          The collegiality of the actions of the body of Bishops is linked to the fact that “the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches”.(53) “It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church”.(54) Likewise the College of Bishops is not to be understood as the aggregate of the Bishops who govern the particular Churches, nor as the result of their communion; rather, as an essential element of the universal Church, it is a reality which precedes the office of being the head of a particular Church.(55) In fact, the power of the College of Bishops over the whole Church is not the result of the sum of the powers of the individual Bishops over their particular Churches; it is a pre-existing reality in which individual Bishops participate. They have no competence to act over the whole Church except collegially. Only the Roman Pontiff, head of the College, can individually exercise supreme power over the Church. In other words, “episcopal collegiality in the strict and proper sense belongs only to the entire College of Bishops, which as a theological subject is indivisible”.(56) And this is the express will of the Lord.(57) This power, however, should not be understood as dominion; rather, essential to it is the notion of service, because it is derived from Christ, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.(58)

    13. Groupings of particular Churches are related to the Churches of which they are composed, because of the fact that those groupings are based on ties of common traditions of Christian life and because the Church is rooted in human communities united by language, culture and history. These relationships are very different from the relationship of mutual interiority of the universal Church with respect to the particular Churches.

          Likewise, the organizations formed by the Bishops of a certain territory (country, region, etc.) and the Bishops who are members of them share a relationship which, although presenting a certain similarity, is really quite different from that which exists between the College of Bishops and the individual Bishops. The binding effect of the acts of the episcopal ministry jointly exercised within Conferences of Bishops and in communion with the Apostolic See derives from the fact that the latter has constituted the former and has entrusted to them, on the basis of the sacred power of the individual Bishops, specific areas of competence.

          The joint exercise of certain acts of the episcopal ministry serves to make effective the solicitude of each Bishop for the whole Church, notably expressed in fraternal assistance to other local Churches, especially those which are closer and more needy,(59) and which likewise is conveyed in the union of efforts and aims with the other Bishops of the same geographic area, in order to promote both the common good and the good of the individual Churches.(60)

NEXT WEEK: Part Four of Apostolos Suos
  • (47) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 23.

  • (48) Ibid., 23.

  • (49) Ibid., 25.

  • (50) Ibid., 26.

  • (51) Cf. ibid., 23.

  • (52) Synod of Bishops of 1985, Final Report, II, C), 4: L'Osservatore Romano, 10 December 1985, p. 7.

  • (53) John Paul II, Speech to the Bishops of the United States of America (16 September 1987), 3: Insegnamenti, X, 3 (1987), 555.

  • (54) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 9.

  • (55) Besides, as is clearly evident, there are many Bishops who are not heads of particular Churches, although they perform tasks proper to Bishops.

  • (56) John Paul II, Address to the Roman Curia (20 December 1990), 6: AAS 83 (1991), 744.

  • (57) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 22.

  • (58) Cf. Jn 10:11.

  • (59) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 23; Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church Christus Dominus, 6.

  • (60) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 36.

September 14, 1998       volume 9, no. 180


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