DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     September 21, 1998     vol. 9, no. 185


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 five.




    14. Episcopal Conferences constitute a concrete application of the collegial spirit. Basing itself on the prescriptions of the Second Vatican Council, the Code of Canon Law gives a precise description: "The Conference of Bishops, a permanent institution, is a grouping of Bishops of a given country or territory whereby, according to the norm of law, they jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of their territory in view of promoting that greater good which the Church offers humankind, especially through forms and programs of the apostolate which are fittingly adapted to the circumstances of the time and place".(61)

    15. The Council clearly highlighted the need in our day for harmonizing the strengths deriving from the interchange of prudence and experience within the Episcopal Conference, since “Bishops are frequently unable to fulfill their office suitably and fruitfully unless they work more harmoniously and closely every day with other Bishops”.(62) It is not possible to give an exhaustive list of the issues which require such cooperation but it escapes no one that issues which currently call for the joint action of Bishops include the promotion and safeguarding of faith and morals, the translation of liturgical books, the promotion and formation of priestly vocations, the preparation of catechetical aids, the promotion and safeguarding of Catholic universities and other educational centres, the ecumenical task, relations with civil authorities, the defence of human life, of peace, and of human rights, also in order to ensure their protection in civil legislation, the promotion of social justice, the use of the means of social communication, etc.

    16. Episcopal Conferences are, as a rule, national, that is, they bring together the Bishops of one country only,(63) since the links of culture, tradition and common history, as well as the interconnection of social relations among citizens of the same nation require more constant collaboration among the members of the episcopate of that territory than the ecclesial circumstances of another territorial entity might require. Nevertheless, canonical legislation makes provision for an Episcopal Conference to "be erected for a smaller or larger territory so that it includes either the Bishops of some particular churches constituted in a given territory or those presiding over particular churches belonging to different countries".(64) It follows that there can be Episcopal Conferences of varying territorial extension or of a super-national extension. The judgement on the circumstances relative to persons or things which suggest a greater or lesser extension of the territory of a Conference is reserved to the Holy See. In fact, "after hearing the Bishops involved, it pertains to the supreme Church authority alone to erect, suppress or change the Conferences of Bishops".(65)

    17. Since the purpose of the Conferences of Bishops is to provide for the common good of the particular Churches of a territory through the collaboration of the sacred pastors to whose care they are entrusted, every individual Conference is to include all the diocesan Bishops of the territory and those who in law are equivalent to them, as well as coadjutor Bishops and the other titular Bishops who exercise a special task entrusted to them by the Holy See or by the Episcopal Conference itself.(66) In the plenary meetings of the Episcopal Conference, the deliberative vote belongs to diocesan Bishops and to those who are equivalent to them in law, as well as to coadjutor Bishops; and this by reason of the law itself. The statutes of the Conference cannot provide otherwise.(67) The President and Vice-President of the Episcopal Conference must be chosen only from among the members who are diocesan Bishops.(68) As regards auxiliary Bishops and other titular Bishops who are members of the Episcopal Conference, the statues of the Conference should determine whether their vote is deliberative or consultative.(69) In this respect, the proportion between diocesan Bishops and auxiliary and other titular Bishops should be taken into account, in order that a possible majority of the latter may not condition the pastoral government of the diocesan Bishops. However, it is appropriate that the statutes of Episcopal Conferences allow for the presence of Bishops emeriti, and that they have a consultative vote. Particular care should be taken to enable them to take part in some study Commissions, when these deal with issues in which a Bishop emeritus is particularly competent. Given the nature of the Episcopal Conference, a member's participation in the Conference cannot be delegated to someone else.

    18. Every Episcopal Conference has its own statutes, which it frames itself. These must however receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See. Among other things these are "to provide for the holding of plenary meetings of the Conference as well as for the establishment of a permanent council, of a general secretariat of the Conference, and other offices and commissions which in the judgement of the Conference will help it fulfil its aims more effectively".(70) Such aims, however, require that an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary sessions be avoided. The essential fact must be kept in mind that the Episcopal Conferences with their commissions and offices exist to be of help to the Bishops and not to substitute for them.

    19. The authority of the Episcopal Conference and its field of action are in strict relation to the authority and action of the diocesan Bishop and the Bishops equivalent to them in law. Bishops "preside in the place of God over the flock whose shepherds they are, as teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship and ministers of government. (...) By divine institution, Bishops have succeeded to the Apostles as Shepherds of the Church",(71) and they "govern the particular churches entrusted to them as the vicars and ambassadors of Christ, by their counsel, exhortations and example, but also by their authority and sacred power (...). This power, which they personally exercise in Christ's name is proper, ordinary and immediate".(72) Its exercise is regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and this is the necessary consequence of the relation between the universal Church and the particular Church, since the latter exists only as a portion of the People of God "in which the one catholic Church is truly present and operative".(73) In fact, "the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the episcopal College are proper elements of the universal Church that are not derived from the particularity of the churches, but are nevertheless interior to each particular Church".(74) As part of such regulation, the exercise of the sacred power of the Bishop "can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful".(75) This provision is found explicitly in the Code of Canon Law where we read: "A diocesan Bishop in the diocese committed to him possesses all the ordinary, proper and immediate power which is required for the exercise of his pastoral office except for those cases which the law or a decree of the Supreme Pontiff reserves to the supreme authority of the Church or to some other ecclesiastical authority".(76)

    20. In the Episcopal Conference the Bishops jointly exercise the episcopal ministry for the good of the faithful of the territory of the Conference; but, for that exercise to be legitimate and binding on the individual Bishops, there is needed the intervention of the supreme authority of the Church which, through universal law or particular mandates, entrusts determined questions to the deliberation of the Episcopal Conference. Bishops, whether individually or united in Conference, cannot autonomously limit their own sacred power in favour of the Episcopal Conference, and even less can they do so in favour of one of its parts, whether the permanent council or a commission or the president. This logic is quite explicit in the canonical norm concerning the exercise of the legislative power of the Bishops assembled in the Episcopal Conference: "The Conference of Bishops can issue general decrees only in those cases in which the common law prescribes it, or a special mandate of the Apostolic See, given either motu proprio or at the request of the Conference, determines it".(77) In other cases "the competence of individual diocesan Bishops remains intact; and neither the Conference nor its president may act in the name of all the Bishops unless each and every Bishop has given his consent".(78)

NEXT WEEK: Part Six of Apostolos Suos
  • (61) Code of Canon Law, Canon 447; Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 38, 1.

  • (62) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 37.

  • (63) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 448, 1.

  • (64) Code of Canon Law, Canon 448, 2.

  • (65) Code of Canon Law, Canon 449, 1.

  • (66) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 450, 1.

  • (67) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 454, 1.

  • (68) Cf. Pontificia Commissio Codici Iuris Canonici Authentice Interpretando, Responsum ad propositum dubium, Utrum Episcopus Auxiliaris (23 Maii 1988): AAS 81 (1989), 388.

  • (69) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 454, 2.

  • (70) Code of Canon Law, Canon 451.

  • (71) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 20.

  • (72) Ibid., 27.

  • (73) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 11; Code of Canon Law, Canon 368.

  • (74) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 13.

  • (75) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 27.

  • (76) Code of Canon Law, Canon 381, 1.

  • (77) Code of Canon Law, Canon 455, 1. By the expression “general decrees” is also intended the executive decrees mentioned in canons 31-33 of the Code of Canon Law: cf. Pontificia Commissio Codici Iuris Canonici authentice interpretando, Responsum ad propositum dubium Utrum sub locutione (14 maii 1985): AAS 77 (1985), 771.

  • (78) Code of Canon Law, Canon 455, 4.

September 21, 1998       volume 9, no. 184


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