DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     September 28, 1998     vol. 9, no. 189


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 six.




    21. The joint exercise of the episcopal ministry also involves the teaching office. The Code of Canon Law establishes the fundamental norm in this regard: "Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the Bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in Conferences of Bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own Bishops with a sense of religious respect (religioso animi obsequio)".(79) Apart from this general norm the Code also establishes, more concretely, some areas of doctrinal competence of the Conferences of Bishops, such as providing "that catechisms are issued for its own territory if such seems useful, with the prior approval of the Apostolic See",(80) and the approval of editions of the books of Sacred Scripture and their translations.(81)

          The concerted voice of the Bishops of a determined territory, when, in communion with the Roman Pontiff, they jointly proclaim the Catholic truth in matters of faith and morals, can reach their people more effectively and can make it easier for their faithful to adhere to the magisterium with a sense of religious respect. In faithfully exercising their teaching office, the Bishops serve the word of God, to which their teaching is subject, they listen to it devoutly, guard it scrupulously and explain it faithfully in such a way that the faithful receive it in the best manner possible.(82) Since the doctrine of the faith is a common good of the whole Church and a bond of her communion, the Bishops, assembled in Episcopal Conference, must take special care to follow the magisterium of the universal Church and to communicate it opportunely to the people entrusted to them.

    22. In dealing with new questions and in acting so that the message of Christ enlightens and guides people's consciences in resolving new problems arising from changes in society, the Bishops assembled in the Episcopal Conference and jointly exercizing their teaching office are well aware of the limits of their pronouncements. While being official and authentic and in communion with the Apostolic See, these pronouncements do not have the characteristics of a universal magisterium. For this reason the Bishops are to be careful to avoid interfering with the doctrinal work of the Bishops of other territories, bearing in mind the wider, even world-wide, resonance which the means of social communication give to the events of a particular region.

          Taking into account that the authentic magisterium of the Bishops, namely what they teach insofar as they are invested with the authority of Christ, must always be in communion with the Head of the College and its members,(83) when the doctrinal declarations of Episcopal Conferences are approved unanimously, they may certainly be issued in the name of the Conferences themselves, and the faithful are obliged to adhere with a sense of religious respect to that authentic magisterium of their own Bishops. However, if this unanimity is lacking, a majority alone of the Bishops of a Conference cannot issue a declaration as authentic teaching of the Conference to which all the faithful of the territory would have to adhere, unless it obtains the recognitio of the Apostolic See, which will not give it if the majority requesting it is not substantial. The intervention of the Apostolic See is analogous to that required by the law in order for the Episcopal Conference to issue general decrees.(84) The recognitio of the Holy See serves furthermore to guarantee that, in dealing with new questions posed by the accelerated social and cultural changes characteristic of present times, the doctrinal response will favour communion and not harm it, and will rather prepare an eventual intervention of the universal magisterium.

    23. The very nature of the teaching office of Bishops requires that, when they exercise it jointly through the Episcopal Conference, this be done in the plenary assembly. Smaller bodies —the permanent council, a commission or other offices—do not have the authority to carry out acts of authentic magisterium either in their own name or in the name of the Conference, and not even as a task assigned to them by the Conference.

    24. At present, Episcopal Conferences fulfill many tasks for the good of the Church. They are called to support, in a growing service, “the inalienable responsibility of each Bishop in relation to the universal Church and to his particular Church” (85) and, naturally, not to hinder it by substituting themselves inappropriately for him, where the canonical legislation does not provide for a limitation of his episcopal power in favour of the Episcopal Conference, or by acting as a filter or obstacle as far as direct contact between the individual Bishops and the Apostolic See is concerned.

          The clarifications thus far expressed, together with the normative adjustments which follow, correspond to the wishes of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of 1985, and they aim at illuminating and making more efficacious the action of Episcopal Conferences. The Conferences will opportunely review their statutes in order to bring them into line with these clarifications and norms, as called for by the Synod.


    Art. 1. – In order that the doctrinal declarations of the Conference of Bishops referred to in No. 22 of the present Letter may constitute authentic magisterium and be published in the name of the Conference itself, they must be unanimously approved by the Bishops who are members, or receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See if approved in plenary assembly by at least two thirds of the Bishops belonging to the Conference and having a deliberative vote.

    Art. 2. – No body of the Episcopal Conference, outside of the plenary assembly, has the power to carry out acts of authentic magisterium. The Episcopal Conference cannot grant such power to its Commissions or other bodies set up by it.

    Art. 3. – For statements of a different kind, different from those mentioned in article 2, the Doctrinal Commission of the Conference of Bishops must be authorized explicitly by the Permanent Council of the Conference.

    Art. 4. – The Episcopal Conferences are to review their statutes in order that they may be consistent with the clarifications and norms of the present document as well as the Code of Canon Law, and they should send them subsequently to the Apostolic See for recognitio, in accordance with canon 451 of the Code of Canon Law.

    In order that the action of Episcopal Conferences be ever more fruitful in good works, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

      Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 21 May, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, in the year 1998, the twentieth of my Pontificate.
NEXT WEEK: Part Six of Apostolos Suos
  • (79) Code of Canon Law, Canon 753.

  • (80) Code of Canon Law, Canon 775, 2.

  • (81) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 825.

  • (82) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 10.

  • (83) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25; Code of Canon Law, Canon 753.

  • (84) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 455.

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

September 28, 1998       volume 9, no. 189


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