Christus Dominus 16: A Bishop’s Practical Manual, of Sorts

The next six sections of Christus Dominus (16-21) together with the previous five have a sense of being a how-to manual for bishops. I’m not wishing to explicitly embarass bishops in general or in particular, but this being a public document, and one not often examined by the laity, this review is bound to set off local and universal alarm bells in the heads of those dissatisfied with their bishop(s). Section 16 is a lengthy one, so let’s get to it:

In exercising their office of father and pastor, bishops should stand in the midst of their people as those who serve. Let them be good shepherds who know their sheep and whose sheep know them. Let them be true fathers who excel in the spirit of love and solicitude for all and to whose divinely conferred authority all gratefully submit themselves. Let them so gather and mold the whole family of their flock that everyone, conscious of his own duties, may live and work in the communion of love.

One nod to “authority,” but also bishops are to “excel” in “love.” “Gather” — I love that word, don’t you? Bishops are responsible for the shaping of a working community.

In order effectively to accomplish these things, bishops … should arrange their life in such a way as to accommodate it to the needs of our times.

Yet again, an acknowledgement of contemporary needs, which I would not read only as the needs of 1965, but the needs of any present day. A subtle hint that Vatican II has set the Church on a path toward continual renewal.

Bishops are responsible for diocesan priests with whom they share “the whole pastoral work of the entire diocese.” They are to “be solicitous for the spiritual, intellectual and material welfare of the priests so that the latter can live holy and pious lives and fulfill their ministry faithfully and fruitfully.”

The “solicitous” teaching ministry of bishops is to be carried out for the clergy for spiritual renewal, Scripture, theology, important social issues, and “the new methods of pastoral activity.” Without comment, this sentence:

With active mercy bishops should pursue priests who are involved in any danger or who have failed in certain respects.

As much as sociology is maligned in these retrenchment days, Vatican II spoke favorably of it, suggesting bishops ought to employ suitable methods, especially social research.

(Bishops) should manifest their concern for everyone, no matter what their age, condition, or nationality, be they natives, strangers, or foreigners. In exercising this pastoral care they should preserve for their faithful the share proper to them in Church affairs; they should also respect their duty and right of actively collaborating in the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ.

This reads significant for me, does it for you? Bishops are not to tromp over the role of the faithful, not just in society, but in Church affairs. Lay people not only have a right to be involved in Church affairs, but a duty. CD16 concludes with a nod to ecumenical and interfaith affairs:

They should deal lovingly with the separated brethren, urging the faithful also to conduct themselves with great kindness and charity in their regard and fostering ecumenism as it is understood by the Church. They should also have a place in their hearts for the non-baptized so that upon them too there may shine the charity of Christ Jesus, to whom the bishops are witnesses before all …

We all recognize the bishops have failed badly in their solicitude for fallen priests. It would seem the needs of the present times indicate special and concerted outreach to troubled clergy. Are bishops too focused on the litigation aspects? Not that they can’t or shouldn’t attend to both the accusations and fallen priests, but the laity expect and deserve bishops who know their role in guiding clergy, as “sons and friends,” as Vatican II says.

Commentary from out there?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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