Christus Dominus 28-32: Bishops and their Clergy

Christus Dominus 28-32 details the relationship between the bishop and the clergy of his diocese. Religious priests also are “constituted prudent cooperators of the episcopal order,” but diocesan priests hold “first place” because they have fully dedicated themselves in the service of caring for a single portion of the Lord’s flock.” Bishops should be free to oversee their priests, making assignments as needed to ensure the continuation of effective ministry.

The relationships between the bishop and the diocesan priests should rest most especially upon the bonds of supernatural charity so that the harmony of the will of the priests with that of their bishop will render their pastoral activity more fruitful. Wherefore, for the sake of greater service to souls, let the bishop call the priests into dialogue, especially about pastoral matters. This he should do not only on a given occasion but at regularly fixed intervals insofar as this is possible.

I’ve had very little witness to this, naturally. I do know that my archbishop in Iowa took a very public stance in meeting with clergy and laity. I know from experience he was an excellent listener and had an excellent memory for people and facts. My wife remarked that he remembered our adoption hopes from one encounter to the next. Did this make him a wise collaborator? I can’t say. But there’s no doubt that for a bishop to be involved in substantive dialogue, he’s going to have to be a good listener, or at least pretend to be.

Furthermore all diocesan priests should be united among themselves and so should share a genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of the whole diocese. They should also be mindful that the benefits they receive by reason of their ecclesiastical office are closely bound up with their sacred work. Therefore they should contribute generously, as the bishop may direct and as their means permit, to the material needs of the diocese.

I had one pastor who dropped a collection envelope in the basket each week. The priests I’ve known have been generous with their giving. It’s probably harder to effect a unity amongst themselves, given the demands of parish ministry.

Priests “charged with a pastoral office or apostolic organizations of a supra-parochial nature” are “closer collaborators” with the bishop. A nod is also given to priests who serve in non-parish apostolates.

Christus Dominus 30 continues:

Pastors, however, are cooperators of the bishop in a very special way, for as pastors in their own name they are entrusted with the care of souls in a certain part of the diocese under the bishop’s authority.

CD outlines this more deeply in three ways.

1. Pastors and their assistants fulfill the bishop’s role in “teaching, sanctifying, and governing” the faithful. In doing so, pastors are to cooperate with one another and other priests involved in non-parish apostolates. Why? Unity and better effectiveness in ministry. What CD calls a “missionary spirit” might be seen as the apostolate of evangelization. Check out this quote:

Moreover, the care of souls should always be infused with a missionary spirit so that it reaches out as it should to everyone living within the parish boundaries. If the pastor cannot contact certain groups of people, he should seek the assistance of others, even laymen who can assist him in the apostolate.

Even lay people. Imagine that.

To render the care of souls more efficacious, community life for priests-especially those attached to the same parish-is highly recommended. This way of living, while it encourages apostolic action, also affords an example of charity and unity to the faithful.

Another good point, and note the emphasis here. Community life for priests is highly recommended. And not just for those attached to the same parish. This is one area I think bishops have been very lax: in attending to the living needs of dicoesan clergy. My experience in rural Iowa tells me this would have been very difficult for pastors responsible for whole counties, but even so, priests would benefit from more social reinforcement from their peers, if not in living arrangements, then in more frequent gatherings. My pastor in rural Iowa lived about thirty miles from the nearest priest, but he had a healthy social life, and frequently vacationed with a friend or two in the priesthood. Bishops should be more vigilant about ensuring this happens.

2. Pastors are responsible for preaching and teaching. They are also entrusted with the bishop’s duty of sanctifying, seeing “to it that the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the center and culmination of the whole life of the Christian community. They should labor without stint that the faithful are nourished with spiritual food through the devout and frequent reception of the Sacraments and through intelligent and active participation in the Liturgy.”

Even in a document on bishops, we see the conciliar emphasis on “active participation.” CD 30 also underscores the important of the sacrament of Penance, and that pastors “should always make themselves available to hear the confessions of the faithful.”

In fulfilling their office as shepherd, pastors should take pains to know their own flock. Since they are the servants of all the sheep, they should encourage a full Christian life among the individual faithful and also in families, in associations especially dedicated to the apostolate, and in the whole parish community. Therefore, they should visit homes and schools to the extent that their pastoral work demands. They should pay especial attention to adolescents and youth. They should devote themselves with a paternal love to the poor and the sick. They should have a particular concern for workingmen. Finally, they should encourage the faithful to assist in the works of the apostolate.

A mission statement every priest should frame and hang on his office wall. CD 30’s point three advises “assistant pastors” cooperate with the pastor, do the things the pastor does, and provides a “united” front in ministry to the parish.

CD 31 deals with the suitability of a priest for the office of pastor. Does your pastor measure up in “knowledge of doctrine but also his piety, apostolic zeal and other gifts and qualities which are necessary for the proper exercise of the care of souls?” Assorted administrative pieces are discussed, including the priority of the parish for the “good of souls” above other previous rights which might have existed previously, the ideal of the stability of the office of pastor in a parish, the suggestion that procedures for moving pastors should be simplified, the retirement of pastors, and the need for the bishop to provide for the support of resigned pastors.

Finally, this pertinent quote, CD 32 in its entirety:

Finally, the same concern for souls should be the basis for determining or reconsidering the erection or suppression of parishes and any other changes of this kind which the bishop is empowered to undertake on his own authority.

Whew! Any comments, or are you as tired as I am after sifting through all that?


About catholicsensibility

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