Christus Dominus 36-38: Bishops in Synods, Councils, and Conferences

Those who see the USCCB as a candidate for bureaucratic downsizing, consider Christus Dominus 36:

From the very first centuries of the Church bishops, as rulers of individual churches, were deeply moved by the communion of fraternal charity and zeal for the universal mission entrusted to the Apostles. And so they pooled their abilities and their wills for the common good and for the welfare of the individual churches. Thus came into being synods, provincial councils and plenary councils in which bishops established for various churches the way to be followed in teaching the truths of faith and ordering ecclesiastical discipline.

This sacred ecumenical synod earnestly desires that the venerable institution of synods and councils flourish with fresh vigor. In such a way faith will be deepened and discipline preserved more fittingly and efficaciously in the various churches, as the needs of the times require.

Another “needs of the times” reference. I wish I started keeping count when I began this enterprise. Anyway, the presumption is that associations of bishops exist to do some good. They have the potential to do so. CD 37 picks up this theme, suggesting that bishops are more effective working with their brother bishops in episcopal conferences. The goal? Nothing less than “a holy union of energies in the service of the common good of the churches.”

I’m not too interested today in getting into a discussion on the tug of war between the curia and bishop’s conferences. The bishops are more than capable of sticking up for themselves in that kind of dogfight. And the one who aren’t are probably on promotion road anyway.

CD 38 makes six statements about episcopal conferences:

  • 1. A conference is defined as a national or regional association with the intent to “promote the greater good … especially through the forms and methods of the apostolate fittingly adapted to the circumstances of the age.”
  • 2. Members include ordinaries of every rite, plus auxiliaries, co-adjutors, and titular bishops. Roman legates are not included. Each conference can determine rules about the “voting power” or consultative role of auxiliary bishops.
  • 3. Conferences draw up their own rules, subject to approval from Rome.
  • 4. Decisions of the episcopal conference, provided they have been approved legitimately and by the votes of at least two-thirds of the prelates who have a deliberative vote in the conference, and have been recognized by the Apostolic See, are to have juridically binding force only in those cases prescribed by the common law or determined by a special mandate of the Apostolic See, given either spontaneously or in response to a petition of the conference itself.

This item has been changed recently by the curia, which requires unanimity. But as we’ve seen in the case of one ordinary with the sex abuse directives, any bishop is more or less free to do as he wishes.

  • 5. Nations may merge conferences, and single national conferences should maintain communication with each other.
  • 6. It is highly recommended that the prelates of the Oriental Churches, promoting the discipline of their own churches in synods and efficaciously fostering works for the good of religion, should take into account also the common good of the whole territory where many churches of different rites exist. They should exchange views at inter-ritual meetings in keeping with norms to be given by the competent authority.

Hopefully we’ll finish up this document in the next day ro two; there are only three more posts to come. I might alter my plan and focus next on the Decree on the Laity rather than on the one devoted to priestly training. We’ll see.

Comments on episcopal conferences?


About catholicsensibility

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