New Vatican constitution gives value to Catholic bishops’ conferences

In a speech to discas- tery leaders on May 9, a bishop said that the new Vatican constitution gives value to Catholic bishops’ conferences and their potential to foster communion between bishops and the Pope.

May 13, 2022

St. Peter’s Basilica, pictured on March 19, 2013. | Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.


By Hannah Brockhaus
In a speech to discas- tery leaders on May 9, a bishop said that the new Vatican constitution gives value to Catholic bishops’ conferences and their potential to foster communion between bishops and the Pope.

The preamble of Praedicate Evangelium, Bishop Marco Mellino said, affirms that bishops’ conferences “are currently one of the most significant ways of expressing and serving ecclesial communion in the different regions, together with the Roman Pontiff.”

Mellino, who is the secretary of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, said the constitution’s intention is “that of valuing the episcopal conferences ... in their potential for implementing the communion of the bishops among themselves and with the Roman Pontiff.”

He went on to say that this works to the extent that each of the bishops’ conferences “is a valid instrument which contributes, in a manifold and fruitful way, to the realisation of the collegial affection among the members of the same episcopate and provides for the common good of the particular Churches.”

Mellino’s speech was published on May 9 in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. It included reflections on the role of laity, synodality, and the Roman Curia’s orientation towards service, as outlined in the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium.

The new Vatican constitution, whose title means “Preach the Gospel,” was published on March 19 after nine years in production by the Pope’s Council of Cardinals.

It replaces Pastor Bonus, the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1988, and later modified by Popes Benedict and Francis.

Praedicate Evangelium will take effect on June 5, the Solemnity of Pentecost.

In the constitution, Mellino said, bishops’ conferences “are not considered intermediate hierarchical structures, but rather bodies of subsidiarity, which do not interfere with the Petrine office or the governance of particular Churches.”

“They express and foster the exercise of ‘co-responsibility in the communio’ for the pastoral benefit and common good of the particular Churches through the joint exercise of certain functions proper to them,” he said.

The bishop also drew attention to the use of the word “jointly” in Church law about bishops’ conferences.

In canon law, canon 447 says “a conference of bishops, a permanent institution, is a group of bishops of some nation or certain territory who jointly exercise certain pastoral functions for the Christian faithful of their territory in order to promote the greater good which the Church offers to humanity.”

The word “jointly” is used “in order to avoid the idea that in episcopal conferences is exercised the collegial power of the bishops, which can be exercised by them only when the whole College is convoked,” he said.

“Moreover, by making reference to the joint exercise of only ‘some pastoral functions’ and not all, the canon seeks to protect the responsibility that by divine right the bishops have for the Church entrusted to their care and not to affect the proper power that they have in the exercise of their pastoral ministry.” --CNA

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