By Fr. Gregory Baum, O.S.A.
— A MEMBER OF THE VATICAN SECRETARIAT FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY
COLLEGIALITY is, for most Catholics, a new word. It signifies the fact that the totality of bishops including the pope constitute a single and undivided body, which as such is successor of the Apostles.
This means that the pope is not the only subject of supreme ministerial power in the Church; the college of bishops — and when we say college, we always include the pope—is also a seat of this same supreme ministerial power. which Christ gave to the Church.
The practical consequences of this doctrine are obvious. There in
is the exercise of supreme jurisdiction in the Church• and in the supreme teaching office, a dialogue structure or, to use another word, a partnership relation.
While the Pope is the supreme bishop enjoying the primacy as defined by the First Vatican Council. he is at the same time member and head of the Episcopal College. which has the same supreme authority in the Church.
Both subjects exercise the same supreme ministerial power, yet the relation between the two subjects in the exercise of this power cannot he reduced to a legal formula. It is ultimately determined by charity, service. and the common concern for the Church.
The Pope should use this supreme power to serve the authentic concerns of the episcopate, and the bishops should make use of their proper authority to bring out more clearly the unifying role of the Bishop of Rome. 1 his, at least, is the ideal.
We will have to rethink a few of our concepts in the future. We will have to learn to think of the Pope as inseparably linked to the College of Bishops, who are with him and under him responsible for the Church universal. When we say College of Bishops. we always include the Pope.
In fact the Pope belongs to this college so inseparably that even when he acts or speaks alone, in virtue of the prerogatives of the successor of St. Peter, he does so in favour of all the bishops and, as it were, in their name.
The Pope is not bound by the formal consent of his brothers in the episcopate, but as member and head of the Episcopal College he will always act from within this
college and give expression to its common concern.
This collegiality is a traditional concept. though after some centuries of centralisation, it appears new to us. It is not an easy concept to grasp, since its relationship to papal primacy cannot he expressed in a perfect formula. It is even more difficult to practise it!
Our bishops have not been brought up to feel co-responsible for the whole Church, nor sometimes even for the Church of their own country. They regard themselves as responsible for their own diocese and often consider any problem which exceeds the diocesan dimensions as a matter to be handled by Rome.
According to the doctrine of collegiality, however, a bishop. in virtue of his entry into the Episcopal College, is immediately coresponsible for the life of the universal Church.
How will this collegiality of the bishops be expressed? In many ways. probably. A senate or council, made up by the Pope and delegates from national episcopal conferences, meeting in Rome at regular intervals, will decide upon the policies of the Church, the implementation of the renewal, and other questions affecting the Church at large.
This body would then not simply be a consulting board of the Pope. but a true manifestation of episcopal collegiality and hence a council deriving its power, somewlsat as an ecumenical council, directly from the Lord of the Church.
Another manifestation of collegiality would be the celebration of national episcopal conferences with ministerial power to teach and legislate, with the approval of the Holy See, In the Church of of their country.
Again such an authority would
not be papal jurisdiction delegated to these conferences, nor simply the slimming up of the jurisdiction which each bishop holds in his own diocese. but true ministerial authority derived from the collegiality of the national episcopate.
When such institutions will one day be defined canonically in the Church's legal code, this will not be an act of law creating power, but rather the acknowledgement of episcopal collegiality.
Would the formation of such conferences, equipped with ministerial power. be of significance to the Catholic Church? Yes, and this for many reasons.
The problems facing the Church everywhere are such that they can no longer be solved on the local level. Cooperation and team-work become absolutely necessary, even if this means that some individual freedoms will have to be sacrificed. The conciliar renewal can only be Introduced if the bishops of a conntry collaborate.
An episcopal conference with the authority to teach and legislate will greatly transform the outlook and attitude of bishops, since the meetings will create a conciliar atmosphere, with reports. discussion, theological advisers. votings. and eventually final decisions. The bishops who are far-seeing will be able to exert influence by the strength of their arguments. and the bishops less in touch with the renewal movements will be brought up to date.
The celebration of episcopal conferences will be the occasion when public opinion in the Church—which. according to Pius XII, is essential to the Church will play its necessary role in the life of the Catholic community.
In some countries, Catholics are