Monday, October 22, 2012

The Council at 50: A New Way of Working for Bishops: Consultation

Welcome to one of the series of blogs on the Second Vatican Council. Each piece reviews one of the 16 documents produced by the Council Fathers during the extraordinary occasion in Church history. Vatican II, which drew together the world’s bishops, opened fifty years ago in St. Peter’s Basilica, October 11, 1962.
(Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service)

As bishops from around the world gather in Rome for the XIII ordinary Synod of Bishops, they can thank the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council for making the opportunity possible. The Synod of Bishops, established by Pope Paul VI prior to the conclusion of the Council, implemented the bishops’ desire for a permanent structure that would be available to the pope, as needed, to discuss important topics in the Church.  In this way, the pope could draw upon the experience and insights of bishops who exercise their ministry within different circumstances and conditions and make decisions that respond to the needs of the Church in the many countries where she exists.

The importance of consultation in the exercise of Church governance is a theme that echoes throughout Christus Dominus (Christ the Lord), the “Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church.” It was the Council’s hope that opportunities for consultation would continue to thrive at every level of the Church’s structure. If your diocese has celebrated a diocesan synod any time in the last two decades you have experienced this hope in action. You are even more likely to be familiar with the councils that exist on the diocesan and parish levels that provide regular opportunities for lay women and men, religious, priests, and deacons to offer their insights and expertise to their bishop or parish pastor to assist them in making decisions that benefit the common good. 

This very blog is a service provided by another consultative structure explicitly affirmed by the Decree, the episcopal conference. The bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gather twice a year to discuss the pastoral needs of the nation and to offer mutual support for the exercise of their ministry as authoritative teachers, sanctifiers and pastors within their individual dioceses. Their cooperation and concern result in helpful initiatives that are best undertaken on the national level and that serve to strengthen the witness of the Catholic faith within the United States. The Decree encouraged bishops to utilize the media to promote the Church’s teaching. While the Council Fathers, in 1965, undoubtedly had in mind the print media – and perhaps also radio and television – their encouragements to adapt always to the changing needs of the times and to engage all of the means that are available to the Church continue to be relevant today.

A diocesan bishop’s ministry is most effective when it is carried out in collaboration with the auxiliary bishop(s), priests, and deacons, and with the cooperation of laity and religious. The bishop depends on their assistance to further the mission of the Church so that it is truly active and present throughout the diocese. This necessary collaboration and cooperation is enriched by the many and unique gifts that have been given by the Holy Spirit to the faithful in baptism and confirmation.

This brings us back to the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome on the topic of the New Evangelization. The “Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church has enabled the bishops to address together their concern for Catholics who may have fallen away from the regular practice of their faith or from belief in fundamental teachings of the Church. It facilitates bishops’ doing everything in their power to make certain that the needed activities of evangelization are supported and promoted by every member of the Church. We, therefore, await with anticipation the many insights and recommendations that the bishops who assembled from around the world propose to the pope as fruitful opportunities for the Church in our time.


Bishop Howard J. Hubbard heads the diocese of Albany, New York, and has been a bishop for 35 years.

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