Episcopal Conferences Aid But Don't Substitute Bishop, Says Pope

Receives Bishops of Province of New York

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 8, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II says that episcopal conferences exist to help bishops, not to substitute them, as he met with prelates of the ecclesiastical province comprising New York state.

In his address to the bishops, who are in Rome on their five-yearly visit, the Holy Father focused on the responsibility of a bishop and on the relations of collegiality he has with the pope and all other bishops.

Episcopal conferences cannot become a structure between the Apostolic See and individual bishops, the Pope observed.

“The title of bishop is one of service, not of honor, and therefore a bishop should strive to benefit others rather than to lord it over them. Such is the precept of the Master,” he said, quoting the Rite of Ordination of a Bishop.

“Considered within a properly theological context, ‘power of governance’ emerges as something more than mere ‘administration’ or the exercise of organizational skills,” the Pope added. “It is a means for building up the Kingdom of God.”

Remember that “that your sacred responsibility to teach, sanctify and govern cannot be surrendered to anyone else: It is your personal vocation,” the Holy Father said. The bishop exercises this mission in “hierarchical communion, linking all members of the episcopal college with the Pope.”

At the same time, “episcopal collegiality” means that “bishops today can only fulfill their office fruitfully when they work harmoniously and closely with their fellow bishops,” John Paul II said.

“As Church leaders, you will realize that there can be no unity of praxis without an underlying consensus, and this, of course, can only be attained through frank dialogue and informed discussions, based on sound theological and pastoral principles,” he added.

“Solutions to difficult questions emerge when they are thoroughly and honestly examined, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” the Pope continued.

“Spare no effort to ensure that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops serves as an ever-more effective means of strengthening your ecclesial communion and assisting you in shepherding your brothers and sisters in Christ,” he exhorted.

“Without prejudice, therefore, to the God-given authority of a diocesan bishop over his particular Church, the episcopal conference should assist him in carrying out his mission in harmony with his brother bishops,” John Paul II noted.

“The structures and procedures of a conference should never become unduly rigid; instead, through constant reassessment and reappraisal, they should be adapted to suit the changing needs of the bishops,” he cautioned.

“In order for a conference to fulfill its proper function, care should be taken to ensure that the offices or commissions within a conference strive to be of help to the bishops and not to substitute for them, and even less to create an intermediate structure between the Apostolic See and individual bishops,” the Pope added.

Cardinal Edward Egan greeted the Holy Father on behalf of the bishops present. The archbishop said that the challenges of the Church in the ecclesiastical province of New York “range from a radical secularism to a deep-seated antagonism in many quarters toward basic tenets of the Christian faith.”

To address these problems, “we are immensely blessed with dedicated priests and deacons, devoted religious women and men, and a laity who love the Lord and his Church with a fervor that never wanes.”

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