II. Catholic Understanding
Catholic Church is a communion of Eastern and Latin Churches, in
each of which the Church of Christ is truly present.89
Invisible communion with Christ is experienced in the Church's visible
communion in love and truth. The Church is united in a way that
is enriched by and transcends geographical and cultural diversity.
It stands in living communion with the Church of the past while
at the same time looking to the Church of the future. Its communion
through time extends back to the apostles themselves (cf. Rev 21:14),
who remain the foundations of the Church in its life and mission,
and who continue now to guide it. Christ himself leads the Church
through Peter and the other apostles, and through those who share
and continue their ministry today, the Pope and the rest of the
college of bishops.
unity involves holding in common all the doctrines of the Church.
There is room in this Catholic unity for diversity of theological
insight and expression, plurality of liturgical rites and canonical
discipline. It allows for debate and discussion, but not for disunity
in matters of faith. There have been times in the history of the
Catholic Church when the tension between unity in truth and diversity
of perspectives has not always been healthy and harmonious.
various ministries and charisms exercised in the Church from earliest
times, the primary service from the beginning is that of the bishop.
Catholics understand the college of bishops as continuing the care
of the apostles for all the churches. Bishops, assisted by presbyters
and deacons, are called to lead into holiness, serving the Church's
unity with Christ by Word and Sacrament. The Second Vatican Council
taught that the fullness of the sacrament of orders is given by
ordination to the episcopate. At the heart of the bishop's ministry
is pastoral service of the unity of the Church in love and in truth.
To be effective instruments in this service, bishops must have the
authority necessary to ensure the unity so essential to the Church's
life and mission.
unity in love and unity in truth belong together, so do pastoral
leadership and teaching authority, both focused above all in the
celebration of the Eucharist. Apostolic communities need people
to proclaim the Gospel with authority, themselves under the authority
of Christ himself. There is "an interdependence in communion
between the spiritual instinct of the whole body of the faithful
and those who are empowered to make normative acts of discernment
of what is, or is not, faithful to the Christian tradition."90
This is the specific teaching role of the bishops in the Church:
"The task of authentic interpretation of God's Word in Scripture
and Tradition has been entrusted only to the Church's living teaching
office, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."91
Church's teaching office (magisterium) is not above God's Word,
but serves the Word. It teaches only what has been received. As
teachers, bishops should first listen to the Word, then ponder it
in their hearts, with awe before the mystery of divine revelation,
and then put it forward in purity.92
are members of the faithful entrusted with a special service in
the name of Christ. The Church is a community under the authority
of the Risen Lord. It is Christ who is the overseer of the Church,
exercising an invisible episcope over its faith and life, its worship
and mission (cf. 1 Pet 2:25).
understand the invisible leadership of Christ as pastor and teacher
to be exercised in many ways, especially through the college of
bishops. Bishops are signs and instruments of Christ as head and
shepherd of his Church, and so share in the authority by which Christ
himself builds up, teaches and sanctifies his Body. This understanding
of the ministry of bishops is essential to a Catholic presentation
of their teaching authority, exercised in Christ's name but always
as a service to the communion of the churches in love and in truth.
among the duties of a bishop is the proclamation of the Gospel.93
Bishops serve as heralds of the faith and teachers who share in
Christ's gift of authority. Christ himself wills to work through
them to preserve the Church unfailingly in the truth. There are
many ways in which a bishop may teach with authority: in pastoral
letters to his diocese; at diocesan gatherings; through involvement
in national and international commissions and assemblies; through
homilies in his cathedral or parishes; in celebrating the Eucharist
which is the source of the holy communion' of the churches
in Christ. The bishop is the teacher of the local church and, with
his brother bishops, of the universal Church. He proclaims with
authority a faith already lived in the church he serves. With love
he both listens to and speaks to the Church which is led by the
Spirit of Truth. The teaching of any individual bishop in itself
is not guaranteed to be preserved from error by the Holy Spirit,
and there have been and can be bishops whose teaching and way of
life are contrary to the Gospel entrusted to them. A bishop's teaching
is always more fruitful when he speaks the truth in love, bearing
witness to that truth not only by his words but also by a life of
authority of a bishop as chief pastor and teacher of a diocese is
both territorial and personal. As territorial it extends to all
the baptized in the diocese. As personal it implies particular care
for priests and deacons, especially those of his diocesan clergy,
and for the religious communities located in the diocese. In both
instances the exercise of episcopal responsibility requires frequent
consultation with priests and people. Each diocese is mandated to
develop consultative structures. On the one hand, priests and deacons
authorised by a bishop share in the liturgical, teaching, and pastoral
ministry, and priests must be consulted by means of a presbyteral
council. On the other hand lay people also collaborate with bishops
and priests in liturgical, teaching and pastoral ministry and they
are consulted in many ways, especially through parish councils,
pastoral councils, and diocesan synods. Lay people have specific
responsibilities in catechetics, education and communication, in
ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and in the missionary outreach
of the Church. In these and many other ways, they contribute to
the teaching ministry of the Church.
its very nature as a service to the communion of the Church, the
ministry of the bishop is properly exercised in communion with his
fellow bishops. The bishop can only teach and lead in an authoritative
way if he is united in communion of mind and heart with the bishops
across the world and through the ages. The catholic unity of bishops
with the faith of the Church from the apostles is expressed through
ordination in apostolic succession: the college of bishops today,
in continuity with the college of apostles, receives new members
through prayer and the laying-on of hands. One way in which this
is signified is the requirement that under ordinary circumstances
at least three bishops must be involved in the ordination of another
bishop. The catholic unity of bishops with the universal Church
today is expressed in and served by their living communion with
the Bishop of Rome. United with him, the bishops together are the
supreme authority in the Church. Their service of teaching with
authority is exercised above all at an ecumenical council. They
can also teach in other gatherings (e.g., the Synod of Bishops,
Episcopal Conferences and Synods of Eastern Catholic Churches) and
each teaches in his own diocese.
bishops exercise their supreme teaching authority, the Holy Spirit
guides and protects their discerning and proclaiming of the truth
of the Gospel. Those who are successors of the apostles have received
from the Lord the spiritual gift of authoritatively proclaiming
the true faith. This is a gift (charism) from the Lord, and like
all charismata (cf. 1 Corinthians 12-13) must be exercised in love.
The sure charism of truth is given to all the bishops in apostolic
succession, not so as to reveal new doctrines but to ensure the
faithfulness of the Church to the Word of God.
an ecumenical council, the bishops, in communion with the Bishop
of Rome, may solemnly proclaim by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining
to faith or morals. Catholics believe that when they do so, the
bishops are preserved from error by the Holy Spirit, so that "the
whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith."94
This preservation from error is what is meant by the "infallibility"
of their proclamation of doctrine. In definitions of doctrine the
truth of faith is unfailing, but that does not imply that the manner
in which they are formulated, promulgated, or presented could not
be improved. In a living tradition, there is always room for further
theological reflection and exploration of doctrine. This is part
of the process of reception of the teaching and its appropriation
in the faith-life of the community. A doctrine can only be defined
if it coheres with other doctrines. Such statements do not add to
the truth of the Gospel, but serve to clarify the Church's developing
understanding of it, and help to discern what is and is not in conformity
with the Apostolic Tradition. Definitions of doctrine are intended
to light the pilgrim path of faith and make it secure. Bishops also
teach the truth of the Gospel infallibly whenever, even though dispersed
throughout the world, they are in agreement in authoritatively teaching
a matter of faith to be definitively held, while maintaining their
communion among themselves and with the Bishop of Rome.
Bishop of Rome
each local church (diocese) has a focus for its unity in love and
in truth, so also do the local churches of the world in the communion
of the universal Church.95
The local church of Rome has a primacy in love among the churches,
and its bishop is the visible head of the college of bishops.
find a biblical basis for this service of primacy exercised by the
Bishop of Rome in Jesus' words to Simon Peter, "You are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:19), read in
the light of the last instructions to Peter, "Feed my lambs...
feed my sheep... follow me" (Jn 21:15, 17, 22). The prolongation
of the Petrine primacy in the Roman primacy is supported by the
commissioning of Peter to strengthen his brothers (cf. Lk 22:32).
Catholics recognize that the special position and role of the local
church of Rome, and the distinctive ministry of its bishop, developed
gradually in the early Church, and the manner of its exercise continues
to evolve. The Joint Commission has explored this in some depth
in its report Towards a Statement on the Church.96
Pope's ministry to all his brother bishops and their churches is
a pastoral service of the universal Church's unity in love and truth.
He is "the first servant of unity."97
In order that this ministry may be effective, the jurisdiction of
the Bishop of Rome is "universal", "ordinary"
and "immediate". His primatial authority is "universal"
because it is at the service of the communion of all the churches.
It is "ordinary" in that it belongs to him in virtue of
his office, rather than as delegated by others. It is "immediate"
in order to enable him, when necessary for the good of the universal
Church, and in faithfulness to the Gospel, to act anywhere in order
to preserve the Church's unity in truth and in love. This authority
is truly episcopal. As a fellow bishop, with a ministry of headship
among them and for them, the Pope serves the unity of the bishops
that they in turn may serve the unity of their churches. The Pope
serves from within the college of bishops, as servant of the servants
of God. As confirmed by the First Vatican Council and by Pope Pius
IX, the primacy of the Roman pontiff is there not to undermine the
bishops but to support and sustain them in their ministry as vicars
universal primacy of the Pope is a primacy of love, and his teaching
authority is a central dimension of that primacy. The universal
Church can remain united in love only if it is united in faith.
In service of the catholicity and apostolicity of the Church's faith,
and of the bishops' collegial responsibility for authentic discernment
and proclamation of that faith, the Pope is understood to be given,
when needed, the charism of infallibly proclaiming true doctrine.
When he makes a definition in this way, he is pronouncing judgement
not as a private person but as the head of the college of bishops
and chief pastor and teacher of the Church, in whom the charism
of the infallibility of the Church itself is individually present.99
believe that St. Peter's role of serving the unity of the community
of faith "must continue in the Church so that under her sole
Head, who is Jesus Christ, she may be visibly present in the world
as the communion of all his disciples."100
Because of his special ministry within the Catholic Church, the
Bishop of Rome also has a particular duty to foster the unity in
faith and love of all Christians.
say that the bishops in union with the Pope teach and shepherd in
the name of Christ is not to claim divine authority for all they
say and do. Like Peter and the other apostles, the Bishop of Rome
and his fellow bishops are aware of their human weakness and their
special need for continuing transformation of heart and life. The
faithful exercise of their ministry in the Church derives from grace
and depends totally upon grace, just as the whole Church is "founded
upon the infinite power of grace."101
Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, § 26.
Commission, The Word of Life (1996), § 58; cf.
Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, § 10.
Dei Verbum, § 10.
Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, § 25.
gentium, § 25.
gentium, § 25.
a Statement on the Church (1986), §§39-73.
John Paul II, Ut unum sint, § 94; cf. § 88.
First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus; Second Vatican
Council, Lumen gentium, § 27.
Lumen gentium, § 25.
Pope John Paul II, Ut unum sint, § 97.
Ut unum sint, § 91.