Bishops are the successors of the apostles. Having received the highest level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they share fully in the priesthood of Christ. In Christus Dominus, or the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, the Vatican II Fathers outlined the nature, role, and tasks of Catholic bishops and the relationships between bishops and other members of the Church and among the bishops themselves.
Here's a sampling of the topics and ideas you'll find in Christus Dominus.
* Catholic bishops are the successors of the apostles. They are leaders in glorifying God, sanctifying men, and building up the Body of Christ.
* The Roman Pontiff holds primacy in the universal Church, for he “has been granted by God supreme, full, immediate and universal power in the care of souls.”
* The Pope and bishops together carry out the work of Christ as teachers and pastors. In their unity, they form the episcopal college with the Pope as the head. Each bishop has the responsibility for his own particular Church, or diocese, but always remains in union with the Pope.
The Role of the Bishops in the Universal Church
* The Pope and bishops must remain closely united in the episcopal college, and together they exercise “supreme and full authority” over the Church. Bishops have the right to participate in ecumenical councils in union with the Pope.
* Bishops ought to be “solicitous” for the universal Church and for all the particular Churches, especially those in mission territories and those that are struggling. Bishops should help each other with brotherly care.
Bishops and the Apostolic See
* While bishops “enjoy as of right in the dioceses assigned to them all ordinary, special and immediate power which is necessary for the exercise of their pastoral office,” they always remain in submission to the Pope.
* The Roman Curia, which assists the Pope, “should be reorganized and modernized.” Its members should be chosen “on a more representative basis” to better express the universality of the Church.
* A diocese is “a section of the People of God entrusted to a bishop to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy.” It is one particular Church and a “community in the Holy Spirit...in which the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active.”
* Diocesan bishops are “witnesses of Christ to all men” as they teach, sanctify, and govern their particular Churches.
* In their teaching role, bishops proclaim the Gospel, call all to faith in Christ, strengthen the faith of their people, expound the mysteries, instruct in worship, show the faithful how to live the Christian life, and teach Christian values. They both present Christian doctrine in a way people can understand and protect that doctrine so it remains true and whole.
* Bishops should enter into dialogue with all men in charity, humility, truth, prudence, and sincerity.
* In the realm of catechesis, bishops must “develop in men a living, explicit and active faith, enlightened by doctrine” through preaching, doctrinal instruction, and public statements. Bishops should pay attention to both the content and method of catechesis.
* In their sanctifying role, bishops “are the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God.” They “control, promote and protect the entire liturgical life of the Church entrusted to them.” They serve as “spiritual guides” and examples to their people as they help the faithful better understand and live the sacraments.
* Although bishops exercise “divinely conferred authority” over their dioceses, they do so out of paternal love and service in order to form their people into one family.
* Bishops should always seek the welfare of their priests and laity and assist them to grow in the Christian faith and actively and lovingly perform their roles in the Church.
* Civil authorities cannot interfere with a bishop's apostolic functions. Bishops are appointed and installed by ecclesiastical authorities, not by civil authorities.
* Diocesan boundaries should be revised so as to consider the “composition of the People of God” in a particular location; the size of each diocese; the number of priests, offices, institutions, and activities available; current and future resources; and the diversity of rites and languages.
Those Who Cooperate with the Diocesan Bishop in His Pastoral Task
* Auxiliary and coadjutor bishops assist diocesan bishops in their apostolic tasks. They must be united with diocesan bishops in fraternal charity. Coadjutor bishops hold the right of succession, but auxiliary bishops do not.
* The diocesan curia, vicar general, episcopal vicars, and priest councils also assist diocesan bishops.
* Diocesan clergy form one family with the bishop as father. All priests “share and exercise with the bishop the one priesthood of Christ.”
* Bishops and their clergy should meet regularly to promote unity and mutual support.
* Parish priests share in their bishop's tasks of teaching, sanctifying, and governing at the parish level. They preach God's word, instruct the faithful, celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments, and encourage Christian growth in individuals, families, and the parish as a whole.
* In appointing parish priests, bishops must above all consider the good of souls.
* All religious should “work zealously and diligently for the building up and growth of the whole Mystical Body of Christ and for the good of the particular churches.” They are part of their dioceses and must show respect, reverence, and obedience for their bishops. They must also cooperate in apostolic work as necessary.
Synods, Councils and Especially Episcopal Conferences
* Bishops should work together for the good of the universal Church and their particular Churches. They join together in synods, councils, and episcopal conferences to develop a “common program” to teach the faith and regulate ecclesiastical discipline.
* Episcopal conferences allow bishops from a particular country or region to come together to work for the good of all. Their decisions are subject to confirmation by the Holy See.
The Boundaries of Ecclesiastical Provinces and the Erection of Ecclesiastical Regions
* Boundaries of ecclesiastical provinces should be adjusted for the good of souls, and ecclesiastical regions must be established as necessary so that bishops may better work together.
Bishops Discharging an Inter-Diocesan Function
* Offices should be established to help groups of dioceses in a region or country.
* Special attention should be given to the “spiritual welfare of military personnel.”
* General directories “concerning the care of souls” should be published to help bishops in their duties. Special directories dealing with special groups and with catechetical instructions must also be prepared.
The full text of Christus Dominus is available online at the Vatican website.