DECREE ON THE PASTORAL OFFICE OF BISHOPS IN THE CHURCH
Christus Dominus - 28 October 1965
1. Christ the Lord, the Son of the living God, came to
redeem his people from their sins that all mankind might
be sanctified. Having been sent by the Father, he in turn sent
his apostles whom he sanctified by conferring on them the Holy
Spirit so that they also might glorify the Father on earth and
procure the salvation of men "for the building up of the Body of
Christ" (Eph. 4:12) which is the Church.
2. In this Church of Christ the Roman Pontiff, as the
successor of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the care of his sheep and
his lambs, has been granted by God supreme, full, immediate and
universal power in the care of souls. As pastor of all the faithful
his mission is to promote the common good of the universal Church and
the particular good of all the churches. He is therefore endowed with
the primacy of ordinary power over all the churches.
The bishops also have been designated by the Holy Spirit to
take the place of the apostles as pastors of souls and together
with the Supreme Pontiff and subject to his authority, they are
commissioned to perpetuate the work of Christ, the eternal
Pastor. For Christ commanded the apostles and their successor
and gave them the power to teach all peoples, to sanctify men in
truth and to give them spiritual nourishment. By virtue, therefore,
of the Holy Spirit who
1. Cf. Mt. 1:21.
2. Cf. Jn. 20:21.
3. Cf. VAT. 1, fourth session, part 1 of Dogm. Const. on the
Church of Christ, ch. 3, _Denz._ 1828 (306).
4. Cf. VAT. I, fourth session, Introd. to Dogm. Const. on the
Church of Christ: _Denz._ 1821 (3050).
has been given to them, bishops have been constituted true and authentic
tic teachers of the faith and have been made pontiffs and pastors.
3. United in one college or body for the instruction and
direction of the universal Church, the bishops, sharing in the
solicitude of all the churches, exercise this their episcopal function
, which they have received by virtue of their episcopal consecration
 in communion with the Supreme Pontiff and subject to
his authority. they exercise this function individually as regards
that portion of the Lord's flock which has been entrusted to each
one of them, each bishop having responsibility for the particular
church assigned to him. On occasion a number of bishops will
cooperate to provide for the common needs of their churches.
Accordingly the sacred Synod, having regard to the conditions
of human society which have brought about a new order of things,
has promulgated the following decrees in order to determine more
exactly the pastoral functions of bishops.
THE BISHOPS IN THEIR RELATION TO THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
I. THE ROLE OF THE BISHOPS IN THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
4. The bishops, by virtue of their sacramental consecration
and their hierarchical communion with the head of the college and its
other members, are constituted members of the episcopal body.
"The order of bishops is the successor to the college of the
apostles in their role as teachers and pastors, and in it the
apostolic college is perpetuated. Together with their head, the
Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him, they have supreme and full
authority over the universal Church, but this power cannot be
exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff." This
authority "is exercised in a solemn way in an ecumenical council."
Accordingly the sacred Synod decrees that all bishops who are members
of the episcopal college have the right to _
5. Cf. VAT II, Dogm. Const. on the Church, ch. 3, nn. 21, 24,
25: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 24-25, 29-31.
6. Cf. VAT. II, Dogm. Const. on the Church, ch. 3, n. 21: AAS 57
(1965) pp. 24-25.
7. Cf. John XXIII, apost. const. _Humanae Salutis_, Dec. 25,
1961: AAS 54 (1962) p. 6.
8. Cf. VAT. II, Dogm. Const on the Church, ch. 3, n. 22: AAS 57
(1965) pp. 25-27.
take part in an ecumenical council. "This same collegiate power can
be exercised in union with the Pope by the bishops whilst living in
different parts of the world, provided the head of the college summon
them to collegiate action, or at least approve or freely admit the
corporate action of the unassembled bishops, so that a truly collegiate action may result."
5. Bishops chosen from different parts of the world in a
manner and according to a system determined or to be determined by the
Roman Pontiff will render to the Supreme Pastor a more effective
auxiliary service in a council which shall be known by the special
name of Synod of Bishops. This council, as it will be
representative of the whole Catholic episcopate, will bear testimony
to the participation of all the bishops in hierarchical communion in
the care of the universal Church.
6. Bishops, as legitimate successors of the apostles and
members of the episcopal college, should appreciate that they are
closely united to each other and should be solicitous for all the
churches. By divine institution and by virtue of their apostolic
office, all of them jointly are responsible for the Church.
They should be especially solicitous for those parts of the
world in which the word of God has not yet been proclaimed or in
which, especially on account of the scarcity of priests, the faithful
are in danger of falling away from the obligations of the Christian
life or even of losing the faith itself. Bishops should, therefore,
do their utmost to ensure that the activities of evangelization and
the apostolate are zealously supported and promoted by the faithful.
It should, moreover, be their special care that suitable priests, as
well as lay and religious auxiliaries, be trained for those missions
and regions suffering from a lack of clergy. They should arrange
also, as far as it is possible, that some of their priests should go
to these missions or dioceses to exercise the sacred ministry there,
either permanently or for a fixed period.
Furthermore, bishops should bear it in mind that in the
expenditure of ecclesiastical resources they must take into account
the needs not only of their own dioceses but of other individual _
12. Cf. Paul VI, motu proprio _Apostolica Solicitudo_, 15 Sept.
1965: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 775-780.
13. Cf. VAT. II, Dogm. Const. on the Church, ch. 3, n. 23: AAS
57 (1965) pp. 27-28.
14. Cf. Pius XII, encycl. letter _Fidei Donum_, 21 Apr. 1957:
AAS 49 (1957) p. 27. Cf. also Benedict XV, apost. letter
_Maximum Illud_, 30 Nov. 1919: AAS 11 (1919) p. 440; Pius
XI, encycl. letter _Rerum Ecclesiae_, 28 Feb. 1926: AAs 18
(1926) pp. 68 ff.
churches, since they too form part of the one Church of Christ. Let
it be their care also to give help according to their resources when
other dioceses or regions are afflicted by disaster. (See D. _46_,
7. Above all, they should extend their brotherly care to
those bishops who are harassed by calumny and hardship for the name of
Christ, who are detained in prison or prevented from exercising their
ministry. They should manifest an active fraternal interest in them
so that their sufferings may be lessened and alleviated by the prayers
and works of their brethren.
II. BISHOPS AND THE APOSTOLIC SEE
8.(a) Bishops, as the successors of the apostles, 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, but always without prejudice to the power which the Roman
Pontiff possesses, by virtue of his office, of reserving certain
matters to himself or to some other authority.
(b) Individual diocesan bishops have the power to dispense
from the general law of the Church in particular cases those faithful
over whom they normally exercise authority. It must, however, be to
their spiritual benefit and may not cover a matter which has been
specially reversed by the supreme authority of the Church.
9. In exercising his supreme, full and immediate authority
over the universal Church the Roman Pontiff employs the various
departments of the Roman Curia, which act in his name and by his
authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the
sacred pastors. It is the earnest desire of the Fathers of the sacred
Council that these departments, which have indeed rendered excellent
service to the Roman Pontiff and to the pastors of the Church, should
be reorganized and modernized, should be more in keeping with different
regions and rites, especially in regard to the number, their
names, their competence, their procedures and methods of coordination.
It is hoped also that, in view of the pastoral role proper to bishops,
the functions of the legates of the Roman Pontiff should be more
10. Furthermore, as these departments have been instituted
for the good of the universal Church it is hoped that their members,
officials and consultors, as well as the legates of the Roman Pontiff,
may be chosen, as far as it is possible, on a more representative
basis, so that the offices or central agencies of the Church may have a
truly universal spirit. It is urged also that more bishops, especially
diocesan bishops, be co-opted to membership of these departments, who will be better able to inform the Supreme Pontiff on the
thinking, the hopes and the needs of all the churches. Finally, the
Fathers of the Council judge that it would be most advantageous if
these departments were to have more frequent recourse to the advice of
laymen of virtue, knowledge and experience so that they also may have
an appropriate role in the affairs of the Church.
BISHOPS IN RELATION TO THEIR OWN CHURCHES OR DIOCESES
I. DIOCESAN BISHOPS
11. 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 so
that, loyal to its pastor and formed by him into one community in the
Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes one
particular church in which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Church of Christ is truly present and active.
Individual bishops to whom the care of particular dioceses
is committed care for their flocks under the authority of the Supreme
Pontiff, in the name of God, as their proper, ordinary and immediate
pastors, sanctifying and governing them. They should, however,
recognize the rights which are conferred by law on Patriarchs of other
Bishops should devote themselves to their apostolic office
as witnesses of Christ to all men. They should not limit themselves
to those who already acknowledge the Prince of Pastors but should also
devote their energies wholeheartedly to those who have strayed in any
way from the path of truth or who have no knowledge of the gospel of
Christ and of his saving mercy, so that ultimately all men may walk
"in all goodness, justice and truth." (Eph. 5:9)
12. When they exercise their teaching role, bishops should
proclaim the gospel of Christ to men. This is one of the principal
duties of bishops. Fortified by the Spirit they should call on
men to believe or should strengthen them when they already have a
living faith. They should expound to them the whole mystery of
Christ, that is, all those truths ignorance of which means
ignorance of Christ. They should show them, likewise, the way,
divinely revealed, to give glory to God and thus attain eternal
1. Cf. VAT II, Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches, 21 Nov. 1964,
nn. 7-11: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 29 ff.
2. Cf. Council of Trent, fifth session, Decree __De reform__. ch.
2, Mansi 33, 30; twenty-fourth session, Decree __De reform__.
ch. 4, Mansi 33, 159; VAT. II, Dogm. Const. on the Church,
ch. 3, art. 25: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 29 ff.
3. Cf. VAT. II, Dogm. Const. on the Church, ch. 3, n. 25: AAS
57 (1965) pp. 29-31.
They should demonstrate that worldly things and human
institutions are ordered, according to the plan of God the Creator,
towards the salvation of men, and that they can therefore make no
small contribution to the building up of the body of Christ.
Let them explain also how high a value, according to the
doctrine of the Church, should be place on the human person, on his
liberty and bodily life; how highly we should value the family, its
unity and stability, the procreation and education of children, human
society with its laws and professions, its labour and leisure, its arts
and technical inventions, its poverty and abundance. They should
expound likewise the principles governing the solution of those very
grave problems concerning the possession, increase and just distribution
of material goods, concerning peace and war, and the fraternal
coexistence of all peoples.
13. Bishops should present the doctrine of Christ in a
manner suited to the needs of the times, that is, so it may be relevant to those difficulties and questions which men find especially
worrying and intimidating. They should also safeguard this doctrine,
teaching the faithful themselves to defend it and propagate it. In
presenting this doctrine they should proclaim the maternal solicitude
of the Church for all men, whether they be Catholics or not, and
should be especially solicitous for the poor and weaker brethren whom
the Lord has commissioned them to evangelize.
Since it is the mission of the Church to maintain close
relation with the society in which she lives the bishops should
make it their special care to approach men and to initiate and
promote dialogue with them. These discussion on religious matters
should be marked by charity of expression as well as by humility and
courtesy, so that truth may be combined with charity, and
understanding with love. The discussions should likewise be
characterized by due prudence allied, however, with sincerity which
by promoting friendship is conducive to a union of minds.
Bishops should also endeavour to use the various methods
available nowadays for proclaiming Christian doctrine. There are,
first of all, preaching and catechetical instruction, which always
hold pride of place. There is also doctrinal instruction in schools,
universities, conferences and meetings of every kind. Finally, there
are public statements made by way of comment on events, as well as the
4. Cf. John XXIII, Encycl. letter __Peace on Earth___, 11 Apr.
1963 passim: AAS 55 (1963) pp. 257-304.
5. Cf. Paul VI, Encycl. letter __Ecclesiam suam__, 6 Aug. 1964:
AAS 56 (1964) p. 639.
6. Cf. Paul VI, ibid. AAS (1964) pp. 644-645.
press and other media of public communication, all of which should be
employed for the promulgation of the gospel of Christ.
14. Bishops should be especially concerned about catechetical instruction. Its function is to develop in men a living, explicit
and active faith, enlightened by doctrine. It should be very carefully imparted, not only to children and adolescents but also to young
people and even to adults. In imparting this instruction the teachers
must observe an order and method suited not only to the matter in hand
but also to the character, the ability, the age and the life-style of
their audience. This instruction should be based on holy scripture,
tradition, liturgy, and on the teaching authority and life of the
They should, furthermore, ensure that catechists are adequately prepared for their task, being well-instructed in the doctrine
of the Church and possessing both a practical and theoretical knowledge of the laws of psychology and of educational method.
They should take steps to reestablish or to modernize the
15. In exercising their mission of sanctification bishops
should be mindful of the fact that they have been chosen from among
men and made their representatives before God to offer gifts and
sacrifices in expiation of sins. It is the bishops who enjoy the
fullness of the sacrament of orders, and both priests and deacons are
dependent on them in the exercise of their power. The former, in
order that they may be prudent cooperators with the episcopal order,
have also been consecrated as true priests of the New Testament; the
latter, having been ordained for the ministry, serve the people of God
in union with the bishop and his clergy. It is therefore bishops who
are the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God, and it is their
function to control, promote and protect the entire liturgical life of
the Church entrusted to them.
They should therefore see to it that the faithful know and
live the paschal mystery more deeply through the Eucharist, forming
one closely-knit body, united by the charity of Christ;
"devoting themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts
6:4). They should aim to make of one mind in prayer all who
are entrusted to their care, and to ensure their advancement in
grace through the _
7. Cf VAT II, Decree on the Instruments of Social Communication,
4 Dec. 1963: AAS 56 (1964) pp. 145-153.
8. Cf. VAT. II, Const. on the Sacred Liturgy, 4 Dec. 1963: AAS
56 (1964) pp. 97 ff; Paul VI, motu proprio __Sacram
Liturgiam__, 25 Jan. 1964 AAS 56 (1964) pp. 139 ff.
9. Cf. Pius XII, Encycl. letter __Mediator Dei__, 20 NOv. 1947:
AAS 39 (1947) pp. 97 ff; Paul VI, Encycl. __Mysterium
Fidei__, 3 Sept. 1965: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 753-774.
10. Cf. Acts 1:14 and 2:46.
reception of the sacraments, and that they become faithful witnesses
to the Lord.
As spiritual guides of their flocks, bishops should be
zealous in promoting the sanctity of their clergy, their religious and
their laity according to the vocation of each individual.
remembering that they are under an obligation to give an example of
sanctity in charity, humility and simplicity of live. Let them so
sanctify the churches entrusted to them that the mind of the
universal Church of Christ may be fully reflected in them. They
should, therefore, make every effort to foster vocations to the
priesthood and to the religious life, and encourage missionary
16. In exercising his office of father and pastor the
bishop should be with his people as one who serves, as a
good shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him, as a
true father who excels in his love and solicitude for all, to whose
divinely conferred authority all readily submit. He should so
unite and mold his flock into one family that all, conscious of
their duties, may live and act in the communion of charity.
In order to accomplish these things effectively the bishop
"being ready for every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21) and "enduring all
things for the sake of the elect" (2 Tim. 2:10) should so arrange his
own life so to accommodate it to the needs of the times. His priests,
who assume a part of his duties and concerns, and who are ceaselessly
devoted to their work, should be the objects of his particular affection.. He should regard them as sons and friends. He should
always be ready to listen to them and cultivate an atmosphere
of easy familiarity with them, thus facilitating the pastoral
work of the entire diocese.
A bishop should be solicitous for the welfare --- spiritual,
intellectual, and material --- of his priest, so that they may live
holy and pious lives, and exercise a faithful and fruitful ministry.
With this end in view he should encourage courses and arrange for
special conferences for his priests from time. These could take the
form of extended retreats for the renewal of their spiritual lives or
courses intended to deepen their knowledge of ecclesiastical studies,
especially of sacred scripture and theology, of the more important
social questions, or of new methods of pastoral activity. (See D. 46, 7
A bishop should be compassionate and helpful to those priest
who are in any kind of danger or who have failed in some respect.
11. Cf. VAT. II, Dogm. Const. on the Church, ch. 6, nn. 44-45:
AAS 57 (1965) pp. 50-52.
12. Lk. 22:26, 27.
13. Jn. 15:15.
In order to be able to provide for the welfare of the
faithful as their individual circumstances demand, he should try to
keep himself informed of their needs in the social circumstances in
which they live. To this end he should employ suitable methods,
especially social research. He should be solicitous for all men
whatever their age, condition or nationality, whether they are natives
, visitors or foreign immigrants. In exercising his ministry he
should ensure that the faithful are duly involved in Church affairs;
he should recognize their right and duty to play their part in building up the Mystical Body of Christ.
Bishops should show affectionate consideration in their
relations with the separated brethren and should urge the faithful
also to exercise all kindness and charity in their regard, encouraging
ecumenism as it is understood by the Church. The non-baptized
also should be the object of their solicitude so that on them too may
shine the charity of Christ of whom bishops are the witnesses
before all men.
17. The various forms of the apostolate should be encouraged. Close collaboration and the coordination of all the apostolic
works under the direction of the bishop should be promoted in
the diocese as a whole or in parts of it. Thus all the undertakings
and organizations, whether their object be catechetical, missionary,
charitable, social, family, educational, or any other pastoral end,
will act together in harmony, and the unity of the diocese will be
more closely demonstrated.
The faithful should be carefully reminded of their obligation
to promote the apostolate according to their state of life and
aptitudes, and they should be urged to participate in or assist the
various works of the lay apostolate, especially Catholic action.
Those associations also should be inaugurated or encouraged which
have, either directly or indirectly, a supernatural object such as the
attainment of a more perfect life, the preaching of the gospel of
Christ to all men, the promotion of Christian doctrine or of public
worship, the pursuit of social aims, or the practice of works of piety
The forms of the apostolate should be duly adapted to the
needs of the times, taking into account the human conditions, not
merely spiritual and moral but also social, demographic and economic.
this can be done effectively with the help of social and religious
research conducted by institutes of pastoral sociology, the establishment of which is strongly recommended.
14. Cf. VAT. II, Decree on Ecumenism: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 90-107.
18. Special concern should be shown for those members of
the faithful who, on account of their way of life are not adequately
catered for by the ordinary pastoral ministry of the parochial clergy
or are entirely deprived of it. These include the many migrants,
exiles and refugees, sailors and airmen, itinerants and others of this
kind. Suitable pastoral methods should be developed to provide for
the spiritual life of people on holidays.
Conferences of bishops, and especially national conferences,
should give careful consideration to the more important questions
relating to these categories. They should determine and provide by
common agreement and united effort suitable means and directives to
cater for their spiritual needs. In doing this they should give due
consideration especially to the norms determined, or to be
determined, by the Holy See, adapting them to their own times,
places and people. (See D. 46, 9.)
19. In the exercise of their apostolic function, which is
directed towards the salvation of souls, bishops enjoy as of right
full and perfect freedom and independence from all civil authority.
It is, therefore, unlawful to obstruct them directly or indirectly in
the exercise of their ecclesiastical office or to prevent them from
communicating freely with the Apostolic See and other ecclesiastical
authorities or with their subjects.
In fact, the sacred pastors in devoting themselves to the
spiritual care of their flock are in fact promoting social and civil
progress and prosperity. With this end in view they cooperate actively with the public authorities in a manner consonant with their office
and fitting for bishops, enjoining obedience to just laws and prescribing reverence for legitimately constituted authority.
20. Since the apostolic office of bishops was instituted by
Christ the Lord and is directed to a spiritual and supernatural end,
the sacred Ecumenical Council asserts that the competent ecclesiastical authority has the proper, special, and, as of right, exclusive
power to appoint and install bishops. Therefore in order to safeguard
the liberty of the Church and the better and more effectively to
promote the good of the faithful, it is the desire of the sacred
Council that for the future no rights or privileges be conceded to the
civil authorities in regard to the election, nomination or presentation to bishoprics. The civil authorities in question, whose good
will towards the Church the sacred Synod gratefully acknowledges and
highly appreciates, are respectfully asked to initiate discussions
with the Holy See with the object of freely waiving the aforesaid _
1. Cf. St. Pius X, motu proprio __Iampridem__, 19 Mar. 1914: AAS
6 (1914) pp. 173 ff; Pius XII, Apost. Const. __Exsul
Familia__, 1 Aug. 1952: AAS 44 (1952) pp. 649 ff; Pius XII,
__Regulations for the Apostolate of the Sea__, 21 Nov. 1957:
AAS 50 (1958) pp. 375-383.
rights and privileges which they at present enjoy by agreement or
custom. (See D. 46, 10.)
21. As the pastoral office of bishops is so important and
onerous, diocesan bishops and others whose juridical position corresponds to theirs are earnestly requested to resign from their office if
on account of advanced age or from any other grave cause they become
less able to carry out their duties. This they should do on their own
initiative or when invited to do so by the competent authority. If
the competent authority accepts the resignation it will make provision
for the suitable support of those who have retired and for the special
rights to be accorded to them. (See D. 46, 11.)
II DIOCESAN BOUNDARIES
22. For a diocese to fulfil its purpose it is necessary
that the nature of the Church be clearly manifested in the people of
God belonging to the diocese. Bishops must be able to carry out their
pastoral function effectively among their people, and finally the
spiritual welfare of the People of God must be catered for as perfectly as possible. This requires not only a proper determination of the
territorial limits of the diocese but also a reasonable distribution
of clergy and resources in accordance with the needs of the apostolate. All these things contribute to the good, not only of the clergy
and the faithful who are directly involved, but also of the whole
Therefore as regards diocesan boundaries the sacred Synod
decrees that, insofar as the good of souls requires it, a prudent
revision of diocesan boundaries be undertaken as soon as possible.
This can be done by dividing, distributing or uniting dioceses,
changing their boundaries, or appointing a more suitable place for the
episcopal see, or finally, and especially in those dioceses which
comprise larger cities, by establishing a new internal organization.
(See D. 46, 12.)
23. In revising diocesan boundaries a first care should be
the preservation of the organic unity of each diocese, as in a healthy
living body. This applies to persons, offices and institutions. Due
weight being given in individual cases to the particular circumstances, the following general criteria should be born in mind:
(1) In determining diocesan boundaries the variety of the
composition of the People of God should be taken into consideration as
far as possible, since this may materially contribute to more effective pastoral care.
At the same time an effort should be made to ensure as far
as possible that the demographic groupings remain united with the
civil offices and institutions which constitute their organic structure. For this reason the territory of each diocese should be continuous.
The limits of civil boundaries should also be taken into
account where they occur, as well as the special characteristics ---
psychological, economic, geographical or historical --- of people and
(2) The size of the diocesan territory and the number of its
inhabitants should as a general rule be such that on the one hand the
bishop himself, assisted perhaps by others, is able to duly exercise
his pontifical functions and carry out his pastoral visitations in it.
He should also be in a position to control and coordinate effectively
all the apostolic activities in his diocese, and especially to know
his priests and all the religious and laymen who are involved in
diocesan activities. On the other hand a diocese should provide
sufficient and suitable scope for the bishop and his priests to employ
usefully all their energies in the ministry, taking into account the
needs of the universal Church.
(3) Finally, for the more effective exercise of the ministry
of salvation, each diocese should normally have enough priest capable
of looking after the People of God. Those offices, institutions and
activities should not be lacking which are suited to a particular
diocese and which experience shows to be necessary for its efficient
administration and for its apostolate. Lastly, resources for the care
of personnel and the maintenance of institutions should be already in
hand or at least it should be foreseen that they will be provided from
elsewhere. Accordingly, where there are believers of different rites,
the bishop of that diocese should make provision for their spiritual
needs either by providing priests of those rites, or special parishes,
or by appointing episcopal vicars, with the necessary faculties. If
necessary, such a vicar may be ordained bishop. Alternatively, the
bishop himself may perform the functions of an Ordinary for each of
the different rites. And if the Apostolic See judges that, on account
of some special circumstances, none of these alternatives are practicable, a special hierarchy should be established for each different
Likewise in similar circumstances provision should be made
for the faithful of a different language group either by appointing
priests who speak that language, or by creating special parishes, or
by appointing an episcopal vicar well versed in it. If it is deemed
suitable he may be ordained bishop, or the matter may be dealt with in
some other appropriate way. (See D. 46, 12.)
24. The competent episcopal conferences should examine all
matters relating to the changes and alterations to be made in dioceses
in their territories, in accordance with nn. 22, 23. This is without
prejudice to the discipline of the Oriental Church. A special episcopal commission may be established for the purpose, but the views of
the bishops of the provinces or regions involved should always be
taken especially into consideration. Finally, they should present _
2. Cf. VAT. II, Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches, n. 4: AAS
57 (1965) p. 77.
their recommendations and wishes to the Apostolic See. (See D. 46,
III. THOSE WHO COOPERATE WITH THE DIOCESAN BISHOP IN HIS
A. Coadjutor and auxiliary bishops
25. In governing their dioceses, bishops must take the good
of the Lord's flock as their highest objective. This will often
demand the appointment of auxiliary bishops, the bishop of the diocese
being unable to perform his duty sufficiently well for the good of
souls on his own, either because of the great size of the diocese, the
number of inhabitants, some special pastoral problem, or for some
other reasons. Sometimes indeed special circumstances may require
that a coadjutor bishop be appointed to assist the diocesan bishop.
Suitable faculties should be conferred on those coadjutors and
auxiliary bishops so that, without prejudice to the unity of the
diocesan administration or to the authority of the diocesan bishop,
their labours may be more effective and the dignity of the episcopal
office duly safeguarded.
Since coadjutors and auxiliary bishops are chosen to share
the burdens of the diocesan bishop, they should so perform their
ministry that in all matters they act in single-minded accord with
him. They should show all respect and reverence for the bishop of the
diocese, who for his part should have a fraternal affection for his
coadjutors or auxiliaries and should hold them in esteem. (See D 46,
26. When the good of souls requires it the diocesan bishop
should not hesitate to ask for one or more auxiliaries, who will be
appointed for the diocese, however, without any right of succession.
If it is not expressly provided in the letters of nomination, the diocesan bishop should appoint his auxiliary --- or each of
his auxiliaries --- vicar general or at least episcopal vicar. The
will, however, be dependent on his authority. He may think it well to
consult them in deciding matters of greater importance, especially
questions of pastoral significance.
Unless it has been otherwise provided by the competent
authority, the powers and faculties conferred by law on auxiliary
bishops are not terminated by the departure from office of the
diocesan bishop. It is indeed desirable, unless there are grave
reasons to the contrary, that the responsibility of governing the
diocese during the vacancy of the see should be entrusted to the
auxiliary bishops, or if there are several, to one of them
A coadjutor bishop, that is, one nominated with the right of
succession, should always be appointed vicar general by the diocesan
bishop. More extensive faculties may, in particular cases, be granted
to him by the competent authority.
For the greater present and future good of the diocese the
diocesan bishop and his coadjutor should consult each other on matters
of major importance. (See D. 46, 13.)
B. The diocesan curia and councils
27. In the diocesan curia the office of vicar general is
preeminent. When, however, the good government of the diocese requires it, the bishop may appoint one or more episcopal vicars who by
the very fact of their appointment will enjoy in specified parts of
the diocese, or in specific types of affairs, or in regard to the
faithful of particular rites, that authority which is conferred by the
general law on the vicar general.
Among the cooperators of the bishop in the governing of the
diocese are included the priest who constitute his senate or council,
such as the cathedral chapter, the council of consultors, or other
committees according to the circumstances and character of different
localities. These councils, and especially the cathedral chapters,
should be reorganized, as far as is necessary, to suit contemporary
Priest and laymen who are attached to the diocesan curia
should be mindful that they are collaborating in the pastoral work of
The diocesan curia should be so organized that it may be a
useful medium for the bishop, not only for diocesan administration,
but also for pastoral activity.
It is highly desirable that in every diocese a special
pastoral council be established, presided over by the diocesan bishop
himself, in which clergy, religious, and laity specially chosen for
the purpose will participate. It will be the function of this council
to investigate and consider matters relating to pastoral activity and
to formulate practical conclusions concerning them. (See D. 46,
C. The diocesan clergy
28. All priests, whether diocesan or religious, share and
exercise with the bishop the one priesthood of Christ. They are thus
constituted providential cooperators of this episcopal order. The
diocesan clergy have, however, a primary role in the care of souls
because, being incardinated in or appointed to a particular church,
they are wholly dedicated in its service to the care of a particular
section of the Lord's flock, and accordingly form one priestly body
and one family of which the bishop is the father. In order to allot
the sacred ministries more suitably and more equitably among his
priests, the bishop must have the requisite liberty in making appointments to ministries and benefices. All rights and privileges which in
any way restrict that liberty should accordingly be abrogated.
The relations between the bishop and the diocesan clergy
should be based before all else on supernatural charity, so that their
unity of purpose will make their pastoral activity more effective.
Therefore, to ensure an increasingly effective apostolate, the bishop
should be willing to engage in dialogue with his priests, individually
and collectively, not merely occasionally, but if possible, regularly.
Furthermore, the diocesan priests should be united among themselves
and should be genuinely zealous for the spiritual welfare of the whole
diocese. They should bear in mind that the worldly goods which they
acquire through their ecclesiastical functions are closely connected
with their sacred office, and they should therefore contribute
liberally to the material needs of the diocese, according to the
bishop's directives. (See D. 46, 18.)
29. Priests to whom the bishop entrusts a pastoral duty or
apostolic work of a trans-parochial nature collaborate even more
closely with him, whether they are assigned to a portion of the
diocese, a special group of the faithful, or a particular kind of
Outstanding assistance is rendered also by those priests who
whom the bishop entrusts various apostolic activities in schools or in
other institutions or associations.
Moreover, those priests who are involved in trans-diocesan
activities should be shown particular solicitude especially by the
bishop in whose diocese they reside, since they are engaged in apostolic
work of great importance.
30. Parish priests are in a special sense collaborators
with the bishop. They are given, in a specific section of the
diocese, and under the authority of the bishop, the care of souls as
their particular shepherd.
(1) In exercising the care of souls parish priests and their
assistants should carry out their work of teaching, sanctifying and
governing in such a way that the faithful and the parish communities
may feel that they are truly members both of the diocese and of the
universal Church. They should therefore collaborate both with other
parish priests and with those priest who are exercising a pastoral
function in the district (such as vicars and deans) or who are
engaged in works of an extra-parochial nature, so that the pastoral
work of the diocese may be rendered more effective by a spirit of
unit. Furthermore, the care of souls should always be inspired by a
missionary spirit, so that it extends with due prudence to all those
who live in the parish. And if the parish priest cannot make contact
with certain groups of people he should call to his aid others,
including laymen, to assist him in matters relating to the apostolate.
For the better ordering of the care of souls priests are
strongly recommended to live in common, especially those attached to
the same parish. This on one hand is helpful to their apostolate
work, and on the other gives to the faithful an example of charity and
(2) In their role as teachers it is the duty of parish
priests to preach the word of God to all the faithful so that they,
being firmly rooted in faith, hope and charity, may grow in Christ,
and the Christian community may give that witness to charity which the
Lord commended. They should likewise by means of
catechetical instruction lead all the faithful, according to their
capacity, to a full knowledge of the mystery of salvation. In
providing this instruction, they should invoke the help not only of
religious, but of the laity by establishing the Confraternity of
In carrying out their work of sanctification parish priests
should ensure that the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the
center and culmination of the entire life of the Christian community.
It should also be their aim to ensure that the faithful receive
spiritual nourishment from a frequent and devout reception of the
sacraments and from an attentive and fervent participation in the
liturgy. Parish priests must bear it constantly in mind how much the
sacrament of penance contributes to the development of the Christian
life and should therefore be readily available for the hearing of the
confessions of the faithful. If necessary they should call on other
priest who are fluent in different languages to help in this work.
In carrying out their duties as pastors parish priests
should make it their special concern to know their parishioners.
Since they are the shepherds of all the individual sheep they should
endeavour to stimulate a growth of the Christian life in each one of
the faithful, in families, in associations, especially those dedicated
to the apostolate, and, finally, in the parish as a whole. They
should therefore, visit the homes and the schools as their pastoral
function requires of them. They should manifest a special interest in
adolescents and young people; they should exercise a paternal charity
towards the poor and the sick. Finally, they should have a special
care for the workers, and should urge the faithful to give their
support to apostolic activities.
(3) Curates, as co-workers with the parish priest, should be
eager and fervent in their daily exercise of their pastoral ministry
under the authority of the parish priest. There should therefore be a
fraternal relationship between the parish priest and his curates;
mutual charity and respect should prevail, and they should assist each
other by advice, practical help and example, providing with harmonious
will and a common zeal for the needs of the parish. (See D. 46, 19.)
31. In forming a judgment as to the suitability of a priest
for governing a parish, the bishop should take into consideration not
only his learning but also his piety, his zeal for the apostolate, and
those other gifts and qualities which are necessary for the proper
care of souls.
3. Cf. Jn. 13:35.
Moreover the care of souls is the whole function of a parish
priest. It follows that, if a bishop is more easily and efficiently
too make provision for the parishes, all rights whatsoever of presentation, nomination and reservation should be abrogated, without
prejudice, however, to the rights of religious. Regulations for _
_concursus__, whether general or particular, should also be rescinded
where they exist.
Each parish priest should enjoy that security of tenure in
his parish as the good of souls requires. Therefore the distinction
between removable and irremovable parish priests should be abandoned
and the procedure for the transfer or removal of a parish priest
should be reexamined and simplified so that the bishop, while observing the principles of natural and canonical justice, may more suitably
provide for the good of souls.
Parish priests who on account of advanced years or for some
other grave reason are unable to perform their duties adequately and
fruitfully are earnestly requested to tender their resignation spontaneously, or when the bishop invites them to do so. The bishop will
make suitable provision for the support of those who retire. (See D.
32. finally, the same concern for the salvation of souls
should be the motive for determining or reconsidering the erection or
suppression of parishes and other changes of this kind. The bishop
may act in these matters on his own authority. (See D. 46, 21.)
33. All religious (including for the purposes of this
section members of other institutes professing the evangelical counsels) are under an obligation, in accordance with the particular
vocation of each, to 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. It is their duty to promote these objectives
primarily by means of prayer, works of penance, and by the example of
their own lives. The sacred Synod earnestly exhorts them to develop
an ever-increasing esteem and zeal for these practices. But, with due
consideration for the special character of each religious institute,
they should apply themselves more zealously to the external works of
34. Religious priests, who have been raised to the priesthood to be prudent cooperators with the episcopal order, are able
nowadays to give more help to bishops in view of the more pressing
needs of souls. Thus they may be said in a certain sense to belong to
the diocesan clergy inasmuch as they share in the care of souls and in
the practice of apostolic works under the authority of bishops. The
other members, too, of religious institutes, both men and women, also
belong in a special sense to the diocesan family and render valuable
help to the sacred hierarchy, and in view of the growing needs of the
apostolate they can and should constantly increase the aid they give.
35. In order, however, that the works of the apostolate may
always be carried out harmoniously in the individual dioceses and that
the unity of diocesan discipline be preserved intact, the following
fundamental principles are decreed:
(1) Religious should at all times treat the bishops, as the
successors of the apostles, with loyal respect and reverence.
Moreover, whenever legitimately called upon to do apostolic work, they
must carry out these duties in such a way as to be the auxiliaries of
the bishop and subject to him. Furthermore, religious should comply
promptly and faithfully with the requests or desires of the bishops
when they are asked to undertake a greater share in the ministry of
salvation. Due consideration should be given to the character of the
particular institute and to its constitutions, which may, if necessary, be adapted for this purpose in accord with the principles of
this decree of the Council.
Especially in view of the urgent needs of souls and of the
lack of diocesan clergy, those religious institutes which are not
dedicated to a purely contemplative life may be called upon by the
bishop to help in various pastoral ministries. The special character
of each religious institute should be taken into consideration.
Superiors should make every effort to cooperate, even taking responsibility for parishes on a temporary basis.
(2) Religious who are engaged in the external apostolate
should be inspired by the spirit of their own institute, should remain
faithful to the observance of their rule, and should be obedient to
their superiors. Bishops should not fail for their part to insist on
(3) The privilege of exemption whereby religious are reserved to the control of the Supreme Pontiff, or of some other ecclesiastical authority, and are exempted from the jurisdiction of
bishops, relates primarily to the internal organization of their
institutes. Its purpose is to ensure that everything is suitably and
harmoniously arranged within them, and the perfection of the religious
life promoted. The privilege ensure also that the Supreme
Pontiff may employ these religious for the good of the universal
Church, or that some other competent authority may do so for
the good of the churches under its jurisdiction. This exemption,
however, does not prevent religious being subject to the jurisdiction
of the bishops in the individual diocese in accordance with the
general law, insofar as is required for the performance of their
pastoral duties and the proper care of souls.
(4) All religious, whether exempt or non-exempt, are subject
to the authority of the local ordinary in the following matters:
public worship, without prejudice, however, to the diversity of rites;
the care of souls; preaching to the people; the religious and moral
education, catechetical instruction and liturgical formation of the
faithful, especially of children. They are also subject to diocesan
rules regarding the comportment proper to the clerical state and also
the various activities relating to the exercise of their sacred
apostolate. Catholic schools conducted by religious are also subject
to the local ordinaries as regards their general policy and supervision without prejudice, however, to the right of the religious to
manage them. Likewise, religious are obliged to observe all those
prescriptions which episcopal councils or conferences legitimately
decreed as binding on all.
(5) Organized cooperation should be encouraged between the
various religious institutes and between them and the diocesan clergy.
There should be the closest possible coordination of all apostolic
works and activities. This will depend mainly on a supernatural
attitude of heart and mind grounded on charity. It is the responsibility of the Apostolic See to foster this coordination in regard to
the universal Church; it is for each bishop to do so in his own
diocese and for the patriarchs and episcopal synods and conferences in
1. Cf. Leo XIII, Apost. Const. __Romanos Pontifices__, 8 May
1881: __Acta Leonis XIII__, vol. 2, 1882, p. 234.
2. Cf. Paul VI, Allocution, 23 May 1964: AAS 56 (1965) pp.
3. Cf. Pius XII Allocution, 8 Dec. 1950: AAS 43 (1951) p. 28.
There should be consultations beforehand between bishops or
episcopal conferences and religious superiors or conferences of major
superiors, with regard to apostolic activities to be undertaken by
(6) In order to promote harmonious and fruitful relations
between the bishops and religious, the bishops and superiors should
meet at regular intervals and as often as seems opportune to discuss
business matters of general concern in their territory. (See D. 46,
CONCERNING THE COOPERATION OF BISHOPS FOR THE COMMON GOD OF MANY CHURCHES
I. SYNODS, COUNCILS AND ESPECIALLY EPISCOPAL CONFERENCES
36. From the earliest ages of the Church, bishops in charge
of particular churches, inspired by a spirit of fraternal charity and
by zeal for the universal mission entrusted to the apostles, have
pooled their resources and their aspirations in order to promote both
the common good and the good of individual churches. With this end in
view synods, provincial councils and, finally, plenary councils were
established in which the bishops determined on a common program to be
followed in various churches both for teaching the truths of the faith
and for regulating ecclesiastical discipline.
This sacred Ecumenical Synod expresses its earnest hope that
these admirable institutions --- synods and councils --- may flourish
with renewed vigor so that the growth of religion and the maintenance
of discipline in the various churches may increasingly be more effectively provided for in accordance with the needs of the times.
37. It is often impossible, nowadays especially, for
bishops to exercise their office suitably and fruitfully unless they
establish closer understanding and cooperation with other bishops.
Since episcopal conferences --- many such have already been established in different countries --- have produced outstanding examples
of a more fruitful apostolate, this sacred Synod judges that it would
be in the highest degree helpful if in all parts of the world the
bishops of each country or region would meet regularly, so that by
sharing their wisdom and experience and exchanging views they may
jointly formulate a program for the common good of the Church.
Therefore, the sacred Synod makes the following decrees
concerning episcopal conferences:
38. (1) An episcopal conference is a form of assembly in
which the bishops of a certain country or region exercise their
pastoral office jointly in order to enhance the Church's beneficial
influence on all men, especially by devising forms of the apostolate
and apostolic methods suitably adapted to the circumstances of the
(2) Members of the episcopal conferences include all local
ordinaries of whatever rite (but not vicars general), coadjutor and
auxiliary bishops and other titular bishops to whom the Apostolic See
or the episcopal conferences have entrusted some special work. Other
titular bishops and legates of the Roman Pontiff, in view of their
special position in the region, are not __de jure__ members of the
The local ordinaries and coadjutors have a deliberative
vote. The statutes of the conference will determine whether auxiliary
bishops and other bishops entitled to attend the conference be given a
deliberative or consultative voice.
(3) Each episcopal conference will draw up its own statutes,
which will be subject to the approval of the Apostolic See. These
statutes will provide, among other things, for the setting up of those
offices which are requisite for the effectiveness of the conference,
for example, a permanent council of bishops, episcopal commissions and a
(4) Decisions of the episcopal conference, provided they
have been legitimately approved by at least two thirds of the votes of
the prelates who have a deliberative vote in the conference, and
provided they have been confirmed by the Apostolic See, shall have the
force of law, but only in those cases in which it is so prescribed by
the common law, or when it has been so declared by a special mandate
of the Apostolic See promulgated on its own initiative or at the
request of the conference itself.
(5) When the special circumstances require it, bishops of
different countries may, subject to the approval of the Apostolic See,
establish one joint conference. Moreover, contacts between episcopal
conferences of different countries are to be encouraged for the
promotion of the common good.
(6) It is earnestly recommended to prelates of the Oriental
Churches that when engaged in the improvement of morals in their own
Church and in the promotion of activities beneficial to religion, they
should take into consideration the common good of the whole of a
region in which there happen to be Churches of different rites. They
should meet representatives of other rites and discuss matters with
them, in accordance with rules to be determined by the competent
authority. (See D. 46, 41.)
II. THE BOUNDARIES OF ECCLESIASTICAL PROVINCES AND THE
ERECTION OF ECCLESIASTICAL REGIONS
39. The The good of souls requires well-adjusted
boundaries, not only of dioceses, but also of ecclesiastical provinces; it may indeed call for the establishment of ecclesiastical
regions in order that better provision may be made for the needs of
the apostolate in accordance with social and local circumstances. In
this way easier and more fruitful relations may be established between
bishops themselves and between them and their Metropolitans and other
bishops of the same country, and also between bishops and the civil
40. Therefore, in order to achieve these objectives, the
sacred Synod decrees the following:
(1) The boundaries of ecclesiastical provinces should be
reviewed as soon as is practicable, and the rights and privileges of
Metropolitans should be determined according to new and well-devised
(2) As a general rule all dioceses, and other territorial
divisions which in law are equivalent to dioceses, should be incorporated in an ecclesiastical province. Thus those dioceses which are
now immediately subject to the Apostolic See and which are not united
with any other diocese should either be consolidated into new ecclesiastical provinces, if that is practicable, or should be joined to
the nearest and most suitable provinces. They should be made subject
to the authority of the metropolitan archbishops in accordance with
the norm of the common law.
(3) Whenever it seems expedient, ecclesiastical provinces
should be consolidated into ecclesiastical regions, the organization
of which is to be determined by law.
41. The competent episcopal conferences should examine the
question of the boundaries of provinces of this kind and the establishment of regions in accordance with the provisions concerning the
boundaries of dioceses in nn. 23, 24 and should submit their decisions to the Apostolic See. (See D. 46, 42.)
III. BISHOPS DISCHARGING AND INTER-DIOCESAN FUNCTION
42. As the needs of the apostolate make joint control and
promotion of certain pastoral activities increasingly necessary, it is
desirable that some offices be established for the service of all or
several dioceses in a particular region or nation, and these may be
entrusted to a bishop.
The sacred Synod recommends also that fraternal relations
and unity of purpose in their pastoral zeal for souls should prevail
between the prelates or bishops exercising these functions and the
diocesan bishops and the episcopal conferences. These relations
should be determined by the common law.
43. The spiritual welfare of military personnel, on account
of the special nature of their life, should be the object of particular solicitude. A special military vicariate should therefore, if
possible, be established in every country. Both the vicar and his
chaplains should devote themselves with all zeal to this difficult
work in harmonious cooperation with diocesan bishops.
Diocesan bishops should for this purpose release to the
military vicar a sufficient number of priests well-fitted for this
difficult work. They should also give every encouragement to undertaking intended to promote the spiritual welfare of the military
44. The sacred Synod prescribes that in the revision of the
Code of Canon Law, suitable laws should be drawn up in conformity with
the principles enunciated in this decree, due consideration being
given to the comments made by individual commissions or the Fathers of
The sacred Synod further decrees that general directories
concerning the care of souls be compiled for the use both of bishops
and parish priests so that they may have definite directives to guide
them in the discharge of their particular pastoral function.
A special directory should also be compiled concerning the
pastoral care of special groups of the faithful according to the
various circumstances of different countries or regions, and also a
directory for the catechetical instruction of the Christian people in
which the fundamental principles of this instruction and its organization will be dealt with and the preparation of books relating to it.
In this preparation of these directories due consideration should be
given to the views expressed both by the commissions and by the
4. Cf. Sac. Consist. Congr., Instruction to Military Ordinaries,
23 April 1951: AAS 43 (1951), pp. 562-562; also Formula
Regarding the conferring of the Status of Military
Ordinariates, 20 Oct. 1956: AAS 49 (1957), pp. 150- 163; also
Decree on Ad Limina Visits of Military Ordinariates, 28 Feb.
1959: AAS 51 (1959), pp. 272-274; also Decree on the Granting
of Faculties for Confession to Military Chaplains, 27 Nov.
1960: AAS 53 (1961), pp. 49-50; also Instruction of Sac.
Congr. Of Religious Military Chaplains, 2 Feb. 1955: AAS 47
(1955), pp. 93-97.
5. Cf. Sac. Consist. Congr., __Letter to the cardinals,
archbishops, bishops, and other ordinaries of Spanish-speaking
nations__, 21 June 1951: AAS 43 (1951) p. 566.