We Are Church Intl.

Some Notes on the 10th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

Norbert Scholl, Emeritus Professor of Religious Education, University of Heidelberg




1.         “The Bishop as Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – For the Hope of the world”

The Lineamenta for the forthcoming synod of bishops lists 22 themes which can merely be regarded as being of peripheral interest: The bishop’s relationship to his diocese, spirituality, individual preferences of the bishop, problems of kerygma. Theological, ecclesiological and ecumenical questions are not touched, but it is these questions – and not the ones listed in the Lineamenta - that ought to be at the centre of the Roman consultation and need to be brought to a solution.


2.         Theological clarification of the episcopal and presbyterial ministry

The subordination of priests under the bishop has only been introduced in the 2nd century. The sacramental difference, respectively the assignment of the ordination of bishops and priests has not been clarified and worked off until today  (LG 21). Does the ordination to priesthood entail the same full power as the ordination of a bishop? Are there different levels in the sacrament of ordination? Is the ordination of bishops a sacrament?


3.         “Defectus” in the apostolic succession

Catholic teaching did not issue official statements concerning the validity of offices in the churches of the reformation until the 2nd Vatican Council. Traditionally, the non-validity of the ministries has been assumed. Vatican II talks about a “defectus” in the sacrament of ordination in those churches that came into existence as a result of the reformation (UR 22). At the same time, it has failed to explain in what sense this is true for the separate churches and ecclesial communities that “..” (UR 19).

In the dialogue that has been lead since it has been asked increasingly, if “defectus” is to be understood in the sense of deficiency, but not as a complete lacking. It is worth mentioning in this respect, that there have been ordinations of priests by priests (and not bishops) in the Catholic Church as well. [i] This is to say that in the view of ecumenism there should not be demanded more than a presbyterial sucession.


4.         Acknowledgment of Offices

New insights into Biblical and Dogmatic and the history of theology show a plurality of ecclesial offices in the New Testament in the face of changing historical situations. “The true kernel of the “ordinatio” is to be acknowledged by the church and, through this, to be sent for a particular parish (by its leaders with explicit approval by the community of the faithful or vice versa).” [ii]


5.         Double Infallibility

The texts of Vatican II announces a double “infallibility”:

“The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith (cf. Lk. 22:32)

– he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.” (magisterium extraordinarium)

“..the bishops…proclaim infallibly the doctrine of Christ…when, even though dispersed throughout the world but preserving for all that amongst themselves and with Peter’s successor the bond of communion, in their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held definitely and absolutely.” (magisterium ordinarium) (Lumen Gentium 25)

However, the Council failed to clearly determine who is to decide on this and how it is to be ascertained, when and if at all the bishops are in agreement that “a particular teaching” is being “held definitely and absolutely”. Which conditions must be met – of the Scriptures themselves, of tradition, of the sense of faith of the community of the faithful, of the form of  proclamation, of the extent of agreement?

Urgent clarification of these issues is necessary (cf. the irritations accompanying the recent statements of the Congregation of the Faith on the ordination of women that have been claimed as infallible).


6.         The Pope’s Full Power and the College of Bishops

The texts of the 2nd Vatican Council dealing with the collge of bishops (LG 22 and 23) show plenty indefiniteness, diametral movements and unsolved tensions. It is obvious, that the text uses two different images of the church. There is no exact definition of the relationship between the college of bishops and the pope. The statement about the ecumenical council being the solemn way of the college of bishops to exercise its supreme and highest power over the universal church is being followed unmediated and directly by a note on the competency of the pope. “Many open questions remain, including those which have a practical meaning for the constitutional reality (not merely the constitutional theory) of the church”. [iii]

On top of this, the secretary general of the council added an “Explanatory Note” to the text of the dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium” above the heads of the fathers of the council. These determine the pope’s supreme power, even beyond the definitions of the First Vatican Council: “The Pope, as supreme pastor of the Church, may exercise his power at any time, as he sees fit, by reason of the demands of his office.” Joseph Ratzinger’s commentary remarks: The ‘as he sees fit’ remains (in spite of its consecutive limitation) an unlucky phrasing.” [iv] This urgently demands clarification.


7.         Universal Church and Local Church

The Second Vatican Council refers to „particular Churches, which are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists“ (cf. LG 23; 25; CD 11 et.al) It is in the particular churches that the universal church is represented  in an accentuated way. One belongs to the universal Church because one belongs to a particular church.

Cardinals Walter Kasper and Joseph Ratzinger have only recently had an open argument about this topic. Kasper noted that “the one church has been constituted ‘in and formed out of’ particular churches”. He deplored tendencies “to identify the universal church with the Roman church, de facto with the Pope and the Curia”. This meant to give up the communio ecclesiology of Vatican II and was to be understood as an “attempt of a theological restoration of Roman centralism” [v]

Ratzinger, in the „Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung“ [vi] , responds that there were theologians – he mentions Kasper! – who considered it their "duty" to "negatively value documents of the Congregation of the Faith". He on his part deplores that the "theological depth" of the notion of "church" was getting out of sight if it was reduced to the physically visible parishes."

What looks like minor quarrelling between theologians does indeed have major consequences for church politics. The ecumenical idea of an aim is not a uniform church but a church in reconciled diversity. A biased universal view is ecumenically deterrent. The question also has pastoral consequences as has been manifested in the argument between Rome and the German Bishops' Conference about the counselling of women in distress. In this case, Cardinal Ratzinger and the "roman centralism" seem to have won – but this has not solved the problem.


8.         Bishops’ Conferences

The Second Vatican Council "expresses its earnest hope" that the "admirable institutions" of episcopal conferences "may flourish with renewed vigor." (CD 36) However, the exact function and especially the competency of these conferences has not been clarified until today. If the individual bishop himself has got "authority and sacred power" (LG 27), and which he exercises immediately (CD 8a. 11), then the convocation of all bishops of one country cannot only serve to encourage one another and to confront pastoral tasks "with joint efforts". [vii]

Reaching beyond this is the question of possible new regional and continental instances between the level of the diocese and the universal level of the Petrine Ministry. [viii]


9.         Election of the Bishop

The old church knew the principle that a bishop may not be forced upon a community against their will. The office is an affair of the local church. “One shall not force a bishop upon the people if it does not want him" (Pope Coelestin, Epist. 4 ad episc.Vienn. et Narbon. c.4,5; PL 54,673), and “Who must direct all, must be elected by all” (Pope Leo I. Ep. 10 ad episc. Vienn., c.6; PL 54,1203).

As late as at the beginning of the 15. Century Makarios of Ankyra writes, that it is the election by a community which makes somebody a bishops. Consequently, the election of a bishop by the people corresponds with an old ecclesiastical tradition and is still anchored in canon law (c. 377,1 CIC). Today, this is almost obligatory in view of the wide-spread democratic structures and a deepened insight into the essence of the church.


10.       The Bishop’s Obligation to Obey the Pope

The bishops "as vicars and legates of Christ" are to "govern the particular Churches assigned to them by their counsels, exhortations and example". The permanent and daily care for their diocese "is entrusted to them fully". They are not supposed to regard themselves "as vicars of the Roman Pontiff; for they exercise the power which they possess in their own right and are called in the truest sense of the term prelates of the people whom they govern." (LG 27). It is part of the “apostolic task” of a bishops to "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." (CD 11)

It was Pope Alexander III. (1159-1181) who explicitly arranged for the right of the bishops to consult him in certain cases and to inform him about possible discomfort concerning particular pontifical decisions. This right found its way into the decrees of Pope Gregory IX. (1227-1241) and into the semi-official collection of ecclesiastical laws which represented the rights of the church until the Corpus Iuris Canonici was published (1917). The Spanish theologian Francisco Suárez (1548-1619) recognises a possibility of so-called "supplication" in the case of conflict between the Pope and the bishops. He refers to calm right of contradiction and of humble praying and imploring. Suárez grounds this right in the plurality of the church and its particu

Ten years after the conclusion of Vatican II, the German expert in Canon Law, Hubert Müller, was of the opinion that this right doubtless has got its legitimate place in the juridical  structure of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless it was not introduced in the 1983 Canon Law which was edited by Pope John Paul II. But at least there is a canon to be found in this law that admits the right to free statement of opinion: "…." CIC can 212, 3

Knut Walf, expert in Canon Law from Nijmegen, is convinced that "the bishops' right to contradict orders of the Pope and the Roman curia represents a ..and necessity for the experts in Canon Law." [ix]


11.       Clothing and Titulatur Appropriate for our Times

In 1905 Pope Pius X. issued a note in which he tries to regulate the privileges of the prelates. Amongst others, it reads: “First Class prelates can wear the prelates' clothes in purple during sacrificial activities (i.e. stockings, collar, soutane, the zingulum out of silk with two tassels made from silk, the coat or the ?? (small coat?/coaty) over the Rochett (Motuproprio Inter multiplices vom 21.2.1905).

This order of clothes is valid until today.

But it does not stop here. The addiction to titles and symbols of honour is also very common in the Catholic Church. We still have got the "Monsignori" and the “papal assistants of the throne", (of which again there are those of 1., 2., 3. and 4. class) and the carriers of purpur, the cardinals, the "exellencies" and "eminencies". And finally “His Holiness”, the “Holy Father”. The curia suprises with even more curious titles. Here we can find the "Tassel-Prelates" (which obtained their name from having had the privilege of dressing their horses harness with purple tassels), “Palatin-Prelates”, Substitutes and Signatares. [x]

The bishops wear the Mitra for official purposes, Originally a jelly-bag cap from Phrygia, it was part of the vestment of the highest dignitary of the Roman empire until Constantine (4th. Century).

A reform of the Roman order of clothing and titles is urgently needed and could contribute to a less anachronistic image of the church and its officials.

[i] cf. Papal Bull of Pope Boniface IX.: Denzinger-Hünermann 1145-46; Pope Martin V.: Denzinger-Hünermann 1290. Also: Gemeinsame römisch-ktholische evangelisch-lutherischer Kommission, Das Geistliche Amt in der Kirche, Paderborn/Frankfurt 31982, Nr. 75f.

[ii] E.Schillebeeckx, Das kirchliche Armt, Düsseldorf 1981, p 82

[iii] K. Rahner, Kommentar zu LG 22, in: LThK, Erg.Bd. I, Das zweite Vatik. Konzil, Freiburg/Basel/Wien 1966, 223.

[iv] Ibid, 357.

[v] W. Kasper, Zur Theologie und Praxis des bischöflichen Amtes, in: W. Schreer/G. Steins {Hg], Auf neue Art Kirche sein. FS Bischof J. Homeyer, München/Kevelaer 1999,32-48; 44.

[vi]   No. 298, 22.12.2000, S. 46; The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is one of Germany’s leading daily papers – conservatively biased.

[vii] “collegialitas affectiva” and “effectiva”; cf. Papst Johannes Paul II., Motu Proprio on the theological and juridical natur of Bishops' Conferences, Vatican City 1998, No. 14f.

[viii] Cf. G. Greshake, Bischofsernennungen im Licht einer Theologie des kirchlichen Amtes und einer Communio-Ekklesiologie, in: Ders. [Hg.], Zur Frage der Bischofsernennungen in der römisch-katholischen Kirche, München/Zürich 1991, 104-139; W. Kasper, Zur Theologie und Praxis des bischöflichen Amtes, in: W. Schreer/G. Steins [Hgg.], Auf neue Art Kirche sein. FS J. Homeyer, München/Kevelaer 1999,32-48; 46.

[ix] K. Walf, Kirchenrecht, Düsseldorf 1984,52 .

[x] Cf. L. Hofmann, Art. “Prälat”, in: LThK Bd. 8, Freiburg 21963, 86 f.


Dies ist der offizielle Fragebogen für die Auswahl von Kandidaten für das Bischofsamt.


Zu beschreiben ist, welche Beziehungen zum Kandidaten bestehen, seit wann man ihn kennt.

  1. Angaben zur Person - Äußere Erscheinung; Gesundheit; Belastbarkeit; Familienverhältnisse, insbesondere bezüglich eventueller Anzeichen von Erbkrankheiten.

  2. Menschliche Eigenschaften - Spekulative und praktische geistige Fähigkeiten; Temperament und Charakter; inneres Gleichgewicht; Ausgewogenheit des Urteils; Sinn für Verantwortung.

  3. Menschliche, christliche und priesterliche Bildung - Besitz und Zeugnis menschlicher, christlicher und priesterlicher Tugenden (Klugheit, Gerechtigkeit, Rechtschaffenheit, Redlichkeit, Sachlichkeit, Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, Gehorsam, Demut, Frömmigkeit, tägliche Feier der Eucharistie und des Stundengebetes, marianische Frömmigkeit.

  4. Verhalten - Sittliche Haltung; Verhalten zu den Mitmenschen und in Ausübung des priesterlichen Dienstes; Fähigkeit, freundschaftliche Beziehungen anzuknüpfen; Beziehungen zu staatlichen Autoritäten (Achtung und Unabhängigkeit).

  5. Bildung und geistige Fähigkeiten - Allgemeinbildung; Sachkenntnis und ständige Weiterbildung in der kirchlichen Wissenschaften; Kenntnis und Gespür für die Probleme unserer Zeit; Kenntnis andere Sprachen; eventuelle Veröffentlichungen von Büchern oder Zeitschriftenartikeln von Bedeutung.

  6. Rechtgläubigkeit - Überzeugte und treue Anhänglichkeit an die Lehre und das Lehramt der Kirche, insbesondere Einstellung des Kandidaten zu den Dokumenten des Heiligen Stuhles über das Priesteramt, die Priesterweihe von Frauen, die Ehe und Familie, die Sexualität (insbesondere die Weitergabe des Lebens gemäß der Lehre der Enzyklika "Humanae Vitae" und des Apostolischen Schreibens "Familiaris Consortio") und die soziale Gerechtigkeit. Treue zur wahren kirchlichen Überlieferung und Engagement für die vom II. Vatikanischen Konzil und von den darauffolgenden päpstlichen Unterweisungen eingeleitete echte Erneuerung.

  7. Disziplin - Treue und Gehorsam gegenüber dem Heilige Vater, dem Apostolischen Stuhl, der Hierarchie, Achtung und Annahme des priesterlichen Zölibats, wie er vom kirchlichen Lehramt vorgestellt wird; Beachtung und Befolgung der allgemeinen und besonderen Normen betreffend den Vollzug des Gottesdienstes sowie hinsichtlich der geistlichen Kleidung.

  8. Seelsorgerische Eignung und Erfahrung - Fähigkeit, Erfahrung und erlangte Erfolge im seelsorgerischen Dienst: Verkündigung des Evangeliums und Katechese; Predigt und Unterweisung (Vorbereitung, Fähigkeit öffentlich zu sprechen); sakramentale und liturgische Pastoral (besonders bei der Spendung des Sakramentes der Buße und bei der Eucharistiefeier), pastorale Tätigkeit zur Förderung von geistlichen Berufen; Einsatz für die Mission; ökumenische Geisteshaltung; Ausbildung der Laien zum Apostolat (Familie, Jugend, Förderung und Verteidigung der Menschenrechte, Welt der Arbeit, der Kultur und der Medien); menschliche Förderung und soziale Tätigkeit mit besonderer Aufmerksamkeit den Armen und Notleidenden gegenüber.

  9. Führungseigenschaften - Väterliche Haltung, Dienstbereitschaft und Fähigkeit zu Initiativen; Befähigung zur Führung, zum Dialog; Fähigkeit, Mitarbeiter anzuregen und entgegenzunehmen; Fähigkeit zur Analyse und Planung, zur Entscheidung und Durchsetzung; Orientierung zu geben und gemeinsame Arbeiten zu begleiten; ein Gespür für die Rolle und Zusammenarbeit mit Ordensleuten und Laien (Männer und Frauen) und für eine gerechte Verteilung der Verantwortung; Interesse für die Probleme der Gesamt- und Teilkirche.

  10. Verwaltungsfähigkeiten - Achtung und guter Gebrauch der Güter der Kirche; Geschick und Tüchtigkeit in der Verwaltung; Gerechtigkeitssinn und Geist der Loslösung von irdischen Gütern; Bereitschaft, für Fachfragen Sachverständige heranzuziehen.

  11. Öffentliche Wertschätzung - Seitens der Mitbrüder, des Volkes und der Behörden.

  12. Gesamturteil über die Persönlichkeit des Kandidaten und seine Eignung für das Bischofsamt - Bei positiver Beurteilung; Angeben ob sich der Kandidat eher zum Diözesanbischof oder zum Weihbischof eignet, sowie für welche Art von Diözese er besser geeignet scheint (städtische, industrielle, ländliche, bedeutende, mittlere oder kleinere Diözese).

Eventuelle andere Informationen

  1. Schließlich wird darum gebeten, Namen, Wohnadresse und Stellung weiterer Personen anzugeben (Priester, Ordensleute - Männer und Frauen - sowie Laien), die infolge ihrer Urteilsfähigkeit, Unbefangenheit und Verschwiegenheit zuverlässig erscheinen und den Kandidaten gut kennen.