What a Bishops' Conference Should Be

Pope Benedict tackles one of the thorniest issues to be raised since Vatican II.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gather for the start of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 15.
Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gather for the start of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 15. (photo: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A nation’s bishops can never give up their primary responsibility as shepherds of their dioceses, but they also need to work together in a bishops’ conference to address the common needs of their people and to defend human values in society, Pope Benedict XVI said.

A bishops’ conference is a place where bishops share their concerns and labors, but not a place where they can delegate their responsibility to guide the people in their dioceses, he said.

Pope Benedict met Nov. 14 with bishops from the central part of western Brazil. The bishops were the last of 13 groups of Brazilian bishops to make their “ad limina” visits to report on the status of their dioceses. It took almost 15 months for the heads of Brazil’s 268 dioceses and jurisdictions to complete the visits.

The Pope said the issues that benefit from joint action by a bishops’ conference include “the promotion and protection of faith and morals”; the translation of liturgical texts; the promotion of ecumenism and activities with other Christians; and dialogue with civil authorities “to defend human life from conception to natural death, the sanctity of the family and marriage between a man and a woman, the right of parents to educate their children, religious freedom, other human rights, peace and social justice.”

Pope Benedict also told the bishops, “It is necessary to remember that advisers and the structures of the (bishops’) conference exist to serve the bishops, not to replace them.”