Episcopal Conference

A Bishops' Conference is a gathering of bishops. Within the Roman Catholic Church called a Conference of Bishops in many countries, according to the canon law of the Church ( can. 447-459 CIC ) provided, central coordinating body of the Catholic dioceses.

" The Pontifical Yearbook 2007 ranks around the world 113 Episcopal Conferences, to which are added a further 18 Synods of Eastern Catholic Churches. There are also 14 International associations of Episcopal Conferences, which are first of all based on the continents. "


The conference of bishops going back to the first half of the 19th century, when arose irregular gatherings of bishops of a region in Central European countries. Purpose was the mutual consultation and coordination of church policy action. The CIC of 1917 institutionalized the Bishops' Conference as a non-permanent consultative body of bishops of the ecclesiastical province. However, this form of the Episcopal Conference could not prevail. The customary law authored Episcopal Conferences remained. In Germany, these were the Fulda and Freising Bishops' Conference. About legal powers these conferences did not have.

During the Second Vatican Council, the bishops' conferences have been transferred by rules in the Liturgy Constitution for the first time some skills. The decree " Christus Dominus, " the bishops' conferences were eventually built as a hierarchical instance in the constitutional structure of the Church. This represented the completion of a development that was always inhibited by the fear that through the establishment of Episcopal Conferences ultimately weakened the responsibility of each local bishop and the emergence might be promoted by national churches. These fears are still not overcome, though CIC of 1983 confirmed the role of the Bishops in the Church law. Thus, there is still strong centralist aspirations especially in the Roman Curia, the stress in addition to the universality of the Church, connected to the upper competence of the Pope, but also the responsibility of each local bishop.

Legal Status

The Conference of Bishops is a permanent institution of a nation or a particular area in which the bishops certain tasks jointly exercise ( can. 447 CIC). The concept of the nation is to be seen in relation to a particular territory.

The Episcopal Conference is a Kollegiatorgan in which the bishops express their will through legally binding collegial decision-making. In contrast to Councils such as the Ecumenical Councils or the Plenary Council it is under the current law permanent.

Construction, alteration, suspension

For the construction, alteration or repeal of a Bishops Conference of the Apostolic See is responsible (can 449 § § 1, 2 CIC). The conference of bishops is thus a legal entity and thus can also be assets wearer. Since this was not given under the previous legal situation exists in Germany today, the Association of German Dioceses (VDD ), which serves as asset backing of the Episcopal Conference.

Statute of sovereignty

The Bishops' Conference has autonomous statutory law. They are located in accordance with can. 451 CIC itself a statute that requires the validity of the approval of the Apostolic See. Voting rights in matters of statutes have only the diocesan bishops in them by law equals (about apostolic administrators, vicars ) and the Bischofskoadjutoren, can. 454 § 2 CIC.

Membership and Voting Rights

For the Catholic Bishops' Conference include in can. 450 CIC all diocesan bishops, all of them legally equals, all Bischofskoadjutoren and Auxiliarbischöfe the conference area as well as titular bishops with special papal mandate. Not the Bishops' Conference include the envoy of the Pope (such as the apostolic nuncio ) and other titular bishops, which include the emeritus bishops.

The diocesan bishops, them legally equal status and Bischofskoadjutoren have by law a deliberative vote ( can. 454 § 1 CIC). Have Auxiliarbischöfe and titular bishops with papal mandate consultative or deliberative vote pursuant to the Statute ( can. 454 § 2 CIC). In Germany the Auxiliarbischöfe and titular bishops have a deliberative vote with papal order, with the diocesan bishops, coadjutor and diocesan administrators play a blocking minority.


The bodies of the Episcopal Conference are:

  • The chairman ( can. 452 CIC), which may not be auxiliary bishop. Its powers relate only to the Kollegiatorgan as such, he is not top bishop of the area to which extends the Bishops' Conference,
  • The deputy, who may not be auxiliary bishop also,
  • The General Assembly, by the Bishops' Conference their skills in it ( can. 453 CIC)
  • The Permanent Council, headed by the Chairman ( can. 457 CIC), the prepared and followed by the general assemblies, the but other skills can be assigned,
  • The General Secretariat ( can. 458 CIC), which is set up dutifully and is headed by a Secretary, who need not be a member of the Episcopal Conference. It has to deal with the records of the Bishops' Conference. General Assembly, Permanent Council and Chairman are authorized to issue him
  • Commissions in accordance with the respective statutes of the conference.


Legislative competence

The Bishops' Conference has only there legislative powers where they are by him expressly assigned by law or by order of the Apostolic See (can 455 CIC). This already determined the document Christus Dominus (No. 38, 4). This is different from the particular councils, whose normative competences are limited only by the parent law.

Teaching authority

In accordance with can. 753 CIC has the Bishops' Conference teaching authority in the conference area. This means that the Bishops' Conference is directly herald and teacher of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care. Therefore, a pastoral letter of the Bishops' Conference has authority on its own and no longer needs the authoritative proclamation by each local Bishop.