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Reviewed by:
  • Legislazione Delle Conferenze Episcopali Complementare Al C.I.C.
  • Thomas J. Green
Legislazione Delle Conferenze Episcopali Complementare Al C.I.C. by José Martín de Agar and Luis Navarro. Second updated edition. Rome: Coletti a San Pietro, 2009.

One of the most significant postconciliar legal developments has been the emergence of episcopal conferences throughout the world. And an especially noteworthy aspect of conference governmental activity has been their legislative competence in various areas. In analyzing this development we need to study not just the general rules on conference legislative activity but also the specific implementation of their various legislative options expressed in the code and in post-code legislative provisions. This very valuable book will be of great service to scholars probing the seriousness with which various conferences have taken their policy-setting options.

Before providing detailed quotations of conference legislation, the authors, who teach at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, offer the reader some thoughtful introductory reflections (4-26) on conferences and their legislative authority. This was one of the more sharply debated issues at the council, during the 1917 code revision process, and in post-code theological-canonical literature. This is true even after the issuance of the May 1988 motu proprio of John Paul II Apostolos suos. Given their introductory character these reflections largely reflect the view of conferences in the code and the motu proprio, but do not engage in any in-depth discussion about [End Page 278] issues that they raise, e.g., the implications of episcopal collegiality for the status and functioning of conferences and specifically their embodying collegiality in at least a partial fashion.

The authors initially trace the origins of the conferences. From the Church's earliest days bishops have gathered to address common problems though the forms of such gatherings varied in East and West. In the nineteenth century especially in Western Europe such meetings were deemed necessary to facilitate consultation and coordination of efforts given new pastoral problems arising from socio-political developments. This paved the way for episcopal conferences, which were characterized by a certain flexibility, continuity, and informality by contrast to other episcopal assemblies. Despite their not being mentioned in the 1917 code, Vatican II devoted significant attention to them especially in Christus Dominus.

At the council and afterwards there were varying views of them both in terms of their relationship to earlier meetings of bishops and in terms of their actualization of the principle of collegiality. However, they were generally viewed officially largely as stable organisms to enable bishops to share experiences and coordinate pastoral efforts. They were seen primarily as assemblies of pastors fostering the good of the Church in a given area. Rightly or wrongly, concerns were expressed at times about conferences possibly enhancing national church tendencies and perhaps undercutting the proper governmental autonomy of diocesan bishops. In structuring conference legislative competence, care was taken to balance their proper role and that of the Holy See and the diocesan bishop.

Interestingly enough not all bishops enjoy the same status in the conference; but much depends on the extent of their pastoral responsibilities; and even some non-bishops heading particular churches and thus equivalent to diocesan bishops are conference members.

Conference legislation is situated at a level between universal law and diocesan law, be it formulated in the diocesan synod or otherwise. A key rationale for conference legislation is to implement universal law in a coordinated fashion for a geographic area. In a certain sense the conferences, permanent entities with an ongoing organizational structure, function in a policy-setting fashion comparable to particular councils which have seemingly fallen into desuetude.

Since the conferences somewhat limit the legislative initiatives of diocesan bishops, their legislative activity is conditioned; and in fact during the code revision process their potential legislative competencies were limited [End Page 279] to highlight their role more as vehicles of pastoral coordination than as intermediary legislative instances.

The authors discuss different views of the nature of conference legislative power and highlight the increasing Holy See tendency to delimit precisely conference legislative competencies in keeping with the code's provisions (unlike Vatican II) for Holy See establishment and monitoring of conferences...


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pp. 278-281
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