– Prof. Augustine Mendonca


Probably most of us have grown up with an image of the Catholic Church as a perfect society organized or structured in the form of a pyramid. The pyramidal structure with the Pope at the top and all others sloping down in a hierarchic order toward the laity at the bottom has been a familiar view of a “perfect society.” The natural consequence of this conception has been the belief that even one’s right to be involved in the Church’s mission had to be handed down from the head. This was exactly what was implied in the famous encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno of Pius XI on Catholic Action, where he said: “We have repeatedly and solemnly affirmed and protested that Catholic Action, both from its very nature and essence [consists in] the participation and collaboration of the laity with the apostolic hierarchy.”1

The implication of the above statement was that for the laity to participate in the apostolic life of the Church a mandate from the hierarchy was necessary. In the words of Father L. Orsy, “[…] the life of the Church was nourished and governed through an overwhelming dynamics from above apart from the sacraments (which are always direct gifts from God) most good things concerning the life of the community (virtually all that concerns governing, teaching, and apostolic work) descended on God’s people, grade by grade, level by level: from God to the people, to the bishops, to the presbyters, and finally to the lay person.”2

The Second Vatican Council radically changed all this. Although the Catholic Church is still hierarchic in its constitutional structure, the mission of the people of God is no longer viewed in terms of a flowing down imagery. In its dogmatic constitution of the Church, the Council begins its reflections on the nature of the Church a communion of the faithful animated by the Holy Spirit.3 All baptized persons share in the mission of the Church. At the deepest level of the Church, here is radical equality between all members of the faithful; there is no distinction between the ordained and not ordained, between the clergy and laity. The gift of new life in the Spirit given through the sacraments of initiation do not discriminate; they are given to all irrespective of one’s position in the hierarchic structure. All Christian faithful naturally share in the responsibility of bringing the message of salvation to all members of the human family.4 In other words, all the faithful in virtue of their baptism have a right to be involved in the mission of the Church, without doubt under the supervision and direction of legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

1. Pius XI, Encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno, 29 June 1931, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis (=AAS), 23 (1931), PP. 285-312, here at P. 294.
2. Ladislas Örsy, “The Future of Canon Law: Portents of New Structures and Norms,” Paper presented at the annual convention of the Canadian Canon Law Society, 18 October 2001, Quebec City, Canada, p. 9.
3. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium (=LG), 21 November 1964, in AAS, 57 (1965), pp. 5-71, here at p. 11; English translation in Austin FLANNERY (gen. ed.), Vatican Council II Vol. 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, New Revised Edition (=FLANNERY I), Northport, NY, Costello Publishing Company; Dublin, Ireland, Dominican Publications, 1996, pp. 350-426, here at p. 357.
4. These theological concepts and principles are developed in articles 10-15 of LG; in FLANNERY I, pp. 360-367; also see Örsy, “The Future of Canon Law,” pp. 10-11.

This theological backdrop is merely intended to highlight the role the Christian faithful should play in the mission of a particular Church, that is, in the mission of a diocese or its equivalent in law.5 Speaking specifically of the lay person’s role in mission of the particular church, in his post-synodal exhortation Christifideles laici, Pope John Paul II says: “The lay faithful participate in the life of the Church not only in exercising their tasks and charisms, but also in many other ways. Such participation finds its first and necessary expression in the life and mission of the particular Church, in the diocese in which ‘the Church of Christ, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, is truly present and at work.”6 The Holy Father goes on to identify the different areas of active participation by the lay faithful in the life of the particular church. He urges them to foster “a feeling for their own diocese […] and be always ready at their bishops’ invitation to participate in diocesan projects‛.”7 This exhortation of the Holy Father certainly has implications for the participation of Christ’s faithful in the mission of a particular Church, and particularly in assisting the pastor of the diocese in fulfilling his ministry of governance and pastoral apostolate.

The main focus of this presentation is the nature of the relationship between the diocesan bishop and his curia. I proceed from the hypothesis that there is a close resemblance between the Curia that assists the supreme pontiff in his petrine ministry and the curia which helps the diocesan bishop or eparch in his Episcopal ministry. The functions of both institutes are based on the same theological and juridical principles. Therefore, I will argue from analogy that the relationship between the diocesan bishop and his curia should be based on and governed by the same principles which undergird the relationship between the supreme pontiff and the Roman Curia. The principal source of my analysis is Pastor bonus, the latest apostolic constitution which contains the special norms on the Roman Curia.8 There are several fundamental theological and juridical principles which form the basis of the ad intra and ad extra activities if the Roman Curia and these provide valuable insights for examining the nature of the relationship that should exist between the diocesan bishop or eparch and his curia. A careful analysis of Pastor bonus yields the following characteristics of the Roma Curia which may be analogically applicable to the relationship bishop or the eparch should foster with his curia. The characteristics of the relationship between the supreme pontiff and his Curia may be articulated as: (a) ecclesial, which reflects the communion aspect of the curia; (b) diaconal or ministerial, which defines the ad extra dimension of the curia; (c) vicarious, which explains the source of its authority; (d) collegial, determines its ad intra dimension; and (e) pastoral, which stands for the realization of its ultimate raison d’être. These characteristics, I believe, should be reflected in the relationship between the bishop (or eparch) and the diocesan curia.

5. See JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laicim The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World; 30 December 1988, Vatican Polyglot Press; Ottawa, ON, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1988, pp. 50-51
6. Ibid., p. 67.
7. Ibid., pp. 67-68.
8. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus (=PB), 28 June 1988, in AAS, 80 (1988), pp. 841-912; 913-923 Adnexa; English translation in Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition, New English Translation, Prepared under the auspices of the CANON LAW SOCIETY OF AMERICA (=CLSA translation), Washington, DC, Canon Law Society of America, 1999, p. 691. This Latin-English Edition will be the source for future references to this constitution in this study.

I – Ecclesial Nature of the Relationship

The constitution Pastor bonus anchors the ministry of the Roman Curia on its ecclesial nature. In what sense is this organism ecclesial? We find the basis of an answer to this question in the decree Christus Dominus 9, where the council says: “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 t the food of the churches and in service of the sacred power.”9 In light of these teaching, the Pastoral bonus concludes, “it is evident that the function of the Roman Curia, though not belonging to the essential constitution of the Church willed by God, has nevertheless a truly ecclesial character because it draws its existence and competence from the pastor of the universal Church. For the curia exists and operates only insofar as it has a relation to the Petrine ministry and is based on it. But just as the ministry of Peter as the ‘servant of the servants of God’s is exercised in relationship with both the whole Church and the bishops of the entire Church, similarly the Roman Curia, as the servant of Peter’s successor, looks only to help the whole Church and its bishops.”10

In virtue of its existence rooted in petrine ministry, which is universal in nature, the Roman Curia fosters and promotes communion between the universal Church and particular churches. The principal function of the Roman Curia is to assist the Roman Pontiff in the governance of the universal Church. In this ministry of governance the Roman Curia safeguards the bond of unity within the entire Church and cares for it at all times. Although the Church is a blend of different cultures and local communities, the immense variety of gifts poured out by the Holy Spirit into the hearts of Christian faithful facilitates the actual growth of internal unity, “so long as there are no isolationists or centripetal attempts and so long as everything is brought together into the higher structure of the one Church.”11 This principle was brought to mind quite admirably in Pope John Paul I’s allocution to the cardinals on 30 August 1978, when he said: “[They] provide the Vicar of Christ with the concrete means of giving the apostolic service that the owes the entire Church. Consequently, they guarantee an organic articulation of legitimate autonomies, while maintaining an indispensable respect for that unity of discipline and faith for which Christ prayed on the very eve of his passion”12

9. See FLANNERY I, p. 568. CD 9 has been cited as the source of canon 360 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law which reads: “The Supreme Pontiff usually conducts the affairs of the universal Church through the Roman Curia which performs its function in his name and by his authority for the good and service of the churches. The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State or the Papal Secretariat, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, congregations, tribunals, and other institutes; the constitution and competence of all these are defined in special law.”
10. PB 7; CLSA translation, p. 691.
11. Ibid., 11, CLSA translation, pp. 695-696.
12. JOHN PAUL I, Allocution to the cardinals, 30 August 1978, in AAS, 70 (1978), p. 703; English translation in The Pope Speaks, 23 (1978), pp. 318-319.

The task of fostering unity in the Church, while respecting and fostering legitimate diversity of cultures, demands rejection of any elements that could hamper the essential mission of the Church. When the unity of the Church is threatened, timely intervention of the supreme pontiff would be necessary. The Pastor bonus affirms the legitimacy of such an action on the part of the supreme pontiff by saying: “And so it is that the highest ministry of unity in the universal Church has much respect for lawful customs, for the mores of peoples and for that authority which belongs by divine right to the pastors of the particular Churches. Clearly, however, whenever serious reasons demand it, the Roman Pontiff cannot fail to intervene in order to protect unity of faith, in charity, or in discipline.”13 Naturally, because of its unique relationship with the petrine ministry, this task will be the responsibility of appropriate dicastery of the Roman Curia to intervene in defense of the unity of the Church in ordinary circumstances.

The constitution Pastor bonus stresses the need for mutual cooperation between particular churches themselves and between particular churches and the Roman Curia for promoting ecclesial communion.14 It states that “just as it is the duty of the Roman Curia to communicate with all the Churches, so the pastors of the particular Churches, governing these Churches ‘as vicar and legates of Christ’, (LG 9) must take steps to communicate with the Roman Curia, so that, dealing thus with each other in all trust, they and the successor of Peter may come to be bound together ever so strongly.”15

The Pastor bonus is quick to point out, however, that the mutual communication between the centre of the Church and the periphery does not enlarge the scope of anyone’s authority but promotes communion in the highest degree, in the manner of a living body that is constituted and activated precisely by the interplay of all its members. Paul VI expressed this principle in following words: “It is obvious, in fact, that along with the movement toward the centre and heart of the Church, there must be another corresponding movement, spreading from the centre to the periphery and carrying, so to speak, to each and all of the local Churches, to each and all of the pastors and the faithful, the presence and testimony of the treasure of that truth and grace of which Christ has made Us the partaker, depository and dispenser.”16

Several important principles may be derived from the above statements of Pastors bonus vis-à-vis the relationship between the diocesan bishop and his curia.

13. PB 11; CLSA translation, p. 696.
14. Cf. canons 333, §2 and 334 which speak of assistance the bishops can offer to the Supreme Pontiff in the governance of the universal Church.
15. PB 12; CLSA translation, p. 696.
16. Paul VI, Motu proprop Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum, 24 June 1969, in AAS, 61 (1969), p. 475; English translation in The Pope Speaks, 14 (1969), p. 261.

First, the diocesan curia is truly ecclesial in nature. Although it does not pertain to the constitution of the particular church, nevertheless the very foundation of its existence and competence is the ministry of the bishop. Its primary mission is to assist the bishop in his shepherding function. Although the bishop might be able to fulfill mist of his duties on his own, his Episcopal consecration places him at the centre of the portion of the people of God entrusted to his care. This obliges the bishop to recognize the gifts of his flock and their ecclesial right to be involved in furthering the redeeming mission of the Church. The conciliar teaching is very clear on this matter. Thus Christus Dominus 27 states: “Priests and lay persons who are attached to the diocesan curia should be mindful that they are collaborating in the pastoral work of the bishop.” Furthermore, “The 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.”17 Thus the diocesan curia should be used by the bishop as one of the most effective means of accomplishing the mission of Christ in his particular church. In this sense the diocesan curia may be regarded as truly ecclesial in nature, it is intimately linked to the mission of the Church through its relationship with its bishop.

Second, it is ecclesial in nature in a very special way because of the role it can play in fostering and preserving the communion within the particular church. A particular church is composed of smaller ecclesial entities, such as parishes, quasi-parishes, missions, etc. The diocesan bishop is the primary agent of fostering and preserving the unity of communion between these ecclesial units within his particular church in which task his curia can play a very vital role. This would naturally necessitate a sharing of responsibilities and powers with appropriate curia organism in accord with the norms of law. Unless a bishop understands the nature of this functional relationship between himself and his curia, it would be very difficult to maintain unity within the particular church.

Third, the universal Catholic Church is a communion of particular churches. The dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium 23 expresses this theological principles as follows: “The individual bishops are visible source and foundation of unity in their own 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. And for that reasons precisely each bishop represents his own Church, whereas all, together with the pope, represents whole Church in a bond of peace, love and unity.”18 This conciliar statement implies that the ecclesial communion existing within the Catholic Church consists of a communion of all particular churches. Each bishop plays an important role in strengthening and fostering this communion. Because of the unique relationship which binds together the pope and the diocesan bishop, the Roman Curia and curia of particular churches can become important means for building and strengthening ecckesialn communion. In other words, the diocesan curia and the Roman Curia can complement each other in their task of fostering and preserving communion between the universal Church and particular churches and within the particular churches themselves. This cannot be accomplished unless the bishop appreciates the ministerial value of the relationship he should have with his own curia.

17. See FLANNERY I, pp. 579-580.
18. See FLANNERY I, p. 376.

2 – Diaconal or Ministerial Nature of the Relationship

The second important feature of the Roman Curia is its diaconal or ministerial nature. This feature arises from the very nature of the Church, whose mission is to make disciples of all nations for Jesus. This mission was entrusted by Jesus to his apostles and through them to bishop their successors, and in a singular way to the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter. The task entrusted to the Church and to its shepherds or pastors “is called very expressively in Sacred Scripture a diaconia or ministry [LG 24].”19

The power and authority possessed and exercised by the bishops in the Church symbolize Jesus’ own diaconia or ministry, who “came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10: 45). Therefore, the power that is found in the Church is to be understood as the power of being a servant and is to be exercised in that way; before anything else, it is the authority of a shepherd.20 This is particularly applicable to the bishop of Rome, whose petrine ministry work for the good and benefit of the universal Church. In the words of St. Ignatius, the Roman Church has charge over the “whole body of charity,”21 and so it is the servant of love.22

As seen already, the ecclesial nature of the Roman Curia is rooted in petrine ministry insofar as it shares immediately in the diaconia or ministry of the Roman Pontiff. This is clearly expressed in Christus Dominus 9 which declares: “Roman Pontiff employs the various departments of the Roman Curia, which act in his name and with his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors.”23 Therefore, the main thrust of this service or diaconia offered by the curia departments is to strengthen the communion or fellowship between the universal Church and particular churches, between the Roman Pontiff and bishops around the world. Therefore, the Pastor bonus says that “the nature and role of the Roman Curia consists entirely in that the more exactly and loyally the institution strives to dedicate itself to the will of the Supreme Pontiff, the more valuable and effective is the help it gives him.”24 —————————————————- 
19. PB 1; CLSA translation, p. 683.
20. PB 2; CLSA translation, p. 685.
21. ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, To the Roman, introd. In Patres apostlici, ed. F. X. FUNK, vol. I, 2a adaucta et emendate, Tubinagae, H. Laupp, 1901, p. 252.
22. PB 2; CLSA translation, p. 685.
23. See FLANNERY I, p. 568.
24. PB 7; CLSA translation, p. 692.

At the very heart of its diaconia is the ministry of unity which has been entrusted in a singular way to the Roman Pontiff insofar as he has been set up by God’s will as the permanent and visible foundation of the Church. “Hence unity in the Church is a precious treasure to be preserved, defended, protected, and promoted, to be for ever exalted with the devoted cooperation of all, and most indeed by those who each in their turn are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches.”25

This ministry of unity offered to the Supreme Pontiff by his Curia, encompasses two areas of the Church’s life and mission: In the first place is the unity of faith, which is governed and constituted by the sacred deposit of which Peter’s successor is the chief guardian and protector and through which indeed he receives his highest responsibility, that of strengthening his brothers. Then there is the unity of discipline, the general discipline of the Church which constitutes a system of norms and patterns of behaviour, gives shape to the fundamental structure of the Church, safeguards the means of salvation and their correct administration, together with the ordered structure of the people of God.26

In his own particular church, the bishop is the shepherd to whom the ministry of unity is entrusted. In Lumen gentium 27 we read: “Sent as he is by the Father to govern his family, a bishop should keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not be waited upon but to serve (cf. Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45) and to lay down his life for his sheep (Jn. 10:11).”27 The particular church a bishop shepherd is a communion of “legitimately established groups of the faithful, which, in so far as they are united with their pastors […] and in each altar community, under the sacred ministry of the bishop, a manifest symbol is to be seen of that charity and ‘unity of the mystical body, without which there can be no salvation’. Furthermore, ‘in these communities, though they may often be small and poor, or existing in the diaspora, Christ is present through whose power and influence the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is constituted. For ‘the sharing of the body and blood of Christ has no other effect than to accomplish our transformation into that which we receive’.”28 Speaking specifically of the unifying role of the bishop, the council adds: “The individual bishops are the source and foundation of unity in their own 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. And for that reason precisely each bishop represents his own Church, whereas all, together with the pope, represent the whole Church in a bond of peace, love and unity.”29

25. See PB 11; CLSA translation, p. 695; and cf. LG 23.
26. Ibid.
27. See LG 27; FLANNERY I, p. 383.
28. LG 26; FLANNERY I, pp. 381-382.
29. LG 23; FLANNERT I, p. 376. Also see Sacred Congregation for Bishops, Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops Ecclesiae imago (=EI), 22 February 1973, in Leges Ecclesiae Post Codicem Iuris canonici editae, ed. By Xaverius OCHOA, vol. V. Roma, Commentarium pro Religiosis, 1980, #4174, col. 6462-6539; English translation by the Benedictine monks of the Seminary of Christ the King, Mission, BC, Ottawa, Publications Service of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1974, here at 95, p. 50 (this English translation will be the source for future references in this study).

This conciliar teaching makes it abundantly clear that the twofold ministry of unity, namely the “unity of faith” and “unity of discipline” pertains to the bishop. It is he who has the primary responsibility within his particular church of preaching the word of God and of safeguarding the purity and integrity of faith,30 and to uphold the discipline that is so necessary to attain the common good.31 This he can do effectively only with the cooperation of the faithful. If organized properly, the diocesan curia could become a veritable source of unity of faith and discipline within the particular church. The practical way of achieving this goal will depend largely on the bishop’s willingness to share his responsibilities with different organisms of his curia in accord with the norms of law. But in the final analysis the bishop should remember that this is a corporate responsibility entrusted to the whole people of God.

3 – Vicarious Nature of the Relationship

The Pastors bonus is quite clear in affirming the vicarious nature of the Roman Curia. This characteristic implies that it does not operate by its own right or on its own initiative. Rather “it receives its power from the Roman Pontiff and exercises it within its own essential and innate dependence on the Pontiff.”32 The vicarious nature of the power exercised by the different dicasteries of the Roman Curia, means that the curia always joins its own action to the will of the one form whom the power springs. It must display a faithful and harmonious interpretation of his will and manifest, as it were, an identity with that will, for the good of the churches and service to the bishops. From this character the Roman Curia draws its energy and strength, and in it too finds the boundaries of its duties and its code of behaviour.33

The fullness of the power exercised by the Curia resides in the Supreme Pontiff, the very person of the Vicar of Christ. It is the Supreme Pontiff who imparts his power to the dicasteries of his Curia according to the competence of each one. The Primary function of petrine ministry is to build up and strengthen the communion of the Church. By sharing his diaconal ministry with his Curia, the Supreme Pontiff uses it in carrying out his own personal office, therefore, it has a special relationship with the personal office of the bishop, whether as members of the college of bishops or as pastors of the particular Churches.34 Because of this complementary relationship, Pastor bonus states that “the Roman Curia far from being a barrier or screen blocking personal communion and dealing between bishops and the Roman Pontiff, or restricting them with conditions, but on the contrary, it is itself the facilitator for communion and the sharing of concerns, and must be ever more so.”35 For this reason, the diaconia of the Roman Curia is closely related to the bishops of the whole world, and the pastoral and particular churches benefit from it.

30. Canon 386, §2 expresses this duty of the bishop in following words: “Though more suitable means, he is firmly to protect the integrity and unity of faith to be believed, while nonetheless acknowledging a just freedom in further investigating its truths.”
31. Canon 392 speaks of this duty of the bishop: Ҥ1. Since he must protect the unity of the universal Church, a bishop is bound to promote common discipline of the whole Church and therefore t urge the observance of all ecclesiastical laws.
32. PB 8: CLSA translation, p. 692.
33. Ibid.
34. Ibid.
35. Ibid.

There is no doubt that a diocesan curia derives its existence from the bishop. The power exercised by its members is bishop’s own power. Therefore, any function the diocesan curia fulfills within a particular church or any power exercised by it are vicarious in nature. The bishop shares his power, in accord with the norms of law, with the different curial offices in order to facilitate the pastoral ministry he owes to the people of God. The adjective vicarious as used in this context is not to be understood in a purely instrumental sense, that is to say, the curia is allowed to operate only as an instrument at the whim and fancy of the bishop. Once established, the bishop should respect the functional autonomy of each organism of the curia and its collegial nature. The first requirement would necessitate application of the principle of subsidiary and the second would allow democratic modes of planning and decision-making within each organism.

In one of the pastoral principles outlined in the directory Ecclesiae imago to guide the pastoral ministry of bishop we read the following in regard to subsidiarity: “The bishop takes care that he does not ordinarily take upon himself what can well be done by others; rather, he carefully respects the legitimate competencies of others and also gives his co-workers the powers they need and favors the just initiatives of individual believers and of group.”36 A bishop who has the good of his flock at heart should never overlook this principle which has become an important part of the legal and social teaching of the Church. On the other hand, the curial organisms also should keep in mind their essential vicarious nature. Both their theological nature and canonical directives makes it very clear that the diocesan curia is at the service of the bishop and of the particular church. All members of the curia are to carry out their ministry or diaconia in harmony with the will of the bishop. We recognize this clearly in canon 480 which stipulates: “A vicar general and an Episcopal vicar must report to the diocesan bishop concerning the more important affairs which are to be handed or have been handled, and they are never to act contrary to the intention and mind of the diocesan bishop.” Canon 249 of the Eastern Code has an identical norm on this matter.37

4 – Collegial Nature of the Relationship

The Pastor bonus attributes the note of collegiality to the ministry of the Roman Curia. It states that even if the Curia itself is not to be compared to any kind of college its function can be described as collegial. It seems obvious from the context that here it is not a question of constitutive collegiality in the sense that the Curial organisms are constituted as a college, but it is so in its functional aspects. It consists essentially in the Curia’s cooperation with the college of bishops and the pope by carrying out its diaconal functions in a spirit of charity. This collegial spirit enables the Curia to be solicitous of the good of the whole Church, solicitude the college of bishops shares “with Peter and under Peter.”38

36. El 96, p. 51.
37. The principal sources of this norm are: Ecclesiae sanctae I, 14, §3, El 202, p. 103.
38. See CD 10; FLANNERY I, p. 568.

The very composition of the Curia is indicative of this collegial spirit. The bishops from around the world are coopted as members of the Curia and these are “better able to inform the Supreme Pontiff on the thinking, the hopes and the needs of all the churches.”39 Thus the collegial spirit between the bishops and their head works through the Roman Curia and finds concrete application, and this is extended to the whole Mystical Body which “is a corporate body of Churches.”40

The different dicasteries employ priests and lay persons from around the world as collaborators of cardinals and bishops, who alone are “strictly speaking” members of the Curia.41 All these coworkers in virtue of their baptism and confirmation are fulfilling their own apostolic life by their ministry within the Curia. By this coalition of many forces derived from the Christian faithful, all ranks within the Church join in the ministry of the Supreme Pontiff and more effectively help him by carrying out the pastoral work of the Roman Curia. This kind of service by all ranks in the Church clearly has no equal in civil society and their labour is given with the intent of truly serving and of following and imitating the diaconia of Christ himself.42 Such a collaboration may be rightly regarded as ecclesial collegiality par excellence.

Moreover, the Pastor bonus considers this collegial spirit to be a hallmark of the internal relationship between and the operations of various dicasteries. As a principle all the cardinals in charge of dicasteries, or their representatives, when specific questions are to be addressed, meet periodically in order to brief one another on the more important matters and providing unity of thought and action in the Roman Curia.43

If we proceed from the premise that the diocesan curia is patterned after the Roman Curia, it too must be regarded as collegial in its composition and collaboration. As already explained above, all the faithful, both individually and in association, have the right and duty to cooperate in the mission of the Church according to each one’s particular vocation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.44 In governing his diocese the bishop must recognize these Spirit-given gifts and use them for the good of his particular church. He should see to it that the members of curia are drawn from diverse walks of life, lay, religious and clergy, so that their talents and gifts will be utilized best in the service of the people of God. Once chosen to be members of the curia, the bishop should willingly share with them his pastoral responsibility in accord with the norms of law, but always keeping in mind that the ultimate responsibility for pastoral care of his people rests with him alone. The same spirit of charity which undergirds the Roman Curia must be fostered within the diocesan curia so that all members pool their energies together in order to attain the one purpose they have in mind, that is, the good of the particular church.

39. PB 9; CLSA translation, p. 693.
40. See LG 23; FLANNERY I, p. 377.
41. PB Art. 3, §3; CLSA translation, 700.
42. PB 9; CLSA translation
43. PB 9; CLSA translation, p. 693.
44. Cf. LG 30, 33; AA 2, 3.

The collegial spirit should provide direction in the way the curia functions. The statutes of the curia and those of each organism should make concrete provisions that would foster genuine collaboration between different offices so that all efforts and means would be placed at the achievement of the one goal set by the bishop for the curia. This would necessarily involve periodic meeting between different curial organisms that would facilitate concretization of plans or resolution of issues that concern all, as well as to pool together energies and resources in accomplishing the mission of the particular church under the leadership of its chief pastor. And these meetings should be guided by the “spirit of charity” and common concern for the good of the diocese. Again any success in this area will depend primarily on the leadership and initiatives the chief shepherd.

5 – Pastoral Nature of the Relationship

The universal mission of the Church is to bring all people to salvation by proclaiming Christ’s Gospel to every creature.45And this mission of salvation is entrusted to all the baptized in virtue of their baptism, but particularly to the shepherds of the Church. Before anything else this ministry demands mutual cooperation between the pastors of the particular churches and the pastor of the whole Church, so that all may bring their effort together and strive to fulfill that supreme law which is the salvation of souls.46

The history of the Roman Curia bears witness to the fact that its establishment was motivated by an urgent ad real need the Roman Pontiff recognized for sharing their responsibilities in providing effective ministry ordered to the salvation of souls.47Pope Paul VI visualized this aspect of the Roman Curia in terms of “another cenacle or upper room of Jerusalem” “totally dedicated to the Church.”48 In his allocution of 28 June 1986, John Paul II himself proclaimed to all who worked at the Curia that the only possible code of action for them was “to set the norm for the Church and to deliver eager service to the Church.”49 Therefore, he insists in Art. 15 of Pastor bonus that the dicasteries should approach all questions “by a pastoral route and with a pastoral sense of judgement, aiming at justice and the good of the Church and above all at the salvation of souls.”50 —————————————————- 
45. See LG 1; FLANNERY I, p. 350.
46. PB 12; CLSA translation, p. 697; also see canon 1752.
47. A brief history of the development of the Roman Curia is presented on pp. 686-690 of pastor bonus in CLSA translation.
48. See PAULL VI, Allocution to the participants in the spiritual exercises held at the Apostolic Palace, 17 March 1973, in insegnamenti di Paolo VI, 11 (1973), p. 257.
49. Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Allocution to the Roman Curia, 28 June 1986, in insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, 9 (1986), part 1, p. 1954; English translation in Origins, 16 (1986-1987), p. 192.
50. PB 12; CLSA translation, p. 697. Article 15 reads: “Questions are to be dealt with according to law, be it universal law or the special law of the Roman Curia, and according to the norms of each dicastery, yet with pastoral means and criteria, attentive both to justice and the good of the Church and especially, to the salvation of souls.”

The principal raison d’être of the diocesan curia is to assist the bishop in the governance and pastoral apostolate of the particular church. And the ultimate goal of curial ministry is to proclaim the message of salvation to all people, thus leading them to salvation. Because it shares in the shepherding function of the bishop, the diocesan curia is eminently pastoral in nature. For this purpose all its competencies and functions should be oriented towards this goal. Its internal organization should be structured in such a way that it is competent to respond effectively to the changing needs of the society in which the Church is rooted. In its functional aspects too the diocesan curia should be vigilant to the emerging needs of the particular church within the changing ethos of the society. Just like the Roman Curia, the diocesan curia also should reflect clearly the ecclesiology spelled out by the Second Vatican Council. It should enable the particular church to present “Christ as the light of humanity,” the “Lumen gentium,” the definitive source of salvation for all. In all these endeavors, one cannot underestimate the importance of leadership of the diocesan bishop.

In the directory on the pastoral ministry of bishops we find three fundamental principles which are of importance to realizing the pastoral goals of the diocesan curia. These principles concern (a) responsible cooperation from all the Christian faithful in the mission of the Church according to one’s particular vocation and the gift of the Holy Spirit; (b) healthy coordination by the bishop of all energies and efforts of the curia toward the attainment of goals he has established for this particular church, and (c) prudent use of the human resources of all those who are appointed to curial functions for the good of souls.51 Although these principles seem to focus more on the responsibilities of the bishop, the rights and obligations implied in them are reciprocal. In other words, those who serve the particular church within the context of the diocesan curia ought to cooperate fully with the bishop in the attainment of the good of all those whom they are called to serve. This task is not a one way street but a mission to be accomplished with the effort of all the Christian faithful.


The Second Vatican Council has made it clear that all members of the Church in virtue of their baptism share in her mission of proclaiming “Christ as the light of humanity,” the source of salvation for all. This right and corresponding obligation flow from their baptism and not something added to them by the Church. However, this right/obligation is to be exercised within the divinely ordered structures of the Church, and within the particular church. This would necessarily imply that such a right/obligation must be exercised under the direction and guidance of the bishop, the chief shepherd of the diocese. While the bishop bears the ultimate responsibility for the pastoral direction of the entire diocese, he is obliged to make use of the talents and Spirit-given gifts of all the Christian faithful. The diocesan curia is one of the ways in which the bishop can enlist and use those talents and gifts in the pastoral care of the people entrusted to his care.

51. See El 95, and 98, pp. 50-51.

This brief study has focused principally on the ontological and functional relationship that exists between the diocesan bishop and his curia. The notable characteristics for this relationship are derived by analogy from the relationship that exists between the Roman Pontiff and the Roman Curia. The five characteristics identified in this relationship are not taxative nor exhaustive. They are highlighted merely to provide a basis for understanding the importance of a curia in the life of a particular church.

The diocesan curia is certainly ecclesial because it is rooted in the Church’s mission of redemption, and particularly because it is related to the ministry of the bishop. This is the ontological and legal basis for its existence.

The nature of the diocesan curia is ministerial or diaconal because it participates in the ministry of Christ through the assistance it offers to the diocesan bishop who is the vicar of Christ in the particular church. Its immediate concern is to help the bishop in his shepherding ministry, but through its special relationship with the bishop’s ministry, the scope of its own ministry includes also its concern for the good of the universal Church. In virtue of his Episcopal consecration and canonical mission the bishop is responsible for the unity of faith and discipline in the particular church, and his curia undoubtedly shares in this function.

The essential function of the diocesan curia is vicarious in nature, that is to say, it derives its existence from and functions in the name of the chief shepherd of the particular church. This vicarious nature of the diocesan curia, however, does not in any way imply that a bishop can disregard its relevance to suit his own whim and fancy. In fact the Latin Code presupposes the existence of a curia in every diocese and determines its composition, while the Eastern Code stipulates that “the eparchial bishop must have at his see an eparchial curia,”52 thus making eparchial curia mandatory in every eparchy. On the one hand the curia should always function in harmony with the mind and will of the bishop, but on the other hand the bishop should always respect the curia’s functional autonomy in accord with the principle of subsidiarity once it is properly constituted. In other words, the bishop must allow each organism of his curia to function in accord with its own statutes approved by him and the goals it is set to achieve. Only when the unity of faith and discipline are clearly in jeopardy by the activities of any organism of the curia should intervene to safeguard the common good.

The ministry or diaconia of the diocesan curia is fundamentally pastoral in nature, that is to say, it has as its principal goal the “salvation of souls.” This is the objective of the ministry of the bishop himself. He has the ultimate responsibility toward the realization of this mission of the Church. Yet a curia which conducts its affairs entrusted to it by the bishop can make the bishop’s pastoral ministry more meaningful and effective.

We may conclude these reflections with the following statement provided in Pastor bonus: “Just as all the pastors of the Church, and among them in a special way the bishop of Rome, are keenly aware that they are ‘Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God’ (1 Cor 4:1) and seek above all to be utterly loyal helpers whom the Eternal Father may easily use to carry out the work of salvation in the world, so also the Roman Curia has this strong desire, in each and every sphere of its important work, to be filled with the same spirit and the same inspiration; the Spirit, we say, of the Son of Man, cf Christ the only begotten of the Father, who ‘has come to save what was lost’ (Mt 18:11) and whose single and all-embracing wish is that all men ‘may have life and have it to the full’ (Jn 10:10).”53 As stated in the introduction, this statement is, by analogy, applicable also to the ministry of the diocesan bishop and of his curia, because they too desire to be “Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God.”

52. See CCEO c. 243, §1.
53. PB 13; CLSA translation, pp. 697-699.