One of the major issues to surface at the Second Vatican Council was episcopal collegiality, the concept that the bishops as successors of the apostles share with the Pope and never apart from him “supreme and full authority over the universal Church” (Lumen gentium 22).
Bishops, then, “are not branch managers of local offices of the Holy See” (as Father John O’Malley puts it in his What Happened at Vatican II, p. 304). Their power comes through their ordination.
A vocal minority of the Council’s members opposed discussion of collegiality and were successful in preventing the Council from considering the matter head-on. None of the documents developed any detailed structure for putting collegiality into practice.
Pope Francis, however, has not shied away from the issue. His calling together the Group of Nine to advise him on reform of the Curia is a practical expression of the collegiality of bishops.
Another example of Pope Francis’ acceptance of collegiality is his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Gospel Joy.
This extraordinary document was motivated by the request of the bishops who gathered in 2012 for the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
Although the texts of the synod are considered confidential and are not published since the synod is considered “consultative,” Pope Benedict XVI agreed that a series of fifty-eight propositions coming from the synod of bishops could be released. One of the propositions reflected the request of the Synod Fathers to “consider the opportuneness of issuing a document on transmitting the Christian faith through a new evangelization.”
The focus of the synod had been “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian faith.” Pope Francis responded to the request. His Evangelii Gaudium is truly a “post-synodal apostolic exhortation.” Just a glance through the Exhortation’s notes reveals the many, many times Pope Francis refers to the synod and its more than fifty propositions.
Pope Francis acknowledges the synod’s request in section 16 of his exhortation: “I am reaping the rich fruits of the Synod’s labors.” And he continues, “In addition I have sought the advice from a number of people…I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’”
It is clear that Pope Francis was not simply repeating what the synod had proposed (he included many of his own convictions and dreams), but his exhortation reflects the input of the college of bishops and of the People of God in general.
Pope Francis believes in collegiality, consultation, and openness to the advice of others.