A paragraph about the role of the Bishop of Rome and about collegiality

A great and succinct paragraph about the authority of the Successor of Peter, the  Roman Pontiff, and the the successors of the Apostles, especially diocesan bishops in union with the Holy Father.


Our Lord is the Head of the Church. But since He willed that His Church should be visible, after His ascension into heaven, He gave her a visible head, who is His Vicar on earth, Peter and his successors…. To him alone did Our Lord give the power to feed the sheep and the lambs, he alone has full, sovereign, and immediate authority over each and every member of the Church. That is why the Church has always proclaimed herself to be a monarchy, governed by one man. Certainly, the human character of government makes it quite understandable to seek counsel and the advice of wise persons, but a form of democracy imported into the Church by collegiality and by the parliamentary parody of bishops’ conferences allows all sorts of abuses and subjects to group pressure the decrees of Divine Law that declare that each diocese has only one head, the bishop of the locality.


SSPX Superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay, from his December letter to friends and benefactors.

His scriptis…

Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. bobbyva2001 says:

    I just finished reading the letter myself and am glad to see you posted this excerpt which I think is spot on.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    “To him alone did Our Lord give the power to feed the sheep and the lambs, he alone has full, sovereign, and immediate authority over each and every member of the Church.”

    A great statement that I embrace 110%. However, I am sorry, but did he say/write that with a straight face? Remember Blessed John Paul II and ‘Ecclesia Dei adflicta’?!

  3. Supertradmum says:

    I wish all my SSPX friend would pressure their priests and bishops to “come in”. This statement is so beautiful. Especially at this time of year, I am sad about the divisions. I hope many take this to heart.

  4. Titus says:

    “parliamentary parody of bishops’ conferences”

    Even entirely apart from the merits, on which I do not comment, that’s a wonderful turn of phrase.

  5. tcreek says:

    The question is:
    When will we get a pope who will assume the responsibility of “sovereignty and immediate authority” and DEMAND that “all sort of abuses must stop”. Traveling the world to win friends and influence people does not work. Gets you good headlines, tender feelings and fame and fortune of a sort (sell more books) – signifying nothing. Our faith is a shambles because of a lack of leadership, a modern day Tower of Babel.

  6. RichR says:

    Collegiality has infiltrated all levels of the Church. Parish Councils and Presbyteral Councils are an abuse when they stop being merely consultative and become avenues of “group pressure” that impinge on the leader’s ability to make conscientious decisions (be it a PP or a Bishop). The leader is the one who will be accountable to God for governance of his territory (a parish, diocese, etc…). To pressure him to go against his conscience for the sake of the mob is my idea of clerical abuse (ie, abusing the cleric).

    Good for Fellay for calling a spade a spade. I for one support this statement in the OP.

  7. Father K says:

    If Bishop Fellay really believes this then why does he not submit to the authority of the Pope? After all, he states ‘he alone has full, sovereign, and immediate authority over each and every member of the Church.’ If he believes that why did he agree to be ordained a bishop against the express wishes of Pope John Paul II? If you comment, spare me the rubbish about ‘state of necessity…’ Or does Fellay think that he is in the right to dissent from this ‘full, sovereign and immediate authority?’ Or that he has the right to illicitly celebrate the Sacraments, [invalidly in the case of Penance and Marriage] or that he clearly does not believe the suspension he and all the priests of the SSPX are under? Like all dissenters, Fellay’s words are lip-service while they go their merry way. By his disobedience to the Pope’s ‘full, sovereign, and immediate authority’ the likes of Fellay, supertradmum, are the cause of divisions and our faith is in ‘a shambles,’ not because of lack of leadership, tcreek, but that the likes of Fellay, the SSPX et alia refuse, in their pride and stubbornness, to submit themselves to the authority of the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him, thinking that they know better.

  8. Oneros says:

    Yes, to insist on a simplistic “pyramidal” understanding of Papal Monarchy…when the current POPE himself doesn’t even hold such an understanding…seems to me to be about as absurd as the sedevacantists who rail against the Orthodox for having no doctrine about a Pope…while, in practice, not having a Pope themselves either! Or like those people who promote the idea of making various Pretenders to Thrones real monarchs again when those pretenders themselves are against the idea.

    National Bishops Conferences are one thing, and they are rather stupid. But not because they undermine the Pope, but rather because they undermine the local bishops! Each bishop governs his own diocese. But a collection of bishops does not govern a collection of dioceses as if they are the US Congress, as if they govern collectively (merely “representing” this or that “district”). THAT idea is bad.

    But that’s not what collegiality really means. It means that the Pope is a bishop among bishops, simply the bishop who is the sacrament of unity for the college as a whole, the unshakeable “hub” around which the communion as a whole can be stably organized. But that’s a little different that saying he’s the leader as if the structure is a pyramid. It’s more like nested circles.

    The Pope is more like the Prime Minister among other MPs, and less like the Field Marshal at the head of a chain of generals, lieutenants, sargeants, etc

  9. MikeJ9919 says:

    I agree with Oneros.

    The Pope is the visible head of the Church on Earth. All members of the Church have resort to him if we feel we have been wronged by local authority. His is the final word, both on matters of church law and administration, and also on matters of faith and morals.

    But to reduce local bishops to mere lower rungs on the hierarchy does not seem to be a correct understanding of their role. They are the first and often the last authority within their diocese. They are responsible to God for their service there. And in union with their fellow bishops (including the bishop of Rome), they express the ordinary magisterium of the Church.

  10. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    Amen, Oneros.

    Peter and his vicars fulfill their vocation when they fulfill the other command of Christ to strengthen – not weaken – their apostolic brethren.

    The means to extract the sui iuris Latin Church from its current ecclesiastical malaise is not to ONCE AGAIN emphasize a very exaggerated, lopsided, interventionist view of the universal dimension of Papal ministry. Rather it is to strengthen the local and regional dimensions of ecclesiology populated with ORTHODOX hierarchs who function as both pastors and teachers of THEIR flocks. The skip-level neutering of bishops happened long before the modernist crisis – it rather began when the Latin West lost sight of the proper role of Pope of Rome vis-a-vis the local hierarchy and many aspects of authentic collegiality and synodality were discarded in favor of an overarching meddling Roman Curial bureaucracy.

    Collegiality and Synodality (with a fully restored ministry of regional Patriarch) have yet to be fully tried in the Latin West, and we in the East are striving to recover what was taken from us in its own functioning due to Latin and curial interferences, which STILL, unfortunately, exist.

    For a good read on this subject, See Subdeacon Dr. Adam DeVille’s “Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.”


  11. Parasum says:

    @Fr Deacon Daniel:

    Talk of collegiality makes little sense when the structures no longer exist within which such talk was coherent: the CC is trying to re-adopt, in a post-Ultramontane age, a notion of the Church’s structures that made sense centuries before the mushrooming of Roman authority. This is an incoherent position – as incoherent as that of the SSPX. Both are in trouble – not just the SSPX.
    EENS is another example of doctrine that is mis-matched with the age it is taught in because it was dependent on premises that the Church no longer holds – the same could probably be said of many things in the Church.

    And can one really have *ressourcement*, as V2 did, & also have the entirety of Catholic teaching up to the present day ? If there are serious problems in the structure of Church’s thinking about its praxis and doctrine & theology, building on questionable foundations is not going to help relieve the pressure of these problems.

    “Peter and his vicars fulfill their vocation when they fulfill the other command of Christ to strengthen – not weaken – their apostolic brethren.”

    ## And what that amounts to, is a matter of interpretation. Which makes it meaningless. What a Patriarch regards as meddling, a Pope may well regard as action he is obliged to take in order to confirm his brethren; and contrariwise. Ecumenical formulae are useless, because even an unanimous agreement on all issues that divide Rome & Orthodoxy would not for one moment do away with the difficulties of practical application of principles. (We are probably about as united as ever we shall be anyway – even if complete re-union took place, it would certainly be broken again; it used to exist, & if it can be lost once, it can be lost again. Besides, uniting the hierarchies would not for one moment imply union of hearts & faith between Catholic & Orthodox faithful; any idea that it would is fatuous.)

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