The 1983 Code of Canon Law defines bishops' conferences thus: "The Episcopal Conference, a permanent institution, is the assembly of the Bishops of a country or of a certain territory, exercising together certain pastoral offices for Christ's faithful of that territory." An episcopal conference, or bishops' conference, is somewhat similar to an Eastern Orthodox synod of bishops. In recent (Roman) Catholic terminology, a synod of bishops is a one-time meeting, convened by the Vatican, with the agenda prepared beforehand and the deliberations submitted for papal approval. But a synod in Eastern terminology, or an episcopal conference in (Western) Catholic terms, is an ongoing canonical level of church governance, the members being diocesan bishops, who together can decide some matters for their combined territories. The bishops together can decide, for example, on the liturgical texts to be used, or on fast days for their combined territories. In some cases, because of the small size of neighboring nations, or because of a relatively small number of Catholics in a geographical region, an episcopal conference is formed by bishops from more than one country. One example of this would be the Scandinavian Bishops' Conference. On the other hand, in large, populous countries, there may be, besides a national conference of bishops, also episcopal conferences for smaller regions. A bishops' conference, therefore, is something of an intermediate step between an individual diocese and the Vatican.
Apostolic Letter on the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences, issued motu proprio by John Paul II, 1998.
Section on bishops' conferences in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
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