Catholic Dictionary




Divine institution of bishops as successors of the Apostles. By virtue of divine right, therefore, bishops possess an ordinary power of government over their dioceses. The episcopal power is ordinary because it belongs to the episcopal office. It is an immediate power because it is exercised in the bishop's own name and not at the order of a superior. Thus bishops are not mere delegates or agents of the Pope, nor his mere vicars or representatives. They are autonomous pastors of the flock entrusted to them even though they are subordinated to the Pope.

The episcopal power is inherent in the bishops' ordination, though it must be activated by collegial union with the Pope and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy. It is a true pastoral power that embraces all the ecclesiastical powers belonging to the exercise of this office, namely the teaching, ruling, judging, and, when necessary, punishing refractory members of their dioceses. It is, however, a power that is limited locally and materially, since it extends only to a definite segment of the Church and is circumscribed by the papal authority, which is superior to that of any bishop in his diocese. (Etym. Latin episcopus, bishop; from Greek episkopos, overseer.)