Vatican Council II, midway in its second session, stood committed to the principle of decentralization in the exercise of supreme authority over the church.

It now comes to grips with the somewhat more practical question how that authority, once decentralized, is to be exercised effectively in the legislative, judicial, and executive areas of church government.

The council’s acceptance of the principle of decentralization was indicated in its vote on four questions in connection with Chapter 2 of the schema De Ecclesia, a chapter dealing with the hierarchy. Protracted discussion of the chapter had yielded so many interventions by bishops, numbering 1,320 on a single point, that that council’s Theological Commission found itself unable to determine the tenor of the bishops’ thinking. The four council moderators appointed by Pope Paul had devised the four questions to help the commission determine the consensus or “mind” of the council.

The four questions, put to a vote of the council, produced one-sided majorities. The results were then turned over to the Theological Commission, which presumably will reformulate the chapter on the hierarchy to reflect the opinions evident from the vote. These are the four points:

1. That episcopal consecration constitutes the peak of the Sacrament of Orders. The significance is that the chapter would state in effect that there is no order higher than that of bishop. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome.

2. That every bishop legitimately consecrated in communion with other bishops and the Roman Pontiff, as their head and principle of unity, is a member of the episcopal body. The word “college,” more frequently used than “body,” denotes an association of individuals for a common purpose (in this case ...

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