Pope Francis’ doctrine chief: Bishops conference presidents are not ‘vice-popes’

Pope Francis piqued the curiosity of many members of the faithful in his November 24th exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, when he said national bishops’ conferences should be granted “genuine doctrinal authority” as part of his effort to reform the papacy and decentralize authority in the Church.

The idea raised concern for many Catholics, including those active in the battle for life and family, who expressed misgivings about giving more authority to institutions that, in many countries, have often been used to undermine the Church’s teachings on life and family issues.

Now the Pope’s prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has weighed in on the issue. Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig M-ller says that while the conferences can exercise a certain doctrinal authority – in preparing local catechisms, for example – they exist to serve individual bishops and will never act as an intermediary between bishop and pope.