You could look up the Catechism of the Catholic Church here, but why bother, since our own Bishops tell us what they are for in the annual statement of their accounts, here.
"The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales is a permanent body within the organisation of the Catholic Church that brings together the Bishops of England and Wales. As a Conference the Bishops "jointly exercise certain pastoral functions for the Christian faithful... in order to promote the greater good which the Church offers to humanity, especially through forms and programs of the apostolate fittingly adapted to the circumstances of time and place".
So note, from the word go, that certain pastoral functions of the Bishops are exercised jointly: sovereignty has been pooled, so that forms and programmes of the apostolate fittingly adapted to the circumstances of England and Wales at the beginning of the 21st Century may be carried out.
“All the Bishops of England and Wales meet together twice a year to decide policies for the Church at a national level. These week-long gatherings occur soon after Easter (Low Week) and in November. Each bishop chairs a committee of experts dealing with a specific area of concern for the Church. Committees are grouped into departments for practical purposes. ”
Accommodation and other costs for Bishops’ Conference Meetings in 2008: £236,975 (about £15,000 per diocese!)
The Department Bishops continued work on their five main priorities: migration and asylum; the global common good, European issues, the environment and religious freedom. These themes have been identified by the bishops as priorities after a careful analysis of needs and resources. Progress continued in all these areas throughout the year. Some example include the work of the Holy Land Coordination which gathered in Jerusalem and the West Bank for its annual meetings.
This year the Bishops also met in Rome with Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone as well as Cardinal Sandri and Archbishop Mamberti to endorse the coordination and to discuss its strategy. The Friends of the Holy Land (FHL), a partnership between the Department and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre underwent successful trials in two dioceses and will be launched in 2009. The FHL will enable the Department to incream its support for the Local Church and to raise awareness about the challenges it faces.
The Department document The Mission of the Church to Migrants in England and Wales was published in 2008. This represented the culmination of a process of pastoral reflection and consultation and will provide the framework for the Department's future work in this area.
Liaison with the European Bishops' conferences continued, mainly through the work of COMECE in Brussels and CCEE in St Gallen. One successful outcome was the hosting in Liverpool of the SECAM-CCEE meeting of European and African bishops. The Department also continued to work with the Zimbabwean Church. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and Bishop Hollis visited Harare in January and then welcomed Archbishop Ndlovu and Bishop Munyani as guests when they came to London and Leeds in the autumn.
The objectives for 2009 include the national launch of the Friends of the Holy Land and increasing the Department's collaboration with Caritas Social Action on migration and asylum.
Cost of International Affairs in 2008: £188,074
Ecumenism isn’t cheap. The subscription to Churches Together cost £117,767; to CBTI Interfaith £3,737; to CTBI Racial Justice £7,913; to Churches Commission on Mission £22,941; and to Churches Commission for International Students £392.
And how much has it cost you? Well, it depends on your Diocese:
Arundel and Brighton £91,447
East Anglia £31,816
Hexham and Newcastle £108,659
Bishopric of the Forces £4,500
Now, apart from a quick shout of Floreat Menevia!, what comes next?
Remember, that each one of those pounds comes from a pound that went into the collection plate in your parish. Find out how much of your parish's collection goes ditrect to the diocese: its 45% in mine. Then ask what proportion of the diocesan income is represented by the totals above, and ask why that much of your local Church's money is compulsorily levied to go on things such as those listed above. (There are lots of other things the Bishops' Conference does too.)
Point out to your Parish Priest that if this is where your money is going, then you will take steps to ensure that it heads elsewhere. Three quarters of your normal offering to him to be split between a Mass stipend, and repairs to the Church fabric (especially if there is a building fund) will ensure that the Parish doesn't suffer. The other quarter to the Catholic charity of your choice ensures that the extra-parochial aspect of your giving is taken care of.
Is there a problem with this?