For the first time since Vatican II the French Bishop's Conference made a thorough analysis of the ecumenical situation when the 123 Bishops met recently. The Bishops have reason for being optimistic. They point out how spontaneously ecumenical are the young, not because they ignore the historical difficulties involved but because they are rediscovering prayer. However on the whole the Bishop's feel that ecumenism is going through a difficult phase.
In their search for practical initiative they reckon that a council of churches in France would be very difficult to set up because of the great difference in size between the Catholic and Protestant Churches. And for intercommunion they do not want to rush things in a spectacular way, they feel that times are not right for common confession of faith with the reform church, with which intercommunion is therefore out of the question.
The priesthood was the other major topic of this years conference. The Bishops seemed uncertain as to how to tackle the problem of the fallen numbers of vocations. They point out how the social atmosphere and the development of the lay peoples responsibility within the church have contributed to this decrease. Christian communities must feel responsible for the awakening and sustaining of vocations.
The conference also worked on two documents. It approved "proposal of faith for French Catholics", the aim of which is to provide guidelines adapted to present times. It also finished working on a collection of documents meant for children and adolescents.
Mgr Etchegarray, who was reelected for a second time as president, expressed the bishops concern for the present social and economic situation particularly unemployment and the way it affected the young.
Bishop Francis Thomson of Motherwell a fluent French speaker and president of the Scottish Theological Commission and Commission for Christian Unity was at the meeting.