by Viviane Hewitt in Rome THE Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is believed to be preparing a special document that would curtail the powers of national episcopal conferences.
Some Vatican sources suggested this week that the document would be an "instruction" paper: this is the format the Congregation has used in the past in its calls to order.
It would be a response, they said, to the "waywardness" of those episcopal conferences which had wandered too far from the Magisterium. Of particular concern to the Vatican are known to be progressive trends in the American Church and some parts of Europe, such as the Netherlands.
The document would outline the general scope of episcopal conferences and their boundaries, with stress on theology, reports said.
Sources added that the number of auxiliary bishops in whose appointments diocesan bishops usually have more say is also expected to be reduced.
There had been initial speculation that as part of the new pressure to exercise more control over national Churches, Rome was also preparing to disband the Council of European episcopal Conferences, chaired by the Jesuit Cardinal Archbishop of Milan Carlo Maria Martini.
However, Pope John Paul II himself told a meeting of European Episcopal conference presidents in Rome last week that "the new situation" in the post1987 Europe. "necessitated a new formulation of the Council's structure" suggesting that this body would remain.
This could mean that the Commission of European Community Episcopates representing only the 12 EC member states could be disbanded and incorporated into the Council headed by Cardinal Martini.
The new "Council" will have to he distinguished "by its strong spirit of vigilance and sensitivity both in regard to positive forces and threats on 'counterevangelisation' trends", John Paul 11 told the Post-Synod meeting of the Presidents of the episcopal conferences of Europe, last week.
It should become "the inspirational care in Europe of the apostolate in the service of all the local and particular Churches but at the same time it should serve the cause of the unity of the Church in the European World", the Pope said.
Any changes in the existing European episcopal councils, coinciding with the study believed to be under preparation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are considered significant for the future of episcopal conferences.
Vatican observers suggested Pope John Paul ll's presentation of the new universal catechism as "guidance for bishops" was further evidence of his concern about the bishops' orthodoxy.
All these efforts come after a turbulent five years in the Church, sparked by protests in Germany and the Netherlands at Rome's allegedly "arbitrary" nomination of bishops in their dioceses.
The protests culminated in the Declaration of Cologne, when the city refused its new bishop, in 1988. This document included a