Pope calls summit to hear of US bishops' dissent
By Vivione Hewitt in Rome
IN answer to episcopal conference rebellions against Vatican guidelines on their status, Pope John Paul II has called a summit of American bishops in Rome, scheduled for March 8-10.
The extraordinary reunion, expected to. be attended by 33 American archbishops at the conclusion of their ad lirnina visits to Rome, is aimed at solving a series of problems which have recently dogged the Holy See's relations with what is considered the world's most powerful bishops' conference.
During the three-day debate, believed to have been originally requested by the American hierarchy, the Pope will be flanked by the heads of Vatican congregations and offices.
Top of the agenda is likely to be the American bishops' refusal to accept guidelines on conferences' operational status, compiled and distributed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Catholic Herald January 6).
So far, the Brazilian and Italian conferences have also protested about the document while only Mexico has declared itself in full accord with it. A new addition to the ranks of the paper's critics is the theological commission of Asiatic episcopal conferences.
All lament the guidelines' lack of clarity on theology, but
Vatican observers feel the underlying complaint is more significant — that Rome continues to deny conferences general legislative competence and is further reinforcing thc Vatican's centralised power base.
By means of the guidelines, it is believed that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the conservative Doctrine Congregation Prefect, intended to remind conferences that neither the proliferation of doctrinal papers written and approved by small regional episcopal assemblies, nor the emergence of controversial "opinion leaders" among bishops, were welcomed.
It is also probable that the Pope will strive at the meeting to bring in line those American bishops who have digressed from official Vatican thinking on such issues as contraception and the role of women in the Church.
Bishops' sporadic minirebellions are a source of concern for John Paul II whose ten-year pontificate has registered frequent episcopal rows with Rome. With new episcopal nominations of conservatives, where possible, and especially in Italy, he has openly tried to counter what the Vatican fears may become a trend.
Inside Rome, page 2 Last week, among 13 new bishops consecrated were the Italians, Pasquale Macchi, former secretary to Paul VI and now Archbishop of Loreto, Francesco Marchisano who heads a commission on the Church's cultural heritage, and Giovanni Lajolo, nominated secretary of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). All three are already confirmed "curial" prelates.
Meanwhile, Vatican sources said the special synod on Africa, which the Pope announced on the Feast of the Epiphany, would probably be held in Rome and not in an African city as African episcopal conferences hoped.
Already this week, a commission of cardinals and African bishops has begun preparatory meetings for the special synod which the Pope said had "great importance for spreading the Gospel."
No date has yet been set for the Assembly, whose theme will be "The Church in Africa Towards the Third Millennium" but it is not expected to be held before 1990.
The Pope is said to have nurtured the idea for some time of a special assembly on Africa, which counts 75 million Catholics, 481 bishops, nearly 20,000 priests and 40,000 nuns.
It is this Pontiff's first special synod, one of three forms synods can take. The last Ordinary Synod John Paul called was in October 1987 on the laity — and two years before he summoned an Extraordinary Synod to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Vatican Council 11.