West German bishops are to meet with Vatican officials in midNovember to discuss a number of pastoral issues, including a recent challenge to the Vatican by German-speaking theologians. The meeting, to include all of West Germany's 22 diocesan bishops, is expected to take place from November 13-14 at the Vatican.
One Vatican official said the meeting was being convened to discuss "some problems" being faced by the bishops and would not be a wide-ranging encounter like that held with a group of US bishops last March. Another source said that the programme for the visit was not yet set, but was expected to be worked out in the coming week.
The Vatican press office had no comment on the meeting, which would be the first of its kind involving the West German hierarchy. One Vatican official, confirming West German press reports, said the meeting would no doubt take up the issue of dissent by theologians. Last year, 163 Germanspeaking theologians issued a statement that criticised Pope John Paul II's use of authority in appointing bishops and theologians, saying it reflected "a new Roman centralism". The so-called "Cologne Declaration" also objected to what it called the Pope's "fixation" on church teachings against contraception, saying he had tried to link the Church's ban to fundamental articles of faith.
At the time, Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, president of the German bishops' conference, said the statement was "exaggerated" and called the theologians to a dialogue. A working group of bishops and theologians was established and met in May to begin discussing the issues.
Bishop Lehmann said recently, that the Cologne Declaration touched on some real problems, in particular tensions created by the fact that Vatican approval is required before theologians can be named to major teaching positions.