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The Vatican takes over European bishops: secretariat remade, removed to Rome.

OXFORD, England -- At Santo Domingo last October, an attempt was made to bring CELAM, the Council of Latin American Bishops, to heel. The African bishops, scheduled to meet in synod in Rome April 10, 1994, appear next for the treatment.

Largely unnoticed, without fuss or publicity, the European bishops were brought under control just before Christmas last year.

To understand this move, one needs to backtrack to the special synod on Europe in November-December 1991. The synod was a chance for the European bishops, from East and West, to assess the state of Europe after the dramatic events of 1989. Not that they were meeting for the first time. Since 1975 the CCEE (Latin acronym for the Council of European Bishops' Conferences) has held regular symposia.

In this time it has had only three presidents: Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, now president of International Justice and Peace, whose brainchild it was; Cardinal Basil Hume, archbishop of Westminster, England; and the current president, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan, the Italian press' hot tip for the next conclave.

One might have expected Pope John Paul II, who, as archbishop of Krakow, had been a member of CCEE, to thank the European bishops for their good work and urge them to welcome aboard the new members from Romania, Ukraine and the Baltic republics as they emerged from the catacombs.

The practical way to help CCEE would have been to strengthen it in personnel and finance so it could become a real expression of European solidarity.

At the synod, Cardinal Martini made the obvious but neglected point that collegiality, the affectus collegialis, depends on friendships between bishops, including the bishop of Rome, himself another "European" bishop.

Personal contacts between church leaders can help build the unity of the wider Europe. It can help to make Europe whole again. It will do this, in the famous phrase cum Petro et sub Petro (with and under Peter).

The fantasy that the European bishops were trying to set up some kind of or parallel magisterium deserves booting into the Tiber. The Eurosynod proved it.

Yet, this picture of harmony all round was rudely disturbed by a passage in Pope John Paul's final address to the 1991 synod. Searching for understatements, it could only be described as a snub to the CCEE.

John Paul explained, "So that the affectus collegialis and the communio hierarchica (Lumen Gentium) between the head and the members of the episcopal college so admirably experienced during the synod assembly may be strengthened for the benefit of evangelization in the continent of Europe, I ask the president delegates, the general relater, the secretary general and the special secretaries to present me with a concrete proposal for a structure, dedicated to the implementation of synod aims, analogous to the activity of the General Secretariat of the synod, within the year."

Why seek to invent a new "structure" when one already exists to do precisely this job? The CCEE had a Secretariat, hitherto at Sankt Gallen in Switzerland, competently presided over by Monsignor Ivo Furer. It was perfectly capable of implementing the Eurosynod's conclusions, especially since these merely recommitted it to what it was already doing. It was difficult to see the point of the exercise.

Mark Santer, Anglican bishop of Birmingham, with the clear eye of the "fraternal delegate," surmised that "some parts of the Roman curia are suspicious when local church speaks to local church." He admitted this was an odd thing to have to say.

Asked what was going on, Jesuit Father Giovanni Caprile, who knows many Vatican secrets, told NCR: "The Holy Father doesn't really know what be means by this proposal, so it is up to others to say what it should mean." Caprile, of the prestigious Rome fortnightly Civilta Cattolica, is not known as a joker.

It was enough to consider who was on the committee to suspect the truth. The key people were the relater and the special secretary; Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar of Rome; and Archbishop Jan Schotte, secretary of the synod council.

Of the three president delegates, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship, was in Rome: the others were Cardinals Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris and Joseph Glemp of Gniezno-Warsaw. There was not a man among them who by experience and languages could be said to have a European vocation.

After a year's cogitation behind locked doors, this body produced a plan shattering in its simplicity, devastating in its effects. The quest for "new structures" having proved vain, it was decided simply to take over CCEE.

When the CCEE members arrived in Rome on Dec. 1, 1992, they saw for the first time what was proposed and bad to "react" off the cuff.

Pope John Paul explained in his introductory address why they were there: "From the new situation which arose after 1989 came the necessity for CCEE to make a fresh start since this council now included churches from the whole continent of Europe. During this meeting, the conclusions reached will be expounded on and discussed so that, from next year, the council can already work in this more complete dimension."

But that was not the rationale offered for the changes in 1991 when the stated purpose was to strengthen the bonds of collegiality, in particular the affectus collegialis.

Moreover, these conclusions had been decided upon before the meeting, so there was nothing to discuss. How was the new aim to be achieved? "In its institutional activity," said the pope, "the council will acquire new strength and greater authority if its members are the presidents of episcopal conferences."

The notion that presidents of episcopal conferences have greater authority will appear to be wishful thinking to many. Conferences in the past have elected as their Eurodelegate the bishop who was the best-equipped for this role culturally and linguistically.

Presidents of conferences, already overburdened, are not likely to have the leisure to pay attention to the Eurodimension. So their meetings may possess "greater dignity," as the pope requires, but they will also be more superficial and more formal. The affectus collegialis will be diminished rather than strengthened.

The change from elected member to president of the conference is crucial in the case of Italy. Hitherto the elected Italian delegate has been Martini. To oust Martini and replace him as Italian delegate with Cardinal Ruini is a fine instance of shooting oneself in the foot.

Besides, unlike all other presidents of episcopal conferences, Ruini was not elected by his peers but simply appointed by the pope -- "a great honor," says Ruini.

A second "decision" suggests an even greater role for Ruini. Henceforward, the CCEE Secretariat will no longer be in Sankt Gallen, Switzerland, but in Rome. Where should it be housed? Why, conveniently enough in the building from which Ruini already presides over CEI (the Italian Episcopal Conference) as well as the Rome diocese.

Then it would be "logical" for CCEE to elect Ruini as its president. The East Europeans would certainly conclude that such is the desire of the Holy Father.

Even if a Ruini presidency were averted and Glemp filled the post, the move to Rome would be unfortunate. It would reduce CCEE in practice to a department of the Roman curia, incapable of initiative or enterprise.

It would mean a loss of credibility in ecumenism. At the moment, CCEE is the only forum in which Catholics and Orthodox meet in friendly fashion. It would reduce collegiality in Europe to a formality if not a sham.

Worst of all, if one draws attention to these disadvantages, one is accused of disloyalty or being "anti-Roman." Probably, there is not much point in noting that the statutes of CCEE, last approved in 1981, cannot be changed unless there is a two-thirds majority.
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Title Annotation:Council of European Bishops' Conferences
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Mar 5, 1993
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