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Vatican topics soft on reform

NCR Staff

The Vatican has prepared a set of questions for a May 21-24 gathering of the world’s cardinals -- questions that appear to downplay discussion of power sharing in the church.

Pope John Paul II convoked the “extraordinary consistory,” the sixth of his reign, shortly after creating a new batch of cardinals in late February. At the time, the pontiff said the purpose would be to plot a course for the Catholic church in the third millennium, taking cues from his document closing the Jubilee year, Novo Millennio Ineunte. It’s a text that raised eyebrows with its frank invitation to a discussion of ecclesiastical power.

“Much has been done since the Second Vatican Council for the reform of the Roman curia, the organization of synods and the functioning of episcopal conferences,” the pope wrote in paragraph 44. “But there is certainly much more to be done, in order to realize all the potential of these instruments of communion, which are especially appropriate today in view of the need to respond promptly and effectively to the issues which the church must face in these rapidly changing times.”

John Paul also challenged officials to take a hard look at “careerism, distrust and jealousy” in the life of the church.

The set of questions prepared by the Vatican’s secretariat of state, however, appears to envision a more wide-ranging discussion, in which “collegiality,” a church term for sharing of power, is simply one theme among many.

The questions were circulated in late April within the Roman curia and have since been sent to the world’s 183 cardinals.

As reported April 30 by the Rome daily Il Messagero, among the themes included are the rise of New Age movements, Protestant sects, and forms of religious practice based on “nature, spirits and magic”; religious pluralism, and forms of interreligious dialogue that threaten the church’s teaching on the uniqueness of the salvation won by Christ; the “disassociation” between the practice of the faithful and the teaching of the church on sexual morality; globalization; the environment; and the challenges posed to the church by the mass media.

The document cites John Paul’s invitation to reflect on the roles of the curia, the synod, and the bishops’ conferences, but under a more diffuse heading of “relationships between universality and particularity in ecclesial communion.”

The document also stipulates, however, that cardinals will be free to raise whatever issues they regard as “most urgent.”

Some cardinals, worried that the scope of questions posed by the secretariat of state is too broad for approximately 20 hours of discussions over three days, have suggested abandoning the document and focusing primarily on the question of collegiality.

The extraordinary consistory will be closed to the press. It remains unclear whether the cardinals will issue a document at the end of their discussions. After the consistory, the cardinals will concelebrate the pope’s Mass for the feast of the Ascension on May 24, then lunch with the pope.

Given the pope’s age and frailty, many Vatican-watchers see the consistory as a trial run for a future conclave, in which the cardinals will elect a successor to John Paul.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, May 11, 2001