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31 bishops sign petition for new council


Thirty-one Roman Catholic bishops, including a cardinal and a senior member of the Roman curia, have signed a petition asking John Paul II to convene a new ecumenical council.

“A new council would help the Catholic church respond evangelically, in a spirit of dialogue, in close collaboration with the other Christian churches and religions, to the grave challenges facing humanity, especially persons in situations of extreme poverty in a rapidly transforming and increasingly more interconnected world,” the petition reads.

The last ecumenical council was the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.

“We are aware of the difficulties involved in the organization of an ecumenical council and ask that, given present day access to communication, it be established as a participative and conciliatory council process, beginning at local and continental church levels.

“We propose a sufficient time scale and appropriate methodology so that the community of believers have ample opportunity to offer their reflections on issues that are important and urgent for them and that their contribution be the material for debate and decisions by the council,” the petition says.

“In communion with the entire church, and in a special way with the successor of Peter, we pray that the spirit may enlighten us to respond, prophetically and with hope, to the desire for dialogue and renewal within a wide section of the church.”

The full text of the petition, along with a list of signatories, may be found at www.pro

concil.org. The petition drive is being coordinated by a group called the “Information and Mediation Service,” headquartered in Madrid, Spain, though the 31 bishops who have signed the petition are presented as the “convokers” of the campaign.

Organizers say they intend to collect signatures through the end of 2003, at which time they will present the results to the pope.

Among the initial signatories are 31 bishops, 23 of them from Brazil. The others come from Bolivia, Japan, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico. The group includes 12 retired bishops.

The highest ranking prelate to sign on is Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, retired archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil.

The signatories also include four non-bishops, a group composed of three priests and a lawyer.

Among the more prominent signatories is a high-ranking Vatican official, Archbishop Stephen Hamao, head of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Immigrant People. Hamao signed the petition, however, in his capacity as the emeritus bishop of Yokohama, Japan, in order to emphasize his link with his local church.

“I have attended many synods since 1983,” Hamao told NCR in a May 1 interview in Rome. “I find that many of the themes and ideas are repetitive. Part of the problem is that a synod is only consultative, and cannot make decisions,” said Hamao, who has held his Vatican office since 1998.

“It has been 40 years since Vatican II. I think it’s time for another decision-making assembly. The world has changed.”

Hamao cited issues, both outside and inside the church, that he thinks a new council should address. Among the former, he identified bioethics, genetic engineering, migration, racism, poverty and the challenge of globalization. Among the latter, he listed vocations, collegiality, and the simplification of clerical lifestyles.

“Too many clergy have a high standard of living and a low moral standard,” he said.

Hamao also stressed the collegiality issue.

“Everything is still too Roman-centered,” he said. “For example, we in Japan have had very bad experiences with the translation of liturgical texts. We prepared a missal that took 10 years, which then came over to Rome. Since no one here could read Japanese, it was assigned to seminarians who don’t have the trust of the bishops’ conference. This is very bad. There must be much more recognition for the authority of bishops’ conferences.”

Hamao said he wasn’t sure if the call for a new council was realistic, but he said he believes it reflects “the voice of the people.”

Hamao said John Paul II may be too frail to convene a council, though perhaps he could open it like John XXIII, entrusting its completion to his successor. Though Hamao said he has not discussed the idea of a new council with the pope, he will do so if he has the opportunity.

National Catholic Reporter, May 10, 2002