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Bishops debate their role

(Compiled from various news sources)

Collegiality, the role of the bishop and his relationship to Rome were the major subjects of discussion in the Sept. 30 - Oct. 27 Synod of Bishops in Rome.

Rome also was the site of a "shadow synod," called the Synod of the People of God, in which Catholic reform groups discussed at least some of the same issues and called for changes in the church.

According to various news reports, 67 "secret" or non-published proposals were made to the Pope by the bishops. Many of them related to "collegiality," which generally refers to the need for more dialogue between local bishops' conferences or local churches and the Roman curia.

The synod consisted of speech-making phases as well as proposal writing. Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Texas and outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in one of the synod speeches, that local bishops should be given more authority by applying "subsidiarity," the principle whereby nothing is decided at a higher level that can adequately be resolved at a lower level. Fiorenza said the bishops should discuss "appropriate means for recognizing that particular churches or regional churches can make specific decisions which relate to local issues," according to the Catholic Trends newsletter.

Although the Catholic News Service estimated that after 136 bishops spoke, about 18% had addressed, in some fashion, the issue of governance in the church, most merely raised questions or suggested further studies. The synod's proposals do not have legal force; the bishops act in an advisory capacity to the Pope.

Still, the synod was the latest in a series of assemblies, including the cardinals' consistory, or world-wide gathering, in May, in which decentralization and the balance of power between Rome and local bishops was discussed. Clearly, the matter of how decisions are made in the church, particularly when it comes to non-doctrinal issues, has been on the minds of some bishops in recent years. This theological and philosophical debate will no doubt continue whenever the selection of the next pope takes place.

While not all the bishops at the Rome synod were in favor of more collegiality, those from a variety of locations, including Russia, Mexico, Poland, Switzerland and Columbia, spoke in favor of the principle. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Columbian Bishop Ruben Salazar Gomez extended the idea of collegiality to the laity, saying bishops must promote structures "for communion and participation, in order to listen to the Spirit who lives in his people."

While the bishops' synod was taking place, so was its "shadow." That coalition of reform groups called for sweeping changes in church policy, including more rights for women and the laity, and more dialogue about human sexuality. Specifically, the shadow synod called for "non-discrimination" which includes opening all church offices, including the priesthood, to all the baptized.



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