- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

VATICAN CITY The bishops who assembled from around the world for a monthlong meeting with Pope John Paul II discussed issues ranging from terrorism to their mandatory retirement age.

Yet they frequently returned to one concern: more power for themselves and a little less for Rome.

Bishops have grumbled about the church's lack of local control in previous gatherings, called synods. But at this meeting, which ran from Sept. 30 through Oct. 27, some bishops expressed impatience with the lack of change.

Archbishop Vernon Weisgerber of Winnipeg, Canada, asked for a new sensitivity from the Curia, the Vatican administrative body that helps the pontiff govern.

"The bishop's role in his diocese is strengthened when the offices of the Roman Curia show in their communications and in their actions that they understand the varying local conditions. Otherwise, they risk becoming obstacles to communion," Archbishop Weisgerber said.

A Swiss bishop, Norbert Brunner of Sion, pleaded for Rome to have more faith in the work of local churches and to exercise its central authority mainly when issues of Catholic unity arise.

Cardinals have made similar statements on local decision-making. At a gathering earlier this year, some cardinals said the Vatican should let local dioceses participate in the selection of bishops, which now is decided by Rome.

At this latest synod, Bishop Alois Kothgasser of Innsbruck, Austria, repeated the suggestion, arguing bishops "must be more intensely involved in the nominations of new bishops."

Rome's power base had its defenders, though. German Cardinal Joachim Meisner argued bishops did not work independently but in unity with the "universal jurisdictional power of the supreme pontiff."

Some observers expected no administrative reorganization by the Vatican, despite the complaints.

"I think it unlikely in this pontificate, now in its final innings, that there will be many changes, either in synod procedures or in distribution of ecclesial power," said the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a conservative and editor of the religion magazine First Things.

Tom Roberts, an editor for the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal U.S. publication, disagrees.

"There must be some underlying discussion of what does it mean to have central authority," Mr. Roberts said in a phone interview from the United States. "It's constantly being challenged and talked about."

The bishops also raised other concerns in the synod.

Some pressed the pontiff to raise the mandatory retirement age for bishops from 75. Other synod participants pushed for the opposite a lower limit especially for clergy in places with harsh living conditions, like Africa.

Victor Corral Mantilla from Ecuador thought it time to eliminate titles like "your excellency" and "your eminence."

"Thank you, your excellency," Cardinal Bernard Agre, the assembly president, quipped at the end of Bishop Mantilla's speech.

The bishops' closing message also stressed sympathy for the victims of the September 11 attacks. But it also urged global leaders to address the inequalities among nations that it said could produce despair for the disadvantaged and threaten world peace.


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