Roman Catholic synod to look at 20 years of Vatican II reforms
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The US delegation to the synod seems likely to split on this issue if it is raised.Skip to next paragraph
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Besides Bishop Malone, the other two US representatives are two conservative archbishops, John Cardinal Kroll of Philadelphia and Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston.
Malone, as president of the American Bishops' Conference will be the official voice of the US bishops. But some observers here consider it significant that two higher-ranking US cardinals, both relatively conservative, have also been invited.
Even if disputes arise within the US delegation, they will be in a minority at the synod, and issues of concern to them may not be of concern to the majority of those present. Bishops from third world countries will constitute the majority at the conference.
How the church should address third world problems may thus turn out to be one of the most important issues raised at the synod. According to one recent study, by the year 2000, 70 percent of all Catholics will be found in the third world.
One issue of concern to an African priest and theologian studying in Rome is what the synod might say about church liturgy.
``I hope it will continue what Vatican II began,'' said the African, asking not to be identified because of current religious suppression in his country. ``Vatican II was very advanced in allowing liturgy that could appeal to Africans, incorporating song, dance, and music,'' he said.
A contrary view of the liturgy could be raised by forces in sympathy with the arch-conservative French Bishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was suspended from his episcopal duties by Pope Paul VI in 1976. Lefebvre, with a small but determined following, has crusaded for the return to the Latin rite ever since Vatican II approved the use of ``vernacular'' languages for the Roman Catholic mass.
One issue that may attract discussion from bishops of all points of view and all regions of the world is the current state theologians' liberty -- to think freely and to freely carry out scientific investigation of theological matters.
``Freedom for theological inquiry may become a central issue at the synod,'' said the Rev. John Navone, an American Jesuit professor at the Gregorian University who has lived in Rome since 1963.
The importance of the issue stems from a number of recent decisions by the Vatican, under the direction of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the former Holy Office), apparently aimed at reigning in wide-ranging theological speculation among Catholic theologians. ``There is a fear that Cardinal Ratzinger's theology may become the court theology,'' Navone said.
But Fr. O'Collins said he doubts the issue of theological freedom will be an important issue at the synod.
``There has been a lot of talk about a `chill factor' and a `clamp down' [on theological activity during recent months],'' O'Collins said. ``But the church is in fact much more liberal than many modern secular universities.''
Despite the denials of O'Collins and others, many priests interviewed here said they fear a tightening of church discipline and abandonment of gains made since Vatican II in making Catholic life less externally rigid but more personally meaningful.
However vociferous certain parties turn out to be at the synod, many observers agree that the synod may disappoint those who hope it will lead to radical alterations of church policy or practice.
``There are simply too many issues to discuss and too little time,'' said the Rev. Francis Sullivan, an American Jesuit who is professor of ecclesiology at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome. ``I'm at a loss to figure out what can really be done in just two weeks.''