Pope defends consultations with bishops


Pope John Paul II on Thursday defended the Vatican’s practice of consulting with bishops as cardinals ended an extraordinary meeting with some calls for more power-sharing and a frank debate among top officials.

The pope spoke at a Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica with more than 150 cardinals from around the world who gathered to discuss challenges facing the church.

The frail pope, who suffers from symptoms of Parkinson’s, spoke in a clear voice but appeared weak at times during the two-hour Mass in the basilica.

The cardinals ended three days of closed door meetings Wednesday.

Some leading voices in the church, including Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 67, of Belgium, had criticized lack of “frank debate” among church leaders and specifically criticized the periodic meetings of bishops called by the Vatican. He said they discouraged honest dialogue.

Some cardinals would like to give more power to the church at a local level, such as in selection of bishops.

In his homily, John Paul said many of the issues raised by the cardinals will be taken up in October at a synod of bishops.

The pope said the synod “has proved to be a valid and effective instrument of episcopal collegiality, at the service of the local church.”

Collegiality is often used as a code word for democracy in the church.

In a closing message from the cardinals distributed Thursday by the Vatican, the issue was not mentioned.

The cardinals strongly endorsed John Paul’s efforts to improve relations with other Christians and other religions, offering prayers for the pope’s pilgrimage next month to predominantly Orthodox Ukraine.

The meeting was the largest gathering of cardinals in history and gave the so-called princes of the church the possibility to assess candidates to eventually succeed the 81-year-old John Paul.

Danneels is considered a possible contender.

Another cardinal mentioned as a possible successor, Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, struck a similar note about synods in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Giornale.

“I believe we need fewer monologues and more dialogue,” he said.

The forum took up such issues as the church’s relations with non-Catholics, the response of Catholics to the church’s teaching on sex and the pope’s call for a new evangelization.

Several cardinals complained about “poor communications” between Rome and local dioceses.

The cardinals also prayed for peace in the Middle East and called for a cease-fire to allow talks between Israel and the Palestinians to resume. They were told the pope plans to send an envoy soon to the Middle East.

Because of so many new faces — John Paul elevated 44 cardinals in February — the prelates wore name tags so they could be easily identified. Danneels and several others called the meeting useful for getting to know each other, but he said there was no “head hunting” for a new pope.

“There are so many great voices saying so many great things,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. “How are we ever going to narrow down the field?”