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US archbishop evaluates need for national Bishops Conferences

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee reminded a New York audience this week that national Bishops Conferences are a tradition and convenience not required by canon law, but that they are "here to stay".

He said that even those bishops who are critical of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops "much prefer to be part of it and work through it to bring about the reforms they feel may be necessary".

"The prelates of this country feel they need the conciliar style, they enjoy it and they feel it can be transformed to serve their purposes," he added.

Archbishop Dolan, who has a doctorate in church history from The Catholic University of America in Washington, spoke on "The Conciliar Tradition of the American Hierarchy," noting that "conciliarism" in this context did not refer to the medieval theories that councils were superior to popes but to a style of bishops working "collectively, collaboratively as a group".

His address, the annual Erasmus Lecture, was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. HE said that critics of the bishops' conference say it has become "staff-driven", dominated by a clique of bishops "left-of-centre theologically and bolstered by a staff even more to their left," and that the conference, wanting a "seemingly endless supply of money," appeared "more concerned with a political than a spiritual agenda."

These criticisms "began to be heard" around 1990, though defenders of the conference say they were exaggerated, the archbishop said.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is about to undergo change at the top, with the approaching end of the three-year term of its president Bishop Wilton Gregory.

Bishops' conference tradition 'here to stay,' Archbishop Dolan says (Catholic News Service 27/10/04)

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Archdiocese of Milwaukee | Archbishop Dolan
First Things
Institute on Religion and Public Life (Right Web)

28 Oct 2004