Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Latin American Bishops Analyze Advantages, Flaws of Globalization. (Analysis)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Latin American Bishops Analyze Advantages, Flaws of Globalization. (Analysis)

Article excerpt

English speakers were noteworthy for their absence at the meeting of the Latin American bishops' council in May. The council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM, held its regular four-year assembly here, just outside Asuncion. Among those invited were two U.S. bishops: Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Edmond Carmody, president of the U.S. Secretariat for the Church in Latin America. Neither turned up, and nor did Bishop Jacques Berthelet, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It was a pity, because up till now the bishops of North and South America have responded positively to the challenge implicit in the Synod for America organized in Rome in 1997 to behave as two halves of one continent, with many more contacts than they had before. It was a pity, too, because in the new world of globalization, as one bishop expressed it at the May 13-16 assembly, the Catholic church is still the globalizer par excellence.

Other notable absentees were the English-speaking bishops of the Antilles region. The importance of the Caribbean countries in CELAM was marked by the election of Bishop Ramon de La Rosa y Carpio of the Dominican Republic as general secretary. The presidency went to Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Santiago, Chile.

The quiet-spoken Errazuriz is astute and surprisingly nuanced in his answers. When a journalist asked about women priests he acknowledged, "This is a very delicate matter and a very painful one too for many people." Then he rephrased the dogmatic declaration of Pope John Paul II--"The church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women"--with the milder statement, "The Holy Father has said that we do not feel authorized to make a change."

Errazuriz smiled with amusement when asked if the next pope will come from Latin America. He himself is considered papabile--a candidate for the office. There were two other potential candidates for the papacy at the meeting: Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, who was president of CELAM from 1995-99 and is one of its most articulate spokesmen; and the Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Re flew in, smiled, blessed (in Latin), preached and flew out again the next day, leaving one important idea behind him, the suggestion that the next general conference--probably in 2005, the 50th anniversary of the foundation of CELAM--should be held in Rome, to make it easier for the Holy Father to attend.

For many, the significance of sending the Latin American bishops to Rome to discuss the affairs of their continent is one of control in an over-centralized church. "We don't want it in Rome," one of the bishops told me, "We want it at home."

The next general conference will be the fifth in a famous series. The founding meeting, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1955, passed almost unnoticed, but no one could overlook the inspirational Medellin, Colombia, conference of 1968. Launching basic Christian communities and the option for the poor, it was Latin America's Vatican II. …

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