Pope John Paul II has decided to call together the seven Dutch bishops in an unprecedented personal effort to resolve the sharp differences of opinion among them on theological and pastoral issues.
Never before in modern history has a pope convened a special synod in Rome to resolve problems with a single national hierarchy. Since 1967, there have been five international synods of bishops meeting in Rome, but these meetings have brought together representatives of bishops' conferences around the world and have dealt with general problems.
Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, Vatican secretary of state, said that the special synod with the Dutch bishops would be conducted according to the norms for the international synod, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965.
The situation in the Netherlands came to a head earlier this year when Bishop Jan Matthijs Gijsen of Roermond, in a long interview in a national Dutch newsweekly, took issue with at least four of his fellow bishops on the role of Catholic politicians, ecumenism and other matters.
The 46-year-old bishop also criticized the pastoral consultation, a nationwide gathering of bishops, priests and laity, saying he doubted whether all members of the group had a "truly Catholic attitude."