The man who will represent Roman Catholicism in the United States at Pope John Paul II's special worldwide synod of bishops in Rome next fall has pledged to speak out for the "positive experience" of post-Vatican II Catholicism in this country, even if it means taking on powerful Vatican figures.
Bishop James W. Malone of Youngstown, Ohio, pledged in an address to his brother bishops about the forthcoming synod to "reaffirm . . . the fundamental rightness of the program of Vatican II and the directions to which it still points" when he attends the two-week extraordinary synod, beginning Nov. 25.
Vatican II was called by Pope John XXIII to begin "healing the centuries-old rift between the church and the world," Malone recalled. One of the means that emerged in trying to accomplish that "communal concept of the church" has been the development of "collegiality" -- the sharing of responsibility -- at every level, he said.
He singled out for special praise the structure of collegiality that has developed in this country within the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which he heads.
That "positive experience of our own NCCB has much to contribute to the church universal," he said. "I hope to be able to share with the [November] synod my profound conviction that our experience in the United States with an episcopal conference has been on the whole a very positive one."
"I do not share the view that episcopal conferences ought not to play too large or active a role in the life of the church," he added.
He did not need to tell his listeners at the closed-door meeting of fellow U.S. bishops that a notable advocate of that view is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, powerful head of the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Malone cited "the tremendous contribution" the U.S. bishops' conference has made to the public debate in this country, both on the war and peace issue and on the economy and added, "I look forward to sharing these thoughts and more at the synod."
Both the bishop's forthright comments and the decision to make public the address given earlier this month at the private Minnesota retreat of the U.S. hierarchy offer clues to the stance he intends to take in November.
The extraordinary synod, summoned by Pope John Paul II to evaluate the results of Vatican II 20 years later, will be made up of heads of bishops' conferences around the world and top Vatican officials, plus another group of delegates to be appointed by the pope. Many expect that this last category will include Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago, a respected leader of the church in this country and a member of the Vatican's permament commission on the synod.
Malone noted that the call for the synod produced both hope and anxiety: hope "in the hearts of some very conservative folk who . . . look to the synod to undo the work of Vatican II," and anxiety among some liberals "who fearfully entertain much the same expectation."