Catholic Church Leaders Discuss New Plenary Council Formation

By John Jeanguenat
The Exponent
Downloaded June 25, 2003

Bishops from around the country discussed an idea that hasn't been acted on in over a century when they met for their annual spring meeting last weekend in St. Louis.

The idea is the formation of a plenary council.

The idea was first brought up for discussion during the 2002 spring meeting in Dallas - the focus on that meeting was clergy sexual abuse acts.

Although the topic of sexual abuse was brought up during this year's meeting, the discussion was aimed toward the improvements that have been made and the list of achievements, said Bishop William Higi, bishop of Lafayette.

The sex abuse cases prompted the discussion about the plenary council formation a year ago.

The concern of the falling numbers of Catholics that attend church, how culture affects religion and the identity and responsibility of priests and bishops were the three topics the plenary council would look at if formed.

There have only been three plenary councils in the history of the American Catholic Church.

All three plenary councils were held in the 19th century in Baltimore. The First Plenary Council was held in 1852.

The bishops, clergy and laity that attended that meeting decided to implement the Catholic school system.

There is no guarantee that a plenary council will be formed, but Higi said there likely would be more discussion on the topic during the winter bishop meeting in Washington D.C., and next spring's meeting in Denver.

This may take time to develop, Higi said, because the church tends to move slowly with its decisions.

The plenary council could also allow the church to continue its effort to handle the sex abuse scandal that surfaced two years ago.

This is an issue that Fr. Steve Kuhlmann, O.P., a priest at St. Thomas Aquinas, said could take a number of years to work itself through.

Kuhlmann said the sex abuse issue is a big issue that built over a number of decades and that there is no quick solution.

Another issue that was discussed and could affect the Lafayette area is the formation of permanent deacons.

These are deacons that, unlike deacons that will be ordained priests, are married or older men that plan on remaining deacons.


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