WASHINGTON (November 6, 2002) -- At their semi-annual meeting next week, the nation's Catholic bishops will be briefed on a proposal to convene the first plenary council in more than a century.
The Ad Hoc Committee for a Plenary Council will report to the full membership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the timeliness and feasibility of convening a council of the nation's bishops. The ad hoc committee, which was appointed after a number of bishops circulated a petition calling for a council, was charged with studying the various issues which would be associated with convening such an assembly.
A plenary council is a gathering of representatives from all the dioceses within the territory of a single bishops' conference like the USCCB. Its purpose is to address matters affecting the life of the Church in that geographic area. With the approval of the Holy See, a plenary council may enact "particular law," or church law that is applicable in one country or region.
The proposal first circulated among the U.S. bishops this past summer called for a plenary council that would address such issues as promoting holiness, priestly celibacy, and sound sexual morality in the United States.
All diocesan, coadjutor, and auxiliary bishops are voting members of a plenary council, and retired bishops may be invited and have a deliberative vote. The Code of Canon Law also spells out others who must be called to participate in a plenary council with a consultative voice – but no vote. These include vicars general, episcopal vicars, a determined number of major superiors of religious orders, rectors of all Catholic universities and deans of faculties of theology and canon law, and a determined number of seminary rectors. Other priests and lay Catholics may also participate with a consultative voice, but their number may not exceed half the total of the other participants.
The last plenary council for the United States was convened in 1884 in Baltimore and resulted in the publication of the Baltimore Catechism, learned by generations of U.S. Catholics in the last century.
Members of the Ad Hoc Committee for a Plenary Council are: Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein OSB of Indianapolis, Chairman; Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ; Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee; Archbishop John R. Quinn, retired of San Francisco; Archbishop Justin F. Rigali of St. Louis; Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of El Paso; Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago; and Auxiliary Bishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit.