By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
In the first important ballot taken during the Synod of Bishops on the Bible, the roughly 250 bishops and clergy with the right to vote appear to have opted for a broadly moderate line, electing members of a commission that will craft the synod’s final message known as centrists on most theological matters.
The “Commission for the Message” will produce a brief statement at the end of the synod, which is addressed to the wider world. That public message, along with a set of private propositions presented to the pope, represents the primary “work product” of the meeting, which runs from Oct. 5-26.
By papal appointment, the President of the Commission for the Message is Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, an Italian who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture. The vice-president, also tapped by the pope, is Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Silva Retamales of Valparaiso, Chile.
The other members, elected by the synod, include:
•tCardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels, Belgium;
•tCardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras;
•tCardinal Walter Kasper, a German who heads the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity;
•tArchbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Agaña, Guam;
•tArchbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria;
•tArchbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, India;
•tBishop Zbiginiew Kiernikowski of Siedlce, Poland;
•tMetropolitan Archbishop Basil Schott of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of the Byzantine rite;
•tBishop Louis Pelatre, Apostolic Vicar of Istanbul, Turkey;
•tFr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, General Master of the Dominican Order.
As in most matters in a Synod of Bishops, there was an effort to ensure that the Commission for the Message is geographically balanced. Danneels represents Europe, Rodriguez represents the Americas, Onaiyekan is from Africa, Menamparampil is an Asian, and so on, while Kasper ensures a presence from the Roman Curia.
Schott, representing the Eastern churches, is the only prelate from the United States on the commission.
In terms of the commission’s basic outlook, Danneels, Rodriguez and Kasper, the three cardinals elected, are generally seen as among the more “center-left” members of the College of Cardinals. Interestingly, there are no high-profile conservatives.
While it’s important not to over-interpret these results, since elections in the Vatican rarely pivot on highly charged ideological debates, but rather on personal relationships and perceptions of competence, nonetheless the outcome suggests that the synod’s message is likely to carry a broadly moderate tone.
Ravasi, the president of the commission, is generally seen as among the most intellectually impressive prelates at the senior levels of the Vatican. He is also a noted Biblical exegete.
Rodriguez, Onaiyekan and Menamparampil also have reputations as activists on behalf of social justice concerns, suggesting that the synod’s final message may contain a sharp social emphasis. This morning, for example, Onaiyekan told NCR he has been struck that so far, no one in the Synod of Bishops, other than the pope himself, has really touched upon the mounting global economic crisis.