Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE)
COMMISSION OF THE BISHOPS' CONFERENCES OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY (COMECE)
The Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, in French, Commission des épiscopats de la Communauté européenne, thus COMECE, was established on March 3, 1980 with the agreement of the Holy See. COMECE consists of a delegate bishop from each of the episcopal conferences in the member states of the European Community, or the *European Union (EU), as it is now known. Acting for the episcopal conferences of the member states, COMECE's fundamental aim is to interact with the European political institutions concerning important issues surrounding the construction of Europe, especially in the socio-economic, political, legal, and cultural spheres.
Purpose and Aims. An instrument in the process of ongoing evangelization of Europe, COMECE seeks to ensure that the process of European construction is value based and endowed with a soul. While not having an official status vis-à-vis the institutions of the EU, the COMECE Secretariat is a listening post for the local churches of the member states concerning all matters of interest to the Chruch treated by the institutions of the EU (especially the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, and the European Court). The Secretariat also monitors the work of the institutions of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Article One of the COMECE statutes states:
The Bishop's Conferences of the countries belonging to the European Community excercise their pastoral task in the framework of that Community, as a complement to their pastoral duties in their own countries, so as to attain a reciprocal openness and fraternal cooperation among themselves in the service of the evangelization of the new Europe.
COMECE is an instrument of that process and as such has five aims. First, it seeks to inform the bishops and, through them, the local churches about issues of common pastoral concern being dealt with in the various EU institutions and the Council of Europe. Second, it helps the bishops reflect on the pastoral issues and challenges arising from the process of European integration. Third, it facilitates collegiality among the bishops' conferences with regard to pastoral decisions and action to be taken in the context of a community of nations characterized by an ever-deepening political union. Fourth, it establishes contacts with European civil servants and politicians in order to present to them the concerns of the bishops' conferences and the local churches on issues of importance in contemporary Europe and, at the same time, to discover the EU perceptions of the same issues and ascertain the questions that the civil servants or politicians might wish to address to the Church. Fifth, it makes statements or produces responses to particular issues in the EU political sphere in the name of the bishops' conferences, as deemed necessary and fitting by COMECE in consultation with the national bishops' conferences.
Structure. The membership of COMECE consists of the bishops delegated for three-year terms by each conference of the EU member states. Observers are invited from other European countries that have applied, but have not yet been approved, for membership in the EU. A Swiss observer has always attended the plenary meetings, which are held twice a year to set out the main areas of work. Elections are held once every three years to elect the Executive Committee.
The Executive Committee, consisting of the president, two vice presidents, and the secretary general, carries out the decisions taken by COMECE. It meets twice yearly between the two plenary sessions. The staff of the Secretariat carries out work under the direction of the secretary general. The president is responsible for the Secretariat and its service to the Commission and its Executive Committee. Based in Brussels, the Secretariat also has a small office in Strasbourg.
Franz Cardinal Hengsbach (Essen, Germany) was elected as the first president of COMECE in March 1980. He was assisted by Archibishop Jean Hengen (Luxembourg) and Cahal B. Cardinal Daly (then bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Ireland). At the plenary meeting in April 1983, Hengen was elected president and Bishop Dante Bernini (Albano, Italy) and Hengsbach as vice presidents. Hengen was re-elected for a second term as president in 1986 with Archbishop Charles A. Brand (Strasbourg, France) and Bishop José da Crus Policarpo (Lisbon, Portugal) as vice presidents. In November 1990 Brand became president with Bishop Joseph Duffy (Clogher, Ireland) and Bishop Luc de Hovre (Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium) as vice presidents. At the plenary meeting in November 1993 Bishop Josef Homeyer (Hildesheim, Germany) was elected president, and Archbishops Fernand Franck (Luxembourg) and Elias Yanes Alvarez (Zaragoza, Spain) were elected as vice presidents.
Origin and Activities. As with many Church-related organizations surrounding the European institutions, the role of lay Christians in COMECE's inception is significant. Its direct origins, however, are to be found within the already existing postconciliar *Council of the Bishops' Conferences of Europe (CCEE). Some of the members of the latter from the then member states of the European Economic Community (EEC) recognized the need for an instrument to ensure information, presence, and interaction with the evolving EEC. Thus, discussions in the mid-1970s led initially to the establishment in 1976 of an information service, Service d'Information Pastorale Catholique (SIPECA) under the aegis of the Apostolic Nunciature in Brussels. Four years later, when COMECE was set up, the work of the SIPECA was entrusted to COMECE. By continuing to publish the twice-quarterly SIPECA review, Europe, Current and Coming Events, in French, English, and German, COMECE was able to fulfill its task as an information service for the European bishops of the main issues dealt with in the work of the EU and of the Council of Europe. COMECE distributes the review to all the bishops of the EU member states and the presidents and secretaries of the Bishops' conferences of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
A part of COMECE's regular work as an information service, the Secretariat organizes general information visits to the Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg institutions for bishops, groups involved in specific pastoral activities, and for individuals and groups involved with specific issues where the EU is competent.
COMECE's central task is that of articulating contributions of the bishops' conference to the evolving political agenda of EU policy making. In this regard, the agenda of COMECE's work is set to a large extent by the agenda of the EU itself. Social and economic policy issues, political union, deepening and enlargement of the EU, subsidiarity, security, peace and disarmament, equality of opportunity for men and women, audiovisual and media policy, education and training, refugee and asylum policy, EU relations with Central and Eastern Europe and with the developing countries, biotechnology and bioethical issues, ecological and environmental policy, and the preservation of Sunday observance are among the many issues to which COMECE seeks to contribute to the shaping of EU political policy-making. Such contributions are made chiefly through meetings and exchanges with officials of the EU institutions and on occasion by means of statements or position papers.
COMECE has a particular function with respect to the nine European schools located in six of the members states of the EU. The governing body of these schools recognizes COMECE as an official interlocutor in matters pertaining to the teaching of Catholic religion on behalf of the bishops in whose dioceses the European schools are located. As necessary COMECE organizes meetings and seminars for these bishops or their delegates to ensure adequate coordination and organization. In June 1990 COMECE drew up a framework program for the teaching of religion in these schools to assist religion teachers with their tasks.
Cooperation and Links. Since its foundation COMECE has had close links with the representatives of the Holy See to the institutions of the European Union in Brussels and of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Good working relations with the episcopal conferences of the member states of the EU, their presidents, Secretariats, and commissions are also fostered. In the case of those bishops' conferences where there exists a Committee for European Affairs, the COMECE Secretariat contributes to their work and when possible participates in the realization of their objectives. COMECE has always enjoyed close links with the CCEE. The continuation of such cooperation was foreseen in the statutes of the CCEE as redrafted in 1993. COMECE is the authorized interlocutor on behalf of the bishops' conferences of the EU member states with the European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society (EECCS), the consultative commission of the non-Catholic churches in the EU member states.
Bibliography: r. astorri, ed. Gli statuti delle conferenze episcopali l (Padova 1987); g. bauer, "Consitution de la commission des épiscopats de la Communauté européenne," SIPECA, Bulletin d' Information mensuel 31 (1980); h. e. cardinale, "Une nouvelle initiative pastorale de l'Eglise en Europe," SIPECA, Bulletin d' Information mensuel 31 (1980). comece, Statutes of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community; Standing Orders of the COMECE. p. huotpleuroux, "Le Cardinal Hengsbach et la COMECE," in Zeugnis des Glaubens Dienst an der Welt: Festschrift für Franz Kardinal Hengsbach, ed. b. hermans (Essen 1990). c. thiede, "Bischöfe–kollegial für Europa. Der Rat der Europäisachen Bischofskonferenzen im Dienst einer sozialethisch konkretisierten Evangelisierung," ICS Schriften 22 (Münster 1991).