Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE)

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At Vatican Council II the bishops discovered the great value of collegiality. Toward the end of the council the presidents of 13 European episcopal conferences sought ways of continuing collegial cooperation. The result was the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae), founded in March 1971.

Composition and Purpose. The members of the CCEE are the Bishops' Conferences of Europe, numbering 33 as of 1994. Until 1993 the conferences were represented by a delegated bishop, but since April 1993, at the specific request of Pope John Paul II, the conferences are represented by their presidents. Normally, a general assembly is held every year.

The specific tasks that the CCEE has set itself are as follows: promotion of hierarchical communio; exchange of information; cooperation on common issues; the establishment of contact with episcopal conferences of other continents; ecumenical contact; and Christian witness within European society.

The presidents of the CCEE have been Cardinal Roger Etchegaray of France (197179); Cardinal Basil Hume of England (197986); Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Italy (198693); and Archbishop Miloslav Vlk of the Czech Republic (1993). The secretary general of the conference until 1977 was Alois Sustar; since 1979 that position has been held by Ivo Fürer. The secretariat has been located in St. Gallen, Switzerland, since 1977.

Evangelization in Europe. The Councils of Bishops' Conferences that were set up in other continents were established to observe and monitor specific matters of concern and issues needing attention in those continents. For many centuries Europe and the universal Church had been identical. As a result it was only gradually that the CCEE discovered the problems that were of particular concern to the European continent. This growth in self-awareness occurred especially in a series of symposia organized by the European bishops.

A symposium has been held on average every three years. The different episcopal conferences are represented at these symposia by a number of bishops in proportion to the size of the conference. On each occasion roughly 80 bishops attend the symposium. Initially, the symposia were dedicated above all to following up issues raised at Vatican Council II: "Post-Conciliar Diocesan Structures" (1967); "The Life and Ministry of Priests"(1969); "The Mission of Bishops as Diakonia of the Faith" (1975). There followed a type of transitional symposium on "Youth and Faith" (1979). The remaining symposia have addressed various issues: "The Collegial Responsibility of the Bishops and of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe in the Evangelization of the Continent" (1982); "'Secularisation' as a Challenge and an Opportunity for the Gospel in Europe" (1985); "New Attitudes to Birth and Death as Opportunities for Evangelisation" (1989).

There has been a growing realization that the specific task of the CCEE is the evangelization of Europe. Europe has been shaped by the Christian faith and in turn Europe shaped Christianity. This mutual interpenetration, unchallenged from the earliest times, has been in steady decline for the past two centuries and had accelerated in recent times. This phenomenon is sometimes described as "secularization." The peculiar problem for Europe is that the continent finds itself at the close of a first, glorious age of evangelization, while also presiding over the transition to a totally new age in history.

Interaction Between East and West. Until 1989 the continent of Europe was sharply divided due to the isolation of those states in Central and Eastern Europe that were under communist domination. Whenever possible, contact between the different local churches was established within the context of the CCEE. The episcopal conferences of Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Romania, and East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) also regularly worked together. The degree of cooperation on the two sides of the great European divide differed markedly.

This situation changed dramatically with the collapse of communism. In April 1990 the CCEE welcomed representatives of the episcopal conferences of Central and Eastern Europe to a discussion regarding the new situation on the continent. This discussion was continued and intensified at the special Synod for Europe held in December 1991. The new situation shaped the 1993 Symposium of European Bishops. Held in Prague in September, it brought together representatives of the laity, priests, and religious to address the theme, "The Gospel Lived in Freedom and Solidarity."

The totally contrasting patterns of society, one characterized by an atheistic state ideology and more or less public persecution of the Church, the other characterized by indifference and virtually unrestrained freedom, both in their own way shaped the Church in their separate regions. In the West, an attempt was made to explore the avenues opened up by this new situation, while in the communist countries constant opposition ruled out any form of experiment. It was during these years, when the two halves of the continent were so divided, that Vatican Council II took place. In its wake there were notable changes in the life of the Church and in theology in the West. In communist countries the tendency was to emphasize the immutability of Church teaching and thus to partially cut oneself off from developments in Western theology. At the CCEE plenary meeting held in January 1994, the two different patterns of development in East and West were quite evident. What is clearly needed on each side is a better knowledge of the other side and a recognition and exchange of the different gifts of East and West.

Thematic Meetings of the CCEE. The CCEE organizes meetings between bishops, who are entrusted with specific dossiers within their own episcopal conferences, and specialists in their particular field. When the CCEE was established, it was discovered that pastoral ministry to migrants and to tourists required a certain cooperation between episcopal conferences. At a meeting on migration held in December 1993, in addition to the question of pastoral care, the increasingly acute problems of racism and xenophobia came up for discussion.

Roughly every two years, a meeting has taken place in which the participants exchanged views on the question of catechesis. The principal matter of concern was the transmission of the faith in the contemporary world. Over the past few years in the West the question of religious instruction in the public school system has been an issue of contention, while in the countries that hitherto had been communist, religion is being reintroduced as a school subject.

A commission made up of six bishops, the same number of media specialists, and representatives of international Catholic media organizations deals with all issues related to mass media in the European context. Given the wide variety of languages and cultures represented on the European continent, the possibilities of exchanging religious programs between one country and another are very limited. There is urgent need for Western help in assisting the Church to gain access to the media in the formerly communist countries, and particularly to train Catholics to work in the media. A congress was held in Budapest in April 1994 on the subject, "The Value of the Gospel, Media Culture, and European Reconstruction." By way of making its contribution to the preparation of the Roman Synod on the Laity and on Priestly Formation, the CCEE invited the relevant bishops and representatives of the parties concerned from all of the countries of Europe to meet. This move enabled the participants to engage in discussions and thus helped give a clearer idea of which problems could best be solved at the national level and which required a solution at an international level.

Meetings have also been held for those bishops with special responsibility for ministry to youth, ecumenism, justice and peace, evangelization, pilgrimages, etc. Meetings are organized for those promoted to the episcopate in the previous five years. They meet with experienced bishops and discuss the fundamental question: How am I a bishop?

Ecumenical Cooperation. Pope John Paul II has repeatedly pointed out that the churches from the continent in which the separation of the churches originated have a special duty to promote the cause of unity. Since its foundation the CCEE has striven for ever closer cooperation with the Council of European Churches (KEK). This latter grouping represents some 120 churches and church communities from the Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican families. A joint committee was set up in 1971, and the council has an annual meeting.

Especially significant are the European ecumenical meetings to which 40 representatives each from CCEE and KEK are invited. The themes of the meetings held to date have been: "OneThat the World May Believe"(1978); "Called to One HopeEcumenical Fellowship in Prayer, Witness and Service" (1981); "Confessing the Faith TogetherSource of Hope" (1984); "Your Kingdom Come!" (1988); "'At Thy Word': Mission and Evangelism in Europe Today" (1991). The CCEE and KEK have also mandated a joint committee to tackle the issue of "Islam in Europe."

Witness in the European Community/European Union (EC/EU). At a moment when the episcopal conferences in most communist countries enjoyed little possibility of influencing the socio-political life of their respective nations, more and more countries in the West were coming together in what is now known as the European Union. Given that many policy decisions are now being taken at the supranational level, the episcopal conferences of the nations concerned have found themselves obliged to get together and, in cooperation with the diplomatic representatives of the Holy See on the spot, make their views felt. This need for common action between conferences led to the setting up of the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) in March 1980. This latter body is made up of one delegate from each of the episcopal conferences of the European Union.

The enterprise with perhaps the greatest influence on society was the ecumenical meeting organized jointly by CCEE and KEK held in Basel in May 1989. There were 700 delegates from all the churches in Europe present, as well as thousands of visitors. The fact that this meeting immediately rode the crest of the European wave is quite remarkable. Discussions are under way at the moment regarding the convening of a second European ecumenical assembly to address the issue of reconciliation.

Exchange of Information. Cooperation between episcopal conferences requires that information be exchanged between conferences on a regular basis. It is precisely with the intention of keeping one another up to date that the secretaries of the national episcopal conferences have an annual meeting. Furthermore, the spokespersons of the conferences, i.e., their media officers, maintain regular contact. At irregular intervals the Secretariat of the CCEE issues a report on the principal issues dealt with by the individual bishops' conferences.

The CCEE has established multilateral contacts with a wide variety of European organizations and institutions, in particular the European Forum of National Councils of the Laity, the Council of Working Parties of the European Council of Priests, and the European Conference of National Major Superiors.

Bibliography: Conseil des Conférences Épiscopales d'Europe, Les Évêques d'Europe et la nouvelle évangélisation (Paris 1991). Conseil des Conférences Épiscopales d'Europe et Conférences des Églises Européennes, Les Églises d'Europe: l'engagement œcuménique (Paris 1993).

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Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE)

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