"Now is the acceptable time" (2 Cor. 6) for Catholics throughout the whole world to reflect on what type of leadership, indeed what model of church, we need for the new millennium.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) invited all of us to read the signs of the times in the light of the gospel. It called our faith community to perpetual renewal. We have tried to be faithful to that call as we examine the life of our church and our need for a Bishop of Rome who can lead our faith community in a "universal agap=E9," or assembly of charity.
The millennium now passing away has been an age of division among Christians. It is our hope that the third millennium will become an age of reconciliation and unity.
In this spirit, Pope John Paul II invited all Christians to reflect on the future of the Papacy "...that we may seek - together, of course - the forms in which this ministry [of Peter] may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned ... to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation." (Ut Unum Sint, No.95).
At the same time, voices within the World Council of Churches are calling all Christian churches to commit themselves in the year 2000 to begin preparation for a Universal Christian Council.
We join our voices with these calls, and declare our readiness to renew our faith community in light of the signs of our times, and to dialogue and work with other churches on the basis of equality.
To realize these dreams, we offer our reflections on the qualities needed by our age in the next Bishop of Rome. We share our thoughts in the spirit of the woman in the gospel who mixed yeast with flour so that her bread might expand and nourish a community. This is our "yeast."
To build a vibrant church in the new millennium, we need to listen once again to Jesus and his first disciples who preached the equality of all persons (Matt. 23; 11-12; Luke 22: 24-26; Gal. 3:28). We need to build structures in our church which reflect that equality so that we may live, pray and minister to one another as a "discipleship of equals." Only then will we follow the example of Jesus who sends the Spirit, not to a small group, but to the whole community of faith. Only then will we live out the teaching of Vatican II which recognizes us all as the People of God, co-responsible for decision- making in the life of our church.
We need to restore a church that values dialogue and justice in its internal life as well as its approach to the world. We need to reestablish a church that respects and celebrates our worldwide diversity, a church in which there is freedom to live our faith in different ways in different cultures. We need to resurrect a church that recognizes the importance of local churches where the Word is preached in ways that local cultures can hear it. The building of this restored church is the work of the whole People of God, not only the Bishop of Rome, other bishops and the clergy.
We begin by urging that we restore the practice of the early church and develop structures that permit the People of God to participate in a prominent way in the election of all church leaders. This would include the election of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. This renewal of an ancient tradition will acknowledge the action of the Spirit in community of the faithful.
We would be greatly helped in renewing our church by a leader who reads the "signs of the times" in concert with the people, a collaborative Bishop of Rome who can listen as well as preach, and dialogue as well as teach. We need a leader who truly embraces and consults the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful).
We especially need a leader who recognizes the awakening of women's consciousness as a significant "sign of our times." Women, more than half of our church, have grown conscious of their dignity and equality with men. They are calling our faith community to respect and implement that equality in its own life.
We need a Bishop of Rome who respects the differences among us as well as challenges us to live the gospel.
We need a Pope who distinguishes between his pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Rome, and the ministry of Peter in which he is in dialogue with the universal church. As Bishop of Rome, he serves the faithful of Rome as any bishop serves a diocese. He would retire at the age established for all bishops. As president of the worldwide agape, he would act as a brother bishop who invites the world's bishops to share leadership with him and with other members of the People of God who are called forth by the faithful. In that spirit, he would reform the Curia (papal cabinet) so that it might serve, rather than dominate, other bishops and the church universal.
But most of all, we need a Bishop of Rome and a Universal Pastor who is:
What we need in the new millennium is a Bishop of Rome who is a Universal Pastor.