Priest shortage takes center stage on synod's first day
By Stacy Meichtry
Pope Benedict XVI presided over the first synod of his papacy Monday (Oct. 3) amid growing concern by synod participants that the Roman Catholic church is struggling with a global priest shortage.
Addressing the drought of priestly vocations, some of the synod's 256 participants suggested the church should ordain married men known as viri probati, Latin for "proven men." Theologians use the term to describe older, married men whose reputations exemplify church teaching.
That proposal surfaced in the 52-page Relatio ante disceptationem, a synthesis of comments from around the world sent in prior to the synod. Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice prepared the report and read it before Benedict on the synod floor.
Without identifying which bishops supported the measure, Scola reported that some synod participants "put forward the request to ordain married faithful of proven faith and virtue, the so-called viri probati.' "
Although the proposal is unlikely to gain backing in Rome, support for the measures could be strong in regions like the Americas, Africa and parts of Europe where the shortfall is felt more acutely
According to the Instrumentum Laboris, the synod working paper, the ratio of priests worldwide has fallen from one priest for every 1,797 Catholics in 1978 to one priest for every 2,677 Catholics in 2003.
|Read more NCR coverage of the synod on the Eucharist|
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divorce squarely on churchs pastoral agenda
Posted Oct. 20, 11:00 a.m.
Gregory: Little change expected but synod had honest talk of pastoral realities
Posted Oct. 19, 11:00 a.m.
Draft propositions do not recommend changes in church discipline
Posted Oct. 18, 11:00 a.m.
Womens voices heard through interventions of 12 synod auditors
Posted Oct. 17, 12:15 p.m.
Statement on married priests likely in final list of proposals
Posted Oct. 17, 12:00
Outreach to Latin Mass Catholics proposed for final message
Posted Oct. 15, 9:32
Report #11: Problems acknowledged, synod bishops seek middle ground solutions. Posted Oct. 13, 1:15
Report #10: Despite frank talk, few breakthroughs expected from synod. Posted Oct. 12, 11:00 a.m.
Report #9: Key synod themes seem clear, but consensus may be elusive. Posted Oct. 11, 11:00 a.m.
Report #8: Inculturation of liturgy sparks debate at this and past synods of bishops. Posted Oct. 10, 11:30 a.m.
Report #7: Bishops of Global South link Eucharist and
justice, local cultures. Posted Oct. 8., 9:52 a.m.
Report #6: Discussion of celibacy and marriage clergy continue to hold center stage. Posted Oct.
7, 10:21 a.m.
Report #5: Environment, social justice emerge as eucharistic themes. Posted Oct. 6, 10:30 a.m.
Report #4: Divorced, remarried Catholics topics of frank synod discussions.
5, 3:00 p.m
Report #3: Priest shortage continues to roil synod of bishops. Posted Oct. 4, 2:01 p.m.
Report #2: Movements appeal for changes to make Eucharist more accessible. Posted Oct. 4, 2:00 p.m.
Report #1: Priest shortage takes center stage on synod's first day. Posted Oct. 3, 3:04 p.m.|
|Read The Word From Rome columns|
The final set of propositions; The case of viri probati; Some worry the synod lacked theological heft. Posted Oct. 21, 2:07 p.m.
Latin Mass a non-issue; Interview with Bishop Skylstad; Scola's 17 questions to
guide the synod. Posted Oct.
14, 10:46 a.m.
The synod so far; How to report on a synod; A view from Moscow; Document on homosexuals in seminaries will not create an absolute ban; Catholic left and right square off. Posted Oct. 7, 11:55 a.m.
Preview of the synod on the Eucharist. Posted Sept. 30, 8:05 a.m.|
Speaking at a press conference following a morning session of the synod, Bishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Imus, Philippines, offered a blunt illustration of the crisis.
"Let me make a confession here. And I know our canon lawyers will get mad," Tagle said. "The first Sunday after my ordination as a priest I said nine Masses and that is regular in the Philippines."
Tagle did not say whether he supported the ordination of married men.
Scola, who also attended the press conference, appeared to reaffirm the Vatican's long-standing opposition to the proposal, calling the priesthood a "gift" to the church. Addressing the shortage, he said, is a "very long journey" for the church.
Scola, designated as the synod's official "relator," will summarize in a report for Benedict the issues raised during the three-week assembly.
At times Scola also appeared to play down the extent of the shortage, focusing his comments on the significance of the Eucharist, the synod's official theme.
"The church is not a business that can determine in rigorous terms how many priests it needs," Scola said. "How can we say in absolute terms if there are enough or not enough priests?"
Sitting one seat away from Scola, Tagle offered a rebuttal: "In the absence of the priest, there is no Eucharist. We should face squarely the issue of the shortage of priests."
Tagle reported that in 40 of the 60 parishes he oversees, lay people regularly distribute Communion in the absence of priests -- a fact that he said diminishes the sacramental value of the Eucharist.
Benedict has made clear that he considers belief in the Eucharist the linchpin of Catholic teaching. According to the Instrumentum Laboris, the synod working paper, the current assembly was convened in order to purify the way Catholic's approach the Eucharist.
Synod participants are expected to debate whether communion should be denied to Catholic politicians who defy church teaching on moral issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research.
According to the synod working paper, Catholics who vote against church teaching are living in mortal sin and "are a cause of scandal" to the church.
Benedict officially inaugurated the synod on Sunday (Oct. 2) with a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica that underlined these themes.
"Tolerance that treats God like a personal opinion, but denies him public domain," he said, "isn't tolerance but hypocrisy."
Speaking in somewhat apocalyptic tones the pope warned: "The judgment announced by the Lord Jesus referred above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. But the threat of judgment also regards us, the church of Europe, Europe and the West in general.
Absent from the synod were four Chinese bishops whom Benedict had invited to Rome in an attempt to mend ties between the Vatican and the Chinese government.
China, which does not recognize the pope's authority over Chinese clergy, appeared to have prevented them from attending the synod.
Stacy Meichtry is Vatican Corresondent for Religion News Service.
October 3, 2005, National Catholic Reporter