Bishops Synod on the Eucharist
Posted Friday, Oct. 7, 2005 at 10:21 a.m. CDT

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Coverage of Bishops Synod on the Eucharist

Report #6:
Discussion of celibacy and marriage clergy continue to hold center stage

Pope Benedict XVI makes his first intervention

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Priest shortages, and the related issue of mandatory celibacy, continue to haunt the 21st Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme of the Eucharist. Some bishops appear to be suggesting a relaxation in the celibacy requirement, while others have defended celibacy as "the most precious jewel in the treasure of the Catholic church."

Friday morning, Bishop Dennis George Brown of Hamilton, New Zealand, president of the bishops' conference of that nation, took up the issue directly.

"We as church need to be continually open to finding ways in which the Eucharist can become easily available to all of our faithful people," Brown told the synod.

"We need to be sensitive to the questions that the faithful often ask us, e.g., 'Why does it seem to be possible for former married priests of the Anglican Communion to be ordained and function as Catholic priests, while former Catholic priests who have been dispensed from the vow of celibacy are unable to function in any pastoral way?'" Brown said.

Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of the Maronite church in Lebanon, struck a different note, arguing that in Eastern rite churches, a married priesthood creates special difficulties.

Read more NCR coverage of the synod on the Eucharist
  • Report #17: Final draft rebuffs Latin Mass; priest shortage, divorce squarely on church’s pastoral agenda Posted Oct. 20, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #16: Gregory: Little change expected but synod had honest talk of pastoral realities Posted Oct. 19, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #15: Draft propositions do not recommend changes in church discipline Posted Oct. 18, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #14: Women’s voices heard through interventions of 12 synod auditors Posted Oct. 17, 12:15 p.m.
  • Report #13: Statement on married priests likely in final list of proposals Posted Oct. 17, 12:00 p.m.
  • Report #12: Outreach to Latin Mass Catholics proposed for final message Posted Oct. 15, 9:32 a.m.
  • Report #11: Problems acknowledged, synod bishops seek middle ground solutions. Posted Oct. 13, 1:15 p.m.
  • 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. Posted Oct. 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.
  • A married priest's obligations to his family, Sfeir said, sometimes compete with his commitments to his parish. In addition, when a priest is not a good fit with a given parish, it can be extremely difficult for a bishop to move him if his wife and children have already put down roots.

    In an exclusive interview with NCR that appears in today's "The Word from Rome" column, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow makes much the same argument. (Editor's Note: The column will be posted later today.)

    In that light, Sfeir defined celibacy as "the most precious jewel in the treasure of the Catholic Church" but said it is difficult to conserve in a modern culture he called "full or eroticism."

    Without directly calling for a reevaluation of celibacy, Bishop Brian Michael Noble of Shrewsbury, England, argued that "adequate provision" for the celebration of the Eucharist must be an urgent priority for the church, and called on the Holy See to consult the bishops of the world to determine how best to address the problem.

    Some prelates, especially from the developing world, have also suggested a "redistribution" of priests to those areas hardest hit by the scarcity of clergy.

    On Oct. 6, Bishop Lucio Andrice Muandula of Xai-Xai in Mozambique made the argument.

    "It comes naturally to me to ask to what extent an ecclesial community without the Sacrament of the Eucharist can reach that dynamism of life which allows it to change into a missionary community capable of fulfilling with joy the missionary project which the Lord Jesus himself entrusted us," Muandula said.

    "One must insist on the equal redistribution of priests in the world," Muandula said, "as already mentioned several times by the Synodal Fathers."

    Despite perceptions of priest shortages in North America and Europe, the problem is actually far worse in many areas of the developing world.

    The United States, for example, represents 6 percent of the global Catholic population, but has 12 percent of the bishops in the Catholic church and 14 percent of the priests. In fact, the United States has more priests by itself than the top three Catholic countries combined. There are 41,000 priests in the United States, as compared to 37,000 in Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines, representing a block of 340 million Catholics, more than 30 percent of the global total.

    Sfeir, however, expressed doubts about redistribution schemes, suggesting that priests from regions with different "traditions, customs and mentalities" may not be well suited for service elsewhere.

    Bishops from the Global South have also continued to insist on linking the Eucharist with concern for social justice.

    "In a country such as Congo-Kinshasa, the Catholic faithful should be initiated more and more to bring to the altar their sufferings, which are those of all their people and which has existed for decades," said Bishop Nestor Ngoy Katahwa of Kolwezi, Congo, Oct. 6.

    "The frustrations from injustice and social inequalities, the rancor of living in extreme poverty on an extremely rich soil, scandalously exploited for the well being of others, the wars imposed on them bringing with them destruction and forced displacement, the upheavals of tribal and ethnic hate are tragedies that cover the path of the cross of the people of Congo," Katahwa said.

    The contentious issue of communion for pro-choice Catholic politicians surfaced on Friday.

    Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, called legislative proposals to liberalize divorce, abortion, "couples of fact," gay marriage and adoption rights for homosexuals, are "clearly contrary to divine law, to the commandments of God, and are the negation of natural law."

    In that light, Lopez Trujillo asserted that politicians supporting these measures should not receive communion.

    "Politicians and legislators must know that, by proposing or defending projects for iniquitous laws, they have a grave responsibility, and must remedy the evil done or diffused in order to be able to receive communion with the Lord who is the way, the truth and the life," Lopez Trujillo said.

    To date, Lopez Trujillo has been the only synod father to directly address the issue.

    On Thursday night, Pope Benedict XVI made his first intervention in the synod. Speaking in Italian, the pope went on for 12 minutes (well exceeding the three minutes set aside for each participant during open discussion, but no one moved to turn off his microphone).

    Benedict offered a theological reflection of the nature of the Eucharist, essentially observing that there is no contradiction between the Eucharist as a sacrifice and the Eucharist as a communal meal. One synod participant told NCR that he suspects the pope intervened because the difference between the sacrificial and communal dimensions of the Eucharist was shaping up as a potential point of debate, and the pope wanted to steer the conversation away from what he sees as a false opposition.

    One of the strongest rounds of applause so far came Thursday evening, after the intervention of Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, head of the Chaldean Catholic church in Iraq.

    "Allow me to ask for your prayers for Iraq," Delly concluded, "so that the Lord of peace, Jesus in the Eucharist, will give tranquility and security to Iraq and all the Middle East, and our Christians will remain faithful to their Eucharistic faith, source of grace, well being and peace."

    Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, proposed several ways that the universal dimension of the Eucharist might he reflected in concern for members of other religions. Among other things, Fitzgerald suggested that alongside other Masses for special intentions already in the Roman Missal, a new Mass of prayer "for concord among people of different religions" might be added.

    The new custom of open exchange in the evenings introduced by Benedict XVI continues to produce unexpected moments.

    Thursday evening, for example, a bishop rose to say that many bishops from his nation didn't understand a recent Vatican prohibition on "intinction," meaning the custom of Catholics dipping the Eucharistic host into the Precious Blood and then administering it to themselves.

    In response, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, rose to explain that this point was carefully considered, and the conclusion was that only celebrants and concelebrants can administer communion to themselves in the Latin rite. Even a cardinal, Arinze pointed out, if he is not concelebrating the Mass, must receive communion from someone else.

    Whatever one makes of the response, the model of direct, open exchange is a relative novelty in these meetings.

    John L. Allen Jr. is NCR's Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

    October 7, 2005, National Catholic Reporter

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