Bishops Synod on the Eucharist
Posted Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2005 at 11:00 a.m. CDT

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Coverage of Bishops Synod on the Eucharist

Report #9:
Key synod themes seem clear, but consensus may be elusive


John L. Allen Jr.


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By John L. Allen Jr.

On one of the last full days of speech-making, many of the popular themes in the 21st Synod of Bishops surfaced anew: celibacy and the priest shortage; divorced and remarried Catholics; the Eucharist and ecumenism; the balance between linking the Eucharist to justice and ecology, versus concentration on core matters such as the real presence of Christ and the resurrection.

What seems clear is that it’s much easier to identify key points of concern than to come to consensus about them.

During the open discussions Monday night, for example, two bishops from Western Europe rose to defend the discipline of celibacy in the Western church, against suggestions that the priest shortage might be addressed by relaxing the celibacy rule.

“The priest shortage is not due to celibacy, but to a crisis of faith,” one bishop told the synod.

Vatican policy on the open discussions is to reveal what was said, but not the name of the speaker.

This bishop argued that marriage is also in crisis, and that if the church were to allow priests to marry, before long it would also have the problem of priests who are divorced.

Another European bishop said that the synod should not “weaken the gift of celibacy.” He argued that the synod must go beyond “utilitarian” arguments on celibacy, and develop its relationship with the “absolute novelty” of Christ and his gospel.

Yet another affirmed that the shortage of priests is due to a “crisis of faith” rather than the discipline of celibacy.

A meeting of Christians

On ecumenism, several bishops advocated steps that might improve relations with other Christian bodies, above all the Orthodox churches of the East. One suggested that the pope call a meeting of “all baptized Christians” similar to the inter-faith gatherings that John Paul II convened three times in Assisi (1986, 1993 and 2002). Another proposed that the Catholic church adopt the Eucharistic prayer of St. Basil, widely acknowledged in the Orthodox churches, for use in the Catholic Mass.

On the other hand, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, underlined one limit to ecumenical openness.

“To favor unity with our separated brothers, we must not be divided ourselves. And the sure way to avoid division is faithfulness to the current discipline of the church,” Sodano said.

Sodano then quoted at length from John Paul II, to the effect that sharing of the Eucharist implies unity in faith, it does not produce that unity. Hence “con-celebration” with other Christians, Sodano suggested, would be a false path to unity.

On divorced and remarried Catholics, while no bishops today advocated changing the rules on receiving Communion, several spoke in favor of expanded use of the tribunal system to resolve the marital status of these Catholics. Many of these bishops came from the developing world, where use of marriage tribunals has long been spotty.

One Asian bishop, for example, said that in his diocese, in 95 percent of the cases when Catholics have come forward seeking canonical assistance, the tribunals have been able to resolve the difficulty and allow these Catholics to return to the sacraments.

The tendency for bishops from the developing world to emphasize the linkage between the Eucharist and social justice continued.

Bishop Adalberto Martinez Flores, for example, from the San Lorenzo diocese in Paraguay, argued for an intrinsic connection between the two.

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.
  • “In the present day of our country, great and serious exclusions continue still due to social iniquities, the deficient access to health, the unjust distribution of goods and land, the devaluation of the dignity of human life, unemployment, corruption and increasing poverty which especially punish women, young people and children who suffer the silent martyrdom of the slavery, injustices and afflictions,” Flores said.

    “The Masses celebrated in our communities, very well attended, deeply felt and joyful, are privileged spaces of fraternity, to collect and fill baskets with food, medicine, clothes and possessions in the offerings given to be later distributed to those in need,” he said. “Around the altar crop up initiatives for solidarity to house abandoned children and to establish nursery schools and dining halls to feed them; initiatives for the promotion in the self-management, sustenance and development of families and their meager economies.”

    Caution on core doctrine

    Other synod fathers, however, warned that an overly “horizontal” emphasis could obscure core doctrinal points.

    Benedictine Abbot Andrea Pantaloni, for example, from the Silvestrine Congregation of the Benedictines, argued that the synod should stress the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist, meaning belief in resurrection and a “new heavens and new world.”

    “Other problems, such as ecology, are important, however -- in the synod -- they are used only to take the attention away from the substance,” Pantaloni warned. “I do not believe they should be connected to the Eucharist, they could only distract one’s attention.”

    Bishop Antun Škvorčević of Požega, Croatia, called for better collaboration between local bishops conferences and the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome, the office responsible for approving rites and their translations into local languages, especially when the congregation does not have sufficient expertise in languages, such as Croatian.

    Such collaboration is important, Škvorčević said, “to avoid problems at the level of the particular churches and reproaches of centralism in the elaboration of the liturgical texts.”

    A similar call was made by Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana, regarding cases when bishops request dispensations from general norms to respond to local situations.

    “The bishops wish to use the medium of this synod to appeal to the pertinent offices in the Vatican, to which these request for dispensation will come, for understanding and sympathetic consideration,” he said.

    Despite criticism from some quarters of an overly legalistic approach to liturgical norms, other participants have defended the rules that come from Rome as necessary to safeguard the integrity of the rites.

    Another common theme during synod discussion has been the desirability of expanding the practice of Eucharistic adoration apart from the Mass. Cardinal Ivan Dias of Bombay proposed that bishops and priests all over the world should spend an hour each day in adoration, “interceding for themselves, for the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care and for the needs of the whole church.”

    Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, former president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, spoke this morning on the need for priests to be effective homilists. Gregory said he repeatedly hears stories of people traveling vast distances to attend services where they know they will be nourished spiritually by effective preaching, as well as a prayerful and reverent celebration of the rite.

    Gregory also underlined the importance of “careful and accurate translations of liturgical texts.”

    At the end of the synod, participants will produce two documents -- a set of propositions that are private and for the pope and a message for the public.

    Statement to ‘grab the media’

    Synod members charged with crafting the meeting’s final message are meeting over these days. They received a charge from synod officials to come up with a statement that will grab the attention of the media, reflecting a concern that the synod should seem relevant to the broader world.

    One member of the committee charged with preparing the message told NCR Oct. 10 that this will be difficult to do, given that the topics of greatest public interest -- such as celibacy, or the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics -- have to date not generated any consensus, and moreover it’s up to the pope, not the synod, to take concrete steps on those subjects.

    After a week and a half of experience with the new custom of one hour of open discussion in the evenings, opinions in the synod appear divided about how useful this innovation has been. Some say it has provided previously impossible examples of follow-up discussion to points made in the morning sessions, while others are frustrated that it seems largely a series of unrelated speeches rather than a direct exchange of views on particular questions.

    One synod participant told NCR that he has noticed a trend on days when Benedict XVI is not present in the morning but comes in the evening for the open discussion for bishops largely to summarize their interventions from the morning, because they want to make their points in the presence of the pope.

    One correction to a previous report. I quoted Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, as saying that in Somalia, four religious men maintain one hidden Tabernacle. (See Report #7) In fact, Souraphiel said “religious sisters.” The error was due to working from an ambiguous Italian translation.

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

    October 11, 2005, National Catholic Reporter    

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