Key synod themes seem clear, but consensus may be elusive
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
What seems clear is that its 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
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 Vaticans 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|
Final draft rebuffs Latin Mass; priest shortage,
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.|
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 ones
Škvorčević of Poega, 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
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
Statement to grab the media
Synod members charged with crafting the meetings 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
its up to the pope, not the synod, to take concrete steps on those
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 NCRs Rome correspondent.
His e-mail address is email@example.com.
October 11, 2005, National Catholic Reporter