Bishops Synod on the Eucharist
Posted Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005 at 11:00 a.m. CDT

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Coverage of Bishops Synod on the Eucharist

Report #10:
Despite frank talk, few breakthroughs expected from synod

‘Fraternal delegates’ speak of Communion in other traditions

John L. Allen Jr.


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By John L. Allen Jr.

In a potential indication that one should not expect breakthroughs from the 21st Synod of Bishops on the tough questions of celibacy or communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, a Western European cardinal told the bishops that he understood all the positions expressed on those issues, and cautioned bishops not to go home “feeling as if they have not been heard.”

The cardinal, whose identity was not revealed in a Vatican briefing, was said not to be a member of the Roman Curia.

Three other bishops came to the defense of clerical celibacy in the last 24 hours.

On Tuesday night, a bishop asked the synod to express appreciation for the practice of celibacy in the Western church, which he described as especially difficult to maintain in a “pan-sexual culture,” and as a valuable witness in a “hedonistic world.” He also said there are married deacons who are today getting divorced, a problem that would also extend to married priests. An Eastern-rite bishop warned that the priest shortage should not induce the church to abandon celibacy in the West.

Wednesday morning, Cardinal George Pell of Australia issued another ringing defense of celibacy.

“To loosen this tradition now would be a serious error, which would provoke confusion in the mission areas and would not strengthen spiritual vitality in the First World,” Pell said.

“It would be a departure from the practice of the Lord Himself, bring significant practical disadvantages to the work of the church, e.g., financial, and weaken the sign value of the priesthood; it would weaken, too, the witness to loving sacrifice, and to the reality of the Last Things, and the rewards of Heaven,” Pell said.

In other business, Archbishop Roland Minnerath of Dijon, France, the special secretary for the synod, gave an overview of what he saw as important themes to date.

Contradictions and challenges

Minnerath pointed to two “contradictions” that have emerged: first, the church’s identity as a eucharistic community, yet its inability to provide the Eucharist because of priest shortages; second, the church’s requirements of Sunday Mass attendance and regular confession, yet its inability to provide those sacraments to many faithful, again because of shortages of clergy.

Minnerath then outlined three primary challenges facing the church: 1) the rise of Islam, especially in the West; 2) relativism, indifferentism and hedonism; and 3) the evangelical and Pentecostal “sects.” He said he had no solutions to offer, but urged the synod to “listen to the Holy Spirit.”

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.
  • Cardinal Attilio Nicora, who oversees the Vatican’s financial operations, perhaps unsurprisingly offered a spiritual defense of the tradition of “Mass intentions,” meaning small offerings from the faithful in order to have Masses said for specific intentions, such as the memory of a loved one.

    Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine clarified that his proposal for a “general extraordinary synod” did not envision a meeting with the Orthodox, but with the bishops of the Western and Eastern rites in the Catholic church. A synod with the Orthodox might, he suggested, be a second step.

    On the subject of sensitivity for the Eastern rites, one of the Eastern rite patriarchs in communion with Rome gently requested that in addressing letters, Vatican officials use the term “Your Beatitude” rather than “Your Eminence,” since “beatitude” is the correct term for a patriarch. He also asked that officials sending these letters not identify the dicastery in which they work so much as their rite -- Eastern or Latin.

    When he finished, the president for the day said “Thank you, Your Beatitude,” eliciting a laugh.

    Wednesday morning the synod heard from some of its “auditors,” including Henrietta de Villa, former ambassador of the Philippines to the Holy See.

    Noting that a traditional Latin term for the church is mater et magistra, “mother and teacher,” de Villa suggested that perhaps one reason the church fails to impress some young people as a teacher is because “they have never experienced her as a mother.”

    De Villa suggested that dynamic parishes, experienced as centers of family, welcome, forgiveness and salvation, fueled by authentic liturgies, is at the heart of the solution.

    Fraternal delegates speak

    Tuesday afternoon was also the turn at bat for the “fraternal delegates,” meaning the invited observers from other Christian churches, and it was to be expected that the vexed question of inter-communion would surface.

    It was also to be expected that the energy would come more from the churches of the West, where differences with Catholicism over the sacraments and apostolic succession generally make inter-communion impossible, then from the East, whose sacraments and ministries the Catholic church recognizes as valid.

    Things largely held to form, as the two most striking references to the issue came from representatives of the Anglican and Lutheran churches.

    Anglican Bishop John Hind of Chichester, England, first raised the issue.

    “When is it appropriate to share Holy Communion? How should we interpret the public giving of Communion to the Protestant Frère Roger Schutz?” Hind asked in his prepared text, though a briefer told reporters he cut out portions and may not have spoken these words.

    The reference was to the fact that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger administered communion to Schutz, a Swiss Protestant and founder of the legendary French ecumenical community of Taizé, at the April 8 funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II. Some saw the act as a signal of openness from Ratzinger on the inter-communion question.

    Hind called for “criteria of mutual recognition” regarding the Eucharist.

    A much more direct challenge came from Emeritus Bishop Per Lønning of the Lutheran Church of Norway, who recounted some of his experiences of worshipping with Catholics over the years.

    In 1971, he said, he was in Belgium, and a young Catholic priest asked him if he would like to receive Communion. He turned to the Catholic bishop present and said he didn’t want to do anything contrary to the rules, so the bishop himself also refrained from Communion, and at the end the two men delivered a benediction together.

    In 1975 at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota, he learned that Protestant students had been coming forward for Communion for about 10 years at Catholic Mass, without being invited. “Who are we to censor this work of the Holy Spirit?” one Benedictine told him. A week later, he was at a Lutheran campus in the United States, where a Catholic chaplain told him that some of his students were attending a Protestant Eucharist. The chaplain said his one regret was that he could not join them.

    Given that experience, Lønning said, he is “rather sad” about the language in paragraphs 86 and 87 of the Instrumentum Laboris for the synod, which largely repeats existing prohibitions.

    “I know they will make many of my Catholic friends sad: bishops, professors, monastic leaders,” Lønning said. “Conclusions are presented and logically championed with no reference to what has been and is going on in your own church. No attention is paid to opinions not less biblically founded than the one triumphant. Will it forward the actual ecumenical progress in case this is published as the official voice of the Roman Catholic church?

    “If we really believe the presence of Christ the Savior to be linked with the wonder of Holy Communion, how can we remain with our divided altars, and not hear the harsh question of the apostle as directed to us: ‘Has Christ been divided?’ “

    The Orthodox representatives, on the other hand, largely restricted themselves to relatively pro forma expressions of hope for unity.

    “It’s sad to have the same convictions regarding the importance of the Eucharist without being able to share it in the same meal,” said Metropolitan Johannis of Pergamo, representing the Greek Orthodox church.

    Several of the Orthodox delegates described the customs that surround their church’s celebration of the Eucharist, including relatively strict requirements for fasting and confession prior to Communion. Others spoke about the way in which administration of the Eucharist is conducted, which often differs from church to church; the Syrian Orthodox do not allow reception of the consecrated bread without the wine, dipping the host in the wine before giving it to the faithful; the Ethiopian Orthodox, on the other hand, view separate distribution of the bread and wine as a commandment of Christ.

    Two Orthodox delegates said that in the new round of theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, the role of the local bishop must be an important consideration. Many observers believe that differences between Catholics and Orthodox over the balance of power between the papacy and the local bishops represents perhaps the most serious impediment to improved ecumenical relations.

    Pope Benedict XVI was not present for the evening session.

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

    October 12, 2005, National Catholic Reporter

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