Despite frank talk, few breakthroughs expected from synod
Fraternal delegates speak of Communion in other
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
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
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 churchs identity as a eucharistic community, yet its inability
to provide the Eucharist because of priest shortages; second, the churchs
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
|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.|
Cardinal Attilio Nicora, who oversees the Vaticans 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 didnt 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. Johns 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.
Its 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
Several of the Orthodox delegates described the customs that surround
their churchs 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
Pope Benedict XVI was not present for the evening session.
John L. Allen Jr. is NCRs Rome correspondent. His e-mail
address is email@example.com.
October 12, 2005, National Catholic Reporter