Problems acknowledged, synod bishops seek middle ground solutions
By John L. Allen Jr.
A dynamic is shaping up at the Synod of Bishops in which the
bishops seem, in effect, to be trying to meet their critics half-way.
Theyre willing to acknowledge, in unusually blunt fashion, certain
long-taboo topics as real problems, but not necessarily to embrace the most
Thus, bishops have been crystal clear about the conundrums generated by
the priest shortage, by the exclusion of divorced and civilly remarried
Catholics from Communion, and from the ban on Protestants receiving the
Eucharist at a Catholic Mass. What they dont seem interested in doing is
getting rid of clerical celibacy, or relaxing the rules on Communion.
The real solutions, they believe, must be found elsewhere.
On the priest shortage, for example, several bishops have talked about
the theological and spiritual logic for mandatory celibacy in the Western
church, with one defining celibacy as the churchs most precious
jewel, and others arguing that the problem underlying priest shortages is
not celibacy but a broader crisis of faith.
Both Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of India and Cardinal Juan
Sandoval Íñiguez of Mexico made that argument in an Oct. 13
Vatican news conference, marking the synods half-way point.
Wednesday evening, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the relator for the
synod, presented the relatio post disceptationem, or the speech
after the discussion, which is intended to focus the discussion to date
and provide direction for the meeting of the circoli minori, the small
groups whose job it is to generate proposals for propositions to submit to the
|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.|
Heres what Scola had to say on the issue of celibacy.
Fathers from every continent underlined the worrying shortage of
priests, Scola said. In this area, someone made reference to the
Some fathers, recalling the Christological,
ecclesiological and eschatological motives for celibacy presented in
Sacerdotalis coelibatus [a 1967 document of Pope Paul VI] in continuity
with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, affirmed that the hypothesis
of the viri probati is not a path to pursue.
Bishops from the Eastern rite churches have warned of practical problems
a married priesthood can create, such as the difficulties of supporting a
priest with a wife and children, or of moving him to a new parish assignment
when his family has already put down roots.
We have nothing against [married priests], said emeritus
Bishop Sofron Stefan Mudry of Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine, a member of the Greek
Catholic rite, during an Oct. 13 Vatican press conference. They helped
preserve the faith during communism, and many were arrested.
Yet Mudry also said that some Eastern rite churches with married priests
are experiencing clergy shortages.
Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, president of the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told NCR Oct. 13 that he
has not heard a strong call in the synod for married priests.
Skylstad said instead that the basic challenge is for meat-and-potatoes
pastoral work to encourage vocations in families, parishes and Catholic
institutions. He also said that when parishes see a model of a
hard-working, happy and fulfilled pastor, that parish is likely to
Some bishops have suggested a redistribution of priests from
regions with many priests to those with few, but others seem dubious about how
practical that might be, both because there are few parts of world generating
surplus vocations and because of cultural and linguistic challenges.
On divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, the bishops openly
discussed the suffering of people barred from the sacraments, in some cases due
to the failure of a marriage that was beyond their control, in candid
Not a few fathers made reference to people who are living
together, to baptized Catholics who are only married civilly, and to the
divorced and remarried, who find themselves in the painful condition of not
being able to receive eucharistic Communion, Scola said. The
importance of a welcoming pastoral stance in their regard was
Yet there has been little push, according to participants, to change the
Instead, many bishops argued for streamlining the work of marriage
tribunals around the world, making the process less cumbersome and expensive,
in order to regularize the situations of as many people as possible
within the limits of existing legislation.
Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, prefect of the Congregation for
Divine Worship, defended the ban on Communion at todays news
I dont see this as a law of the church, but a law of
God, Arinze said.
If two people are married, and its valid before God and the
we dont have the power to dissolve that marriage, he
said. If one or other party has reason to believe the marriage was not
valid from the beginning, they can go to the tribunal.
Communion is not something we priests or bishops possess and can
give to our friends, or to the people we like, Arinze said.
Were only ministers. We have to respond to God.
Scola noted that several bishops supported promoting energetically
the pastoral dimension of ecclesiastical tribunals, with eventual
simplifications of functions and procedures, favoring the creation of tribunals
where they dont exist.
One irony of this discussion is that American bishops, long accustomed
to hearing their tribunals criticized in Rome for giving out too many
annulments, now are hearing them praised as models.
On the problem of inter-Communion with Protestants, members of the synod
have repeatedly acknowledged the intrinsic link between the Eucharist and the
longing for Christian unity, but again not at the expense of altering the
existing rules that generally bar Protestants from the Catholic Eucharist.
I get the sense that people think inter-Communion in general is
not the way to go, Skylstad said.
Instead, the bishops seem eager to be more generous in applying existing
rules, which allow Catholic priests to administer Communion to non-Catholics
when there is no service in their own rite available, when they request the
sacrament, and when they share the faith of the Catholic church about the
In addition, bishops seem eager to pursue opportunities for joint
worship with other Christians outside the Eucharist, such as Liturgies of the
Interestingly, two other widely debated issues connected to the
Eucharist have received virtually no discussion in the synod at all: the status
of the pre-Vatican II rite of Mass, and the question of whether or not to bar
Catholic politicians who dont follow the moral teaching of the church
Skylstad told NCR he had the sense that many bishops from other
countries regard the latter issue as a bit of an American
In other business, two developments on the margins of the Synod of
Bishops yesterday suggest that the always-tense situation of the Catholic
church in China, long divided into an official church with an ambiguous
relationship with Rome and an underground church loyal to the pope but harassed
by the government, is on the mend.
The core issue between the Chinese government and Rome has been control
of the local church, and especially the issue of who picks its bishops. For
decades, the Patriotic Association, the government-sponsored body
with official jurisdiction over church affairs, insisted on nominating bishops
without consulting the pope.
Bishop Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, long known as one of the most outspoken
figures in the Chinese church with respect to government restrictions on
religious freedom, told the synod that after long years of this forced
separation, today the overwhelming majority of bishops in the official
church have been legitimated through the magnanimity of the Holy
Especially in recent years, Zen said, it has become
ever clearer that bishops ordained without the approval of the Roman pontiff
are not accepted, either by the clergy nor the faithful.
Zen said this trend, which amounts to the sensus
ecclesiae, or sense of the church, is opposed by some
conservative elements in the official church, but he nonetheless
hoped that it will lead to a normalization of relations with the
Zens analysis was confirmed by a piece published in the Oct. 15
Civiltà Cattolica, a semi-official journal screened by the
Vaticans Secretariat of State, by German Jesuit theologian Fr. Hans
Waldenfels wrote that in China today, before being consecrated
bishops by the official community, candidates normally seek to obtain the
nomination of the Holy See. He cited several cases in point, including
the new bishop of Shanghai, Giuseppe Xing Wenzhi, consecrated on June 28,
Given this trend, Waldenfels suggested, it is to be expected the
successors to the bishops of the underground church will not be
named, leading to an eventual healing of the decades-long Chinese schism.
Whether this development will prompt greater openness from the Chinese
authorities on religious freedom is another matter, which Waldenfels concluded
requires thinking in the long run.
John L. Allen Jr. is NCRs Rome correspondent. His e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 13, 2005, National Catholic Reporter