Bishops Synod on the Eucharist
Posted Monday, Oct. 17, 2005 at 12:00 p.m. CDT

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Coverage of Bishops Synod on the Eucharist

Report #13:
Statement on married priests likely in final list of proposals


John L. Allen Jr.


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By John L. Allen Jr.

At least four of the small language groups in the Synod of Bishops have voted in favor of propositions calling for further study of the viri probati, meaning the ordination of tested married men as priests, according to sources who spoke to NCR Oct. 17.

Sources told NCR that propositions calling for further consideration of the viri probati, in one way or another, came from two of the three English groups, one of the three French groups, and the German group.

On the other hand, at least one group adopted a proposition against the viri probati.

Last week, the roughly 350 participants in the synod broke into 12 small groups organized by language to discuss proposals for propositions, which will eventually be presented to the pope. While summaries of the small group discussions have been made public, the specific propositions they adopted have not. The propositions are styled as confidential recommendations to the pope.

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.
  • Sources discussing the content of the draft propositions spoke to NCR on background.

    The first draft of the propositions will be presented Tuesday morning, then discussed in small groups organized by language Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday. Those groups will propose amendments or deletions. On Thursday, the bishops and experts designated to prepare the final list will begin to meet.

    Some sources believe the support of four groups represents sufficient momentum that a proposition mentioning the viri probati will survive, while others believe the final document will contain a more generic reference to pastoral problems created by the priest shortage.

    Further consideration of viri probati

    “I think what everyone agrees is that the priest shortage is not caused by celibacy,” one participant said Oct. 17. “The crisis runs much deeper.”

    The same participant said that “the synod has neither the consensus, nor the data at hand, to make a clear recommendation on the viri probati. Married priests would raise all kinds of problems, from seminary formation to financial support.”

    Based on that, he said, the most the synod might do is call for further consideration of the viri probati, especially in specific situations where isolated communities cannot be reached by existing priests on a regular basis.

    Since the synod is a consultative body, it is up to the pope to decide what to do with the propositions eventually submitted for his consideration. The final vote on the propositions will be Saturday morning. Oct. 22.

    Ironically, despite repeated calls on the synod floor for greater respect of Sunday as the “Lord’s Day,” the bishops and experts involved in preparing the first list of propositions worked most of Sunday to put together the first draft. Today, their results are being translated for distribution tomorrow morning.

    By the time of Saturday’s vote, the propositions are supposed to have been fashioned in such a way to make them acceptable to the vast majority of participants.

    “They asked us to put them together in such a way that there was a 99 percent probability that they would pass,” one expert working on the propositions told NCR Oct. 17.

    During this week, work also continues on the final message. One bit of drama there is what will happen to the language in the first draft, read to the synod on Saturday, concerning divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

    As prepared by the committee for the message, chaired by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, the draft message treats divorced and remarried Catholics who are barred by existing rules from receiving the Eucharist. The section says that while some Catholics in that situation associate their suffering with that of Christ, most can’t see it that way and hence experience frustration in the life of faith. The bishops don’t want such people to be outside the church, the draft says, and asserts that “your suffering is our suffering.” It concludes by expressing the wish that all will pray together to correctly follow the command of God.

    “That leaves it very open,” one participant said Oct. 17. “It creates the possibility for further consideration.”

    During the discussion following presentation of the draft, some bishops expressed concern that such language might make the church’s commitment to the indissolubility of marriage seem ambiguous. Some proposed taking it out altogether.

    Many participants are anxious, therefore, to see what form the language will take in the next draft, to be presented later in the week.

    ‘New movements’ and other matters

    On other matters, one source told NCR that several of the propositions that emerged from the small groups contain “veiled references” to movements such as the Neocatechumenal Way, especially in terms of their potential to divide parish communities. In general, this participant said, there is appreciation among the bishops for the enthusiasm of the movements and their work with the young, but also concern about the possibility of “parallel structures within parishes.”

    “I suspect there will be a proposition affirming the primacy of the parish as the main focus of community,” this participant said.

    Sources told NCR that several draft propositions also address the question of Eucharistic services in communities awaiting a priest.

    “On the floor, much of the talk about these services was negative, in terms of confusing people about the difference between these services and a Mass,” one participant said. “In the groups it became more positive.”

    In the end, this participant said he believes the final proposition will acknowledge the legitimacy of these services as a pastoral response to the priest shortage, but will also call for proper catechesis about the differences with the Mass.

    Finally, sources told NCR that “three or four” groups passed draft propositions seconding calls made on the synod floor for practical help for homilists, including the idea of a new “manual” for homilists to be prepared by the Vatican that would provide draft homilies keyed to the scripture readings and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    Some bishops, however, have expressed reservations about the idea, wondering if instead of encouraging homilists to be creative and responsive to the pastoral realities of their communities, such a manual would simply be seen as a “crutch.” Others argue that if the primary purpose of the homily is to “break open” the Word of God, then a manual coordinated not just to scripture but to the Catechism may be counter-productive.

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

    October 17, 2005, National Catholic Reporter

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