Posted October 25, 2005
The Word From Rome
By John L. Allen, Jr.
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In broad strokes, the final set of propositions at the Synod of Bishops, set
for a vote tomorrow, do not differ significantly from the first draft
presented Oct. 18. Married priests are still defined as "a path not to
follow," the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion is
confirmed, and the general ban on inter-communion with Protestants is
As in the original draft, Catholic politicians are reminded of their "grave
social responsibility" in dealing with laws the church regards as unjust.
(You can read NCR's earlier report on the propositions here: Report #15.)
Whereas the original draft called on bishops to apply this orientation with
"the virtue of prudence," taking into account local situations, the final
list calls bishops to exercise "firmness and prudence."
The final list of propositions was read to the synod participants Friday
evening. NCR obtained a copy ahead of tomorrow's vote.
There are 50 propositions all told, which run to 35 pages in the Italian
Since the synod is an advisory body, the propositions amount to indications
of the body's thinking. It is up to Benedict XVI to decide what action, if
any, to take with them.
Proposition 11, titled "The Scarcity of Priests," treats celibacy. It reads:
"The Synod Fathers have affirmed the importance of the inestimable gift of
ecclesiastical celibacy in the practice of the Latin Church. With reference
to the magisterium, in particular Vatican II and the recent popes, the
Fathers have asked that the reasons for the relationship between celibacy
and priestly ordination be illustrated adequately to the faithful, in full
respect for the traditions of the Eastern churches. Some made reference to
the viri probati, but this hypothesis was evaluated as a path not to
The proposition goes on to encourage pastors and families to promote
vocations. A change from the first draft adds that families "in some cases
are indifferent if not in fact contrary" to the idea of a son pursuing the
priesthood. Finally, the proposition calls on bishops, religious
communities, and priests to be open to a more equitable distribution of
Proposition 40 treats the divorced and remarried.
"According to the tradition of the Catholic church, they cannot be admitted
to Communion, finding themselves in conditions of objective contrast with
the Word of the Lord who returned marriage to its original value of
indissolubility," it says. Nevertheless, it says, divorced and remarried
Catholics "belong to the church," which "welcomes them and follows them with
special attention," encouraging them to participate in the Mass, though
without receiving communion.
If such Catholics cannot obtain an annulment, and "objective conditions"
exist why their new marriage cannot be dissolved, the proposition says, they
are to be encouraged to live their new marriage "according to the exigencies
of the law of God, transforming it into a loyal and trustworthy friendship."
In effect, the language means that these couples should not consummate their
"But blessing these relationships should be avoided," the proposition says,
"so that confusion does not arise among the faithful regarding the value of
The proposition also calls for effective functioning of marriage tribunals
for Catholics seeking an annulment, "taking account of the emerging problems
in the context of the profound anthropological transformation of our time,
from which the faithful risk being conditioned, especially in the lack of a
solid Christian formation."
Proposition 41, on "The Admission of Non-Catholic Faithful to Communion,"
affirms existing discipline barring general inter-communion.
It adds, however, that "it should be clarified that in view of personal
salvation, the admission of non-Catholic Christians to the Eucharist, the
Sacrament of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick in determined individual
situations under precise conditions is possible, and even recommended."
Proposition 46 concerns "The Eucharistic Coherence of Catholic Politicians
"Politicians and legislators must feel themselves particularly moved in
their conscience, correctly formed, about the grave social responsibility of
presenting and supporting iniquitous laws," it says. "There is no
eucharistic coherence when laws that go against the integral good of the
human person, against justice and against natural law are promoted. One's
private opinion and public opinion cannot be separated, putting oneself in
contrast with the law of God and the teaching of the church, and this must
also be considered with respect to the reality of the Eucharist (1
"In applying this orientation, bishops should exercise the virtues of
firmness and prudence, taking account of concrete local situations."
On other matters, the first proposition asks Benedict XVI to issue a
document "on the sublime mystery of the Eucharist in the life and mission of
In a change from the first draft, proposition two affirms both the goodness
"and the validity" of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council
(1962-65), "which still contain riches not fully explored."
An amendment to proposition five, on "The Eucharist and the Church," adds a
strong ecumenical note.
"The Eucharist stabilizes a strong bond of unity between the Catholic church
and the Orthodox churches," it reads, "which have conserved the genuine and
integral nature of the mystery of the Eucharist. The ecclesial character of
the Eucharist could also be a privileged point in the dialogue with the
communities born from the Reform."
Proposition seven, dealing with "The Eucharist and the Sacrament of
Reconciliation," states that the synod "vividly recommends" that bishops not
permit collective absolution in their dioceses except in exceptional
circumstances outlined in church law.
Proposition eight, on "The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Matrimony," has
been amended to add, "The synod recognizes the singular role of women in the
family and in society."
Proposition 17 calls for the preparation of a "Compendium on the Eucharist,"
either by the Vatican or the bishops' conferences, bringing together
liturgical, doctrinal, catechetical and devotional materials on the
Eucharist, along with patristic commentaries and material from both the
Eastern and Western churches.
Proposition 19 suggests the preparation of a set of thematic homilies as an
aid to priests, tied to both the Sunday readings and the Catechism of the
Proposition 23 warns that the way the Sign of Peace is currently offered
sometimes goes on too long, or creates confusion prior to communion, and
hence suggests the possibility of putting it somewhere else in the Mass,
"taking account of antique and venerable customs." Indirectly, that seems to
suggest the idea of moving it to just after the Prayers of the Faithful,
before the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Proposition 32, on "The Eucharist Celebration in Small Groups," appears
indirectly to treat, among other things, the question of Masses for
movements such as the Neocatechumenal Way. It states that such groups "must
serve to unify the parish community, not to divide it," and that as much as
possible they must preserve "the unity of the family."
Proposition 36 suggests that in international celebrations the Mass be said
in Latin, apart from the readings, the homily, and the Prayers of the
Faithful, and that priests be trained from the seminary to use Latin prayers
as well as Gregorian Chant. It also recommends that the faithful be educated
to do so as well.
Proposition 47 deals with "The Eucharist and Ecology," calling for "a change
of mind and heart, facilitating a harmonic and responsible relationship
between the human being and creation."
Read more NCR coverage of the synod on the
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: Womens 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 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.Proposition 48 is on "The
Social Dimension of the Eucharist."
"It is in the commitment to transform unjust structures for reestablishing
the dignity of the human being, created in the image and likeness of God,
that the Eucharist becomes in life what it means in the celebration," it
The proposition specifically says that this dynamic raises questions about
globalization, the gap between rich and poor which "cries out to Heaven,"
political and economic powers that exploit the riches of the earth, war and
An amendment to the proposition also mentions the HIV/AIDS pandemic, drugs
and alcoholism. Another adds "economic corruption and sexual exploitation."
Proposition 49 is specifically dedicated to "The Eucharist and
Reconciliation of Peoples in Conflict."
On Saturday, the bishops will have the chance to vote placet or non placet
on each of the propositions, meaning "it is pleasing" or "it is not
pleasing." In general, the final propositions usually attract large
majorities of placets.
The Synod of Bishops issues a message to the world in addition to its
propositions for the pope. Release of the message, scheduled for 1 p.m.
today, was pushed back due to last-minute debates over its content,
especially focused on the section on divorced and civilly remarried
Several members of the synod, including Cardinals Edmund Szoka of the United
States, governor of the Vatican city-state, and Alfonso López Trujillo,
president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, argued Friday morning
that the message needed to be more clear that the Catholic church considers
divorce and remarriage without an annulment a sin.
As reported by NCR yesterday, the language on divorced and remarried
Catholics had already been strengthened before Friday morning's session to
better reflect such concerns. Where the first draft, circulated on Oct. 15,
referred to "irregular" family situations, the penultimate draft mentioned
situations that "do not conform to the commandment of the Lord." In stating
that nobody wishes to exclude such Catholics from the church, the revision
added that the bishops "do not share choices they have made." A line that
the suffering of divorced and remarried Catholics "can be transformed into a
precious involvement in the Christian community" was removed, and the new
text invited the divorced and remarried to listen to the Word of God for
their life of faith "and their conversion."
As of press time, the final draft of the message was scheduled for release
While the final propositions from the Synod of Bishops define the ordination
of viri probati, or tested married men, as not "a path to follow," the
spirit of discussion over the last three weeks has not been quite as
absolute on the question as that formula may suggest.
There was general agreement among participants that mandatory celibacy in
the Western church is not the cause of the priest shortages that affect many
parts of the Catholic world. Secularization and the general reluctance of
modern men and women to make lifelong commitments, participants believe, are
the deeper forces at work, noting that many Christian denominations with
married clergy or female clergy are also experiencing shortages.
Moreover, numerous interventions from bishops from Eastern rite churches,
which already have married priests, offered powerful witness to the
practical difficulties created by such a system. Many of these bishops
warned that married priests sometimes experience hardship in balancing their
commitments to their families and their parishes, that bishops often find it
difficult to economically support priests with families, and that it is much
more difficult to move married priests to new assignments when their wives
have jobs and their children are in schools in a given location.
Further, at least in many parts of the developed world, the priesthood is
not just a spiritual vocation but also in some ways a profession requiring
specialized training and competence. It's not clear, some bishops have
warned, that the viri probati would necessarily bring the skills and
background that Catholics have come to expect of their priests.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta made this argument in an Oct. 19
interview with NCR.
None of this is to suggest, however, that participants believe there are no
situations in which the viri probati might merit further consideration.
Several synod fathers have mentioned areas in the developing world, such as
rural areas of Latin America or the Pacific Islands, where isolated
communities strung out over vast distances often go without priests for long
periods of times, perhaps months. Participants were struck by the repeated
appeals of bishops facing such situations, and regard them as requiring
creative pastoral solutions.
In those cases, some participants felt, there may be good reasons for
considering the viri probati as a potential solution.
In such cases, however, participants appeared to agree that the ball is in
the court of individual bishops and bishops' conferences, rather than the
synod, to approach the pope with a recommendation.
In other words, the consensus seems to be that as a matter of the general
discipline of the Western church, celibacy should be upheld, but that in
individual cases exceptions are imaginable. That's a less sweeping
conclusion than the language of the propositions may suggest, but according
to most sources, it best captures the spirit of the assembly.
Though most observers credit the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist with
producing a comparatively frank discussion on important issues, some experts
have quietly expressed misgivings over what they see as a relatively low
level of theological reflection.
It's a special irony, they say, for a Synod of Bishops presided over by a
pope recognized as a superb theologian.
One of the rare exceptions, these observers say, came Oct. 6, when Pope
Benedict XVI intervened during the "free discussion" to make a point about
the character of the Eucharist as both a sacrifice and a community meal. In
roughly 15 minutes, Benedict reflected on the Jewish roots of the Last
Supper, pointing out that in Jewish tradition a Passover meal is not a
simple act of memory, but a way of rendering the God of the Exodus present
to the assembly. The bottom line was that there is no contradiction between
treating the Eucharist as meal and as a representation of Christ's sacrifice
on the Cross -- they are, in fact, inextricably linked.
Many participants cited the remarks as a model of theological clarity, which
had the effect of steering the synod away from a false dichotomy between
"horizontal" and "vertical" dimensions of the Eucharist.
Despite this attempt to "raise the tone," some observers say the
conversation has continued to be highly focused on rites, rules, and
practical pastoral challenges, with relatively little attention to
underlying theological principles.
One such observer is Salesian Fr. Francis Moloney, one of the theological
experts accompanying the work of the synod. Moloney gave an Oct. 16 address
at the Lay Centre, a program directed by American laywoman Donna Orsuto for
laity in Rome studying at the various pontifical universities.
Afterwards, Moloney and I sat down for an interview.
"I believe there has been a fairly mediocre level of discussion among the
bishops about ultimate theological and pastoral issues, which is not what I
think the Holy Father actually wanted," Moloney said.
Since 2003, Moloney, an Australian, has served as dean of the School of
Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America. He has
recently been elected the provincial superior for the Salesians in Australia
and the South Pacific. Moloney served for almost 20 years as a member of the
International Theological Commission, the principal advisory body to the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Moloney was quick not to cast blame. "Bishops in the contemporary church
inevitably are caught up in huge administrative issues, to say nothing of
the fallout from sex scandals and all the rest," Moloney said. "Their pants
are on fire, and it's understandable that their interventions are concerned
with practical pastoral problems."
Still, Moloney said, his experience of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger leads
him to believe the pope was hoping for something more theologically
At the same time, Moloney said, the pope's own deep theological reflection
should reassure anyone worried about the eventual apostolic exhortation
Benedict is expected produce on the basis of the synod's input.
"I've known him for 18 years," Moloney said. "Don't worry, he'll handle it.
What he comes up with will easily outclass anything said in that hall."
Moloney predicted that the document Benedict will eventually produce will be
"profoundly Biblical and patristic," as well as "sensitive to the urgent
pastoral questions" raised during the three weeks of discussions.
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* * *
Moloney's Lay Centre talk was an attempt to build on Benedict's reflection
on the identity of the Eucharist as an act of memory and sacrifice.
"There's a desire on the part of some people to canonize the fact of the
real presence of Christ in the Eucharist by use of the term
'trans-substantiation,'" Moloney said. "I don't have any problem with what
that term is trying to say, but we need a hermeneutic to explain it. We've
got to make clear not just what we believe, but how it works."
To that end, Moloney followed Pope Benedict's lead by tracing the Jewish
roots of the Last Supper. Moloney noted that all of the gospels associate
the Last Supper, in one way or another, with the Jewish Passover.
"The Passover is not just about recalling times past, but a ritual that
renders the living God of Sinai present. When the youngest son asks why we
call this night great, and the oldest man begins to tell the hagadah, or
Exodus story, God is really present to that people," he said.
"The Hebrew word for that is zikaron, the Greek equivalent for which is
anamnesis, or 'memorial,'" Moloney said. "This is where the Christian
tradition picks up from its Jewish roots on what the Last Supper means."
Jesus' meal is "not just another meal," Moloney said.
"It's a reading in Christological terms of the Passover," he said. "When he
picks up the bread, instead of talking about the manna, he talks about his
body broken for you. When he picks up the wine, instead of talking about the
Red Sea, he talks about his blood. He's changing the ritual in a significant
and profound way, from the presence of the God of Exodus to his ongoing
presence through the resurrection."
"If we want to talk about the presence and sacrifice of Christ in the
Eucharist, we have to insert ourselves in what the pope called 'prophetic
memory,'" Moloney said. "Prophetic memory recalls the past, challenges the
present and commits us to a future. That's the presence of the sacrifice of
Jesus in the Eucharistic meal."
In that sense, Moloney argued, the words of Christ, "Do this in memory of
me," have long been only partially understood.
"We have to ask, what is the 'this' in that command?'" Moloney said. "It's
more than the performance of a ritual. He's talking about his broken body
and spilled blood. These fragile disciples, who will betray him, are
commanded to break their own bodies and spill their own blood for the
redemption of others. The memory does not stop at the meal."
"The Eucharist is not a prayer wheel that we spin every morning, and a
little more solemnly on Sunday," Moloney said. "It's the grammar and syntax
of Christian life."
Seeing things this way, Moloney said, "ties together the horizontal and the
vertical" dimensions of the Eucharist.
Oct. 16 marked what would have been the 27th anniversary of Pope John Paul
II's election to the papacy. The Polish parliament has set aside the date as
a national "day of remembrance" for the late pope; since 2001, the Polish
church has observed Oct. 16 as "Dzien Papieski," or "the day of the pope,"
and intends to continue doing so.
Two events marked the observance of Oct. 16 in Rome.
First, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the late pope's personal secretary and
now the archbishop of Krakow, told Italian media that the pope's sainthood
cause now has collected several reported miracles since his death. The most
impressive, Dziwisz said, is the case of a French nun who was seriously ill,
when the other sisters in her convent spent long hours praying for the
intercession of John Paul II. Four days later, Dziwisz said, the nun was
completely recovered, and the doctors found no trace of her previous
Dziwisz said he hopes that John Paul could be canonized as early as next
"The dream of many is that he will swiftly be declared a saint," Dziwisz
told the Italian Catholic daily L'Avvenire. "John Paul II thought the same
thing about Mother Teresa of Calcutta."
Second, Pope Benedict XVI granted an interview to Polish national television
for broadcast Oct. 16. It was conducted by a Polish Jesuit, Fr. Andrzej
Majewski, who is the head of the Polish section of Vatican Radio.
Benedict summarized the great accomplishments of John Paul's papacy in terms
of his impact ad extra and ad intra.
For the outside world, Benedict said, John Paul II, through his personal
example and charisma, created a new appreciation for the importance of
ethical values and religion. In effect, he became the spokesperson for
Christianity, and for conscience, on the global stage.
Inside the church, Benedict said, John Paul's great accomplishment was
arousing a passion for Christ and the church among the young, which also led
to a great devotion for the Eucharist.
All of this, Benedict added, is to say nothing of John Paul's role in the
fall of the Berlin Wall and the events that followed.
Journalistically, perhaps the most interesting moment of the interview came
when Benedict spoke appreciatively of the vast teaching legacy left behind
by John Paul II -- 14 encyclicals, dozens of apostolic exhortations and motu
proprios and pastoral letters and so on. "I consider it my essential and
personal mission not so much to produce many new documents, but to see to it
that [John Paul's] documents are assimilated, because they are a very rich
treasure, the authentic interpretation of Vatican II," Benedict said.
American admirers of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th century convert
from Anglicanism whose views on conscience and the development of doctrine
continue to inspire wide theological conversation, will be pleased to know
that the miracle which eventually puts Newman over the top for beatification
may have taken place in the United States.
The decree of heroic virtue for Newman, meaning that he lived a life of
exemplary holiness and may be referred to as "venerable," was signed by Pope
John Paul II on January 22, 1991.
The long-awaited news of a miracle came at the Rome launch of a new book,
Benedict XVI and Cardinal Newman, edited by Peter Jennings, press secretary
to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, England.
Fr. Paul Chavasse, provost of the Birmingham Oratory founded by Newman and
postulator of his sainthood cause, said that two years ago the Oratory
received reports of a miraculous cure in Boston. A deacon suffering from
severe spinal problems, Chavasse said, recovered "as a result of the
intercession of the Venerable John Henry Newman."
A tribunal opened in Boston June 25, Chavasse said, with the approval of
Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston, to investigate the reported miracle. The
tribunal is expected to complete its work in February 2006. Assuming the
tribunal signs off on the miracle, it will come to Rome for study in the
Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If approved, it could clear the way
for beatification perhaps as early as late 2006 or 2007.
Another miracle would eventually be required for canonization, the formal
church declaration that Newman is a saint.
The thrust of Jennings' new book is that there would be something fitting if
Benedict XVI were the pope to add Newman's name to the roster of saints,
since Joseph Ratzinger first fell under Newman's spell in 1946 and has
remained an enthusiastic reader ever since. The book, in fact, collects two
important essays from Ratzinger prior to his election as pope, laying out
how he believes Newman resolves the modern tension between authority and
conscience by insisting that both are ordered to a common middle term -- the
The book also contains chapters on Newman written by Cardinal Cormac
Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster as well as Nichols. Throughout, deft editing
and background by Jennings makes the book especially valuable. Physically,
it's a handsome volume with many striking illustrations, including rare
photos of Newman.