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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 reasserted.

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 version.

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 follow."

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 clergy.

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 relationships.

"But blessing these relationships should be avoided," the proposition says, "so that confusion does not arise among the faithful regarding the value of marriage."

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 and Legislators."

"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 Corinthians 11:27-29)."

"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 the church."

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 Catholic Church.

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 says.

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 terrorism.

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 Catholics.

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 Saturday morning.

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 insightful.

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. back to top

* * * 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 illness.

Dziwisz said he hopes that John Paul could be canonized as early as next year.

"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 truth.

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.