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Posted October 12, 2005

John Allen Reporting from Rome

A National Catholic Reporter Report

A good newspaper to support

On one of the last full days of speech-making, many of the popular themes in the 21st Synod of Bishops surfaced anew: celibacy and the priest shortage; divorced and remarried Catholics; the Eucharist and ecumenism; the balance between linking the Eucharist to justice and ecology, versus concentration on core matters such as the real presence of Christ and the resurrection. What seems clear is that it’s much easier to identify key points of concern than to come to consensus about them.

During the open discussions Monday night, for example, two bishops from Western Europe rose to defend the discipline of celibacy in the Western church, against suggestions that the priest shortage might be addressed by relaxing the celibacy rule.

The priest shortage is not due to celibacy, but to a crisis of faith,” one bishop told the synod.

Vatican policy on the open discussions is to reveal what was said, but not to provide the name of the speaker.

This bishop argued that marriage is also in crisis, and that if the church were to allow priests to marry, before long it would also have the problem of priests who are divorced.

Another European bishop said that the synod should not “weaken the gift of celibacy.” He argued that the synod must go beyond “utilitarian” arguments on celibacy, and develop its relationship with the “absolute novelty” of Christ and his gospel.

Yet another affirmed that the shortage of priests is due to a crisis of faith” rather than the discipline of celibacy.

A meeting of Christians

On ecumenism, several bishops advocated steps that might improve relations with other Christian bodies, above all the Orthodox churches of the East. One suggested that the pope call a meeting of “all baptized Christians” similar to the inter-faith gatherings that John Paul II convened three times in Assisi (1986, 1993 and 2002). Another proposed that the Catholic church adopt the Eucharistic prayer of St. Basil, widely acknowledged in the Orthodox churches, for use in the Catholic Mass.

On the other hand, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, underlined one limit to ecumenical openness.

“To favor unity with our separated brothers, we must not be divided ourselves. And the sure way to avoid division is faithfulness to the current discipline of the church,” Sodano said.

Sodano then quoted at length from John Paul II, to the effect that sharing of the Eucharist implies unity in faith, it does not produce that unity. Hence “con-celebration” with other Christians, Sodano suggested, would be a false path to unity.

On divorced and remarried Catholics, while no bishops today advocated changing the rules on receiving Communion, several spoke in favor of expanded use of the tribunal system to resolve the marital status of these Catholics. Many of these bishops came from the developing world, where use of marriage tribunals has long been spotty.

One Asian bishop, for example, said that in his diocese, in 95 percent of the cases when Catholics have come forward seeking canonical assistance, the tribunals have been able to resolve the difficulty and allow these Catholics to return to the sacraments.

The tendency for bishops from the developing world to emphasize the linkage between the Eucharist and social justice continued.

Bishop Adalberto Martinez Flores, for example, from the San Lorenzo diocese in Paraguay, argued for an intrinsic connection between the two.