October 22, 2005

Vatican synod ends reconfirming status quo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The first synod of Pope Benedict's
reign ended on Saturday, acknowledging Catholicism faced great
difficulties from a severe shortage of priests but decided
married priests were not the answer.

The working sessions closed with 50 propositions and a
message to the world from the more than 250 bishops.

Overall, the synod's decisions have dashed the hopes of
some liberal Catholics for movement on issues such as married
priests, celibacy and the divorced faithful.

The message acknowledged that "the life of our Church is
also marked by shadows and problems which we have not ignored."

It said "the lack of priests to celebrate the Sunday
Eucharist worries us a great deal and invites us to pray and
more actively promote vocations."

The synod theme was the Eucharist, the communion that
Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ. The Pope may
use the recommendations for a possible future document.

The shortage of priests to serve the 1.1 billion-member
Church was perhaps the key issue in the synod, which closes
ceremonially with a papal mass on Sunday in St Peter's Square.

One bishop from Honduras drove the point home by saying he
had only one priest for every 16,000 Catholics in his diocese.

Some Catholics suggested their Church ordain "viri
probati," the Latin term for older, married men with families
who are known to lead exemplary personal lives in their
communities and have a solid background in Church doctrine.

Liberal groups have suggested that the long-term solution
to the shortage was making celibacy optional for new priests by
allowing them to marry.


But the proposition dedicated to the shortage of priests
called celibacy a "priceless gift" and the possibility of "viri
probati" was dismissed.

Both the message and the propositions mentioned the
problems of millions of Catholics who have divorced and
remarried outside the Church without being granted an

Since the Church still recognizes their first marriage,
they are banned from receiving communion because they are
considered to be living in sin.

During the synod, Archbishop John Atcherly Dew of New
Zealand, challenged the Church to re-think the rules.

The message merely said the bishops "know the sadness of
those who do not have access to sacramental communion because
of their family situation" but reaffirmed the existing ban.

The proposition on the divorced appeared to offer one small
spiral of hope when it said Church tribunals which decide on
whether to grant annulments should make "every possible effort"
to work in a more "correct and speedy" way.

Another topical issue that came up at the synod was whether
Catholic politicians who defy Church teachings by backing
legislation such as that on abortion and gay marriage should be
allowed to receive communion at mass.

One of the propositions said Catholic politicians should be
"challenged by their conscience" about the "grave social
responsibility of presenting or supporting unjust laws."

It suggested such politicians should refrain from communion
but left the final decision to local bishops.

The issue of the duty of Catholic politicians divided U.S.
Catholics last year during the presidential campaign of
Democrat John Kerry, who is Catholic and supports abortion