Diverse Concerns Evident at Synod: Final Propositions Likely to Exclude Contentious Eucharistic Issues

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, October 21, 2005 | Go to article overview

Diverse Concerns Evident at Synod: Final Propositions Likely to Exclude Contentious Eucharistic Issues


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


Under the best of circumstances, it's a difficult balancing act to govern a church of 1.1 billion members present in every nook and cranny of the planet. The 21st Synod of Bishops in Rome has underscored just how difficult it can be to find consensus across geographic, cultural and linguistic lines.

The synod, dedicated to the theme of the Eucharist, runs Oct. 2-23. Participants are about 250 bishops elected by national bishops' conferences around the world; 40 bishops appointed by the pope; and 60 members of religious communities, laity and guests from other Christian bodies.

To date, for example, the most urgent calls for attention to the priest shortage have come not from North America or Europe, where polls suggest that majorities of Catholics have doubts about clerical celibacy, but from the global South, where gaps between pastoral need and available personnel are a daily reality.

Bishops from the South, coming from regions long marked by conflict and underdevelopment, have also been forceful about the intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and social justice.

Bishop Nestor Ngoy Katahwa of Kolwezi, Congo, gave voice to this perspective Oct. 6.

"Frustrations from injustice and social inequalities, the rancor of living in extreme poverty on rich soil scandalously exploited for the well-being of others, wars bringing destruction and displacement, upheavals of tribal and ethnic hate ... are tragedies that cover the Way of the Cross of the people of Congo," Katahwa said.

Eastern European bishops, on the other hand, have been the most passionate defenders of current norms and traditions on the Eucharist, representing churches that paid in blood over the course of the 20th century for their fidelity to those traditions. Given their cheek-by-jowl relationship with Orthodoxy, the Eastern Europeans have also at times reflected a quasi-Orthodox insistence on reverence and awe.

Similarly, several Eastern Europeans have argued that the Orthodox experience of a married priesthood isn't necessarily persuasive that it's the right solution for the Catholic church.

Bishops from Western Europe and North America generally have been the most sensitive to intercommunion with other Christians and the status of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, perhaps reflecting their pastoral experience of mixed marriages and divided communities.

Latin Americans have been less likely to stress ecumenical overtures, in part because their primary experience of other Christian denominations is with the so-called "sects," aggressively missionary evangelical and Pentecostal movements chipping away at once-homogenous Catholic populations.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Sao Paolo, Brazil, discussed the "sects" Oct. 8, noting that in 1991, 83 percent of Brazilians called themselves Catholic, while today the number is 67 percent.

"How long will Latin America be a Catholic continent?" Hummes asked.

Vatican officials, often dazed by the church's diversity, have tended to emphasize the importance of centralized norms and authority as a focus for unity, while local bishops have sometimes insisted upon greater autonomy to adapt those norms.

All of these fault lines, and more, have been in evidence in the first two weeks.

By Oct. 23, the synod will have produced two documents: a message to the broader public, and a set of propositions for the eyes of the pope alone. …

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