e-mail us
Celibacy defended in synod’s report to pope

NCR Staff

Priestly celibacy is not “simply a matter of ecclesial discipline imposed by authority,” but is “convenient and congruent” with the theology and spirituality of the priesthood, according to the final propositions from the European Synod.

The bishops of Europe told the pope that relaxing celibacy is not a solution to the priest shortage, which they called “a sign of a serious crisis of faith.”

NCR obtained a copy of the synod’s final propositions, which are secret. They are issued in Latin. The Italian news agency Adista was planning to publish the full text (in Italian translation) as NCR went to press.

The 40 propositions from the bishops will form the basis of a document -- called an “apostolic exhortation” -- that the pope is expected to issue next year.

Celibacy was a controversial topic for the synod, and the language in the propositions is weaker than some bishops wanted. Sources said that earlier drafts described celibacy as a “consequence” of the church’s theology on priesthood, rather than something “congruent” with it.

Archbishop Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien of Edinburgh, Scotland, told reporters Oct. 20 that in an English-language group, diocesan bishops had supported more flexibility on celibacy while curial bishops opposed it (NCR, Oct. 29).

Marriage and women’s roles also evoked controversy. One working group had proposed that women be named to head curial agencies. Instead, the propositions call for women to enjoy “full participation in the life and mission of the church.”

Propositions on marriage largely adopted the language of the French language group chaired by Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium. One calls for reflection on the fact that marriage preparation today is uneven.

In an interview with NCR, Danneels explained that this unevenness suggests that some church marriages may be invalid. In those cases, divorce and remarriage would not be an obstacle to receiving the sacraments.

In addition to the propositions, the bishops issued a concluding 3,600-word “message.” It was deliberately upbeat, using some version of the word hope 58 times.

Among signs of hope in the church, the bishops cited martyrs in the East and new ecclesial movements. Bishops also saw positives in European society: political unification, tolerance, acceptance of democracy and human rights.

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999