VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2005 ( Participants in the Synod of Bishops agree that the lack of priests is a big concern for the Church, but that it is a symptom of a problem rather than a cause.

Synodal fathers stressed this point during a press conference today as they made a preliminary evaluation of the working sessions of the synod on the Eucharist. The three-week synod ends Oct. 23.

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, India, one of the assembly's co-presidents, answered a journalist's question on the possibility that the synod might abolish the discipline of the Latin-rite Church and allow the ordination of married men to resolve the crisis of vocations.

"The lack of priests is not the cause, but a symptom," he said. "The real problem is the crisis of faith, as the priesthood is the fruit of the community's faith. Without faith, there are no priests, no vocations."

Another synod co-president, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico, then spoke.

"The lack of priests is an effect," he said. "The cause is the lack of faith, of spiritual vision, of transcendence. All this may be summarized in one word: secularization."

"Above all we must preach, take recourse to the Word of God and explain it not only with wisdom and eloquence, but with our testimony, so that it will reach hearts," the Mexican prelate added.

"Viri probati"

"Recourse to 'viri probati' [married men of proven Christian life], mentioned by some in the auditorium, is a problem, not a solution, " Cardinal Sandoval contended, mentioning the case of the Catholic Eastern Churches in which this custom exists and which creates difficulties.

"They do not have the same time to study, for their ministry, as they must take care of their wife and children," he added. "Sometimes they get divorced."

Retired Bishop Sofron Stefan Mudry of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, a Greek-Catholic diocese with married priests, spoke on the issue during the same press conference.

In his diocese, 360 of the 400 priests are married, and he acknowledged that the situation of married clerics is "very difficult."

"Some don't have a house, as they were seized by the Communists," Bishop Mudry said. "They cannot move from one parish to another, as they have a family. Many social and human problems are created."

"We have nothing against this state," he clarified in reference to married priests, as it is a tradition that this Eastern Church has had since the beginning.

"Married priests preserved the churches in Ukraine, as those who were celibate were arrested," he said.

Careful study

However, quoting a former Greek-Catholic archbishop of Ukraine, Bishop Mudry said that "if we want to save our Church we need at least 50% of the priests to be celibate."

In a report Wednesday, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, Italy, summarized the conclusions of the general discussions over the last few days, on proposals to ordain married men.

"Several Eastern fathers have made reference to the practice of married priests proper to their Churches, offering each one of us elements for a careful study of the Latin Church's decision to link celibacy to the ordained priesthood," affirmed the synod's relator general.

Cardinal Scola noted that some of the bishops told the synod "the hypothesis of 'viri probati' is a path that must not be followed."