By Jesús Colina
ROME, OCT. 21, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Given that the synod on the Middle East brings together the Eastern Churches, in which the priestly ordination of married men is common, a debate on priestly celibacy was expected.
To the surprise of journalists, however, the topic has been given less attention than in any other synod. In the working document prepared after consultation with the local Churches, which serves as the basis for synodal discussion, the issue did not appear.
None of the synod fathers, auditors, nor the ecumenical delegates of other Churches have addressed the topic of celibacy directly. In fact, the word has not been mentioned in the written interventions presented in the synod hall.
The only person who has made public statements on celibacy has been Cardinal-designate Antonios Naguib, patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, Egypt, the synod’s general-relator.
On Wednesday, in response to journalists, the future cardinal and pastor of the Catholic Coptic Church said that admitting married priests “will not resolve the problem of vocations, and it will not resolve the good or bad behavior of a priest.”
What matters, he said, is to live one’s vocation with coherence and fidelity.
Formation is the key
Both the synod fathers of the Latin Church as well as those of the Eastern Churches have frequently agreed in stressing that the great challenge facing the Churches is an adequate formation of seminarians and priests (whether Latin or Eastern).
Among the solutions to the lack of consecrated vocations, Patriarchal Vicar Mikael Mouradian of the Patriarchal Clergy Institute of Bzommar, Lebanon, suggested “ensuring good discernment of vocations, giving priority to quality and not quantity; being careful about giving good spiritual direction to vocations and offering an initial and ongoing adequate formation.”
Archbishop Michel Abrass, auxiliary bishop of the Patriarchate of Antioch of the Greek-Melkites of Syria, explained in reference to the situation in the Middle East that “in regard to the formation of seminarians, in the first place is the problem of their selection.”
“It cannot be denied that at present the greater part chooses the ecclesiastical ‘career’ and not the vocation, and this to achieve a socially eminent position or for economic considerations,” he stated.
Saïd Azer from Egypt, a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, intervened as an auditor to assert that outstanding among the challenges that the clergy must address is the lack “of human and spiritual formation, which at times is unacceptable, and frequently scandalous.”
Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo of Jerusalem explained that “formation is the pastoral priority that the special synod on the Middle East should adopt.”
As can be seen, when the “proposals” of the synod are presented next Saturday to the Pope, the petition to abolish priestly celibacy in the Latin Church will not appear; instead, there will be an emphasis on various ways to address the need for the profound formation of the pastors of the Church, both Latin and Eastern.