A special synod of Dutch bishops ended its first week here with a discussion of priestly celibacy, a thorny issue in a country where 20 married ex-priests have been allowed to teach in Catholic theological faculties.
The talks were held "in a spirit of great frankness," a synod-approved communique said.
Pope John Paul II convened the 12-day Assembly of Holland's seven Roman Catholic bishops at the Vatican in the hope of reconciling divisive issues in the 5.6 million-member Dutch church.
With discussion of the celibacy issue, the bishops and the six high curial officials taking part are returning to an old source of friction between the Dutch church and Rome. In 1970, against the wishes of the seven bishops then in power, Holland's active National Pastoral Council of clergy, laity and bishops, voted in favor of a resolution seeking "optional celibacy" for priests. The Vatican was disturbed by the decision of the bishops -- four of whom are at the current meeting -- to present the resolution to Rome, despite their personal opposition to it.
A Vatican communique on one of last week's sessions said: "Different participants recalled that the bishops have always defended celibacy in a wise manner, clearly and unequivocably excluding the notion of 'optional celibacy' proposed by some."
The synodol bishops also brought up the problem of pastoral workers -- unordained, religious assistants who increasingly have taken on some of the work of priests in recent years in Holland. "The approval of statutes which clarify their ecclesial situation would be especially helpful," according to one synod participant, the communique said.
The synod also took up an issue under discussion in Holland for some time: the creaton of more dioceses, which, naturally, would require the naming of new bishops. Some progressive in the Dutch church fear this steps as an effort to "pack" the Dutch hierarchy and create a new, "conservative" majority in the episcopal conference. As it now stands, two of Holland's Catholic bishops are considered "conservative," four, "liberal," and one, Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, "moderate."
Synod participants recognized "the right of the faithful to have a sufficient number of bishops," the Vatican summary said, raising the possibility that new dioceses might be created.
One synod participant criticized the bourgeois way of life of some Dutch monks and nuns. Others noted the serious shortage of new monks and nuns. "Some religious congregations are even threatened by extinction," the communique said.