Roman Catholic bishops, ending three weeks of intense discussions on Saturday about church problems, rejected proposals to ordain married priests and to permit remarried Catholic divorcees to take communion.
The Synod of Bishops, which meets about every two years and completed its first gathering under Pope Benedict XVI, indicated the force of continuity in the church. Although the bishops energetically discussed such issues as the shortage of priests, the alienation of divorcees and the church's relations with other Christian denominations, they reaffirmed the policies of Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II.
In a public summary of the meeting, the bishops said the priest shortage "worries us a great deal and invited us to pray for and more actively promote vocations." But breaking celibacy rules was not the answer, they said. The bishops described celibacy as an "inestimable gift" and declared that ordaining married men was "a path not to follow."
During the meeting, several delegates raised the possibility of ordaining older, married men of "proven virtue" as priests. Some bishops said that they were overloaded by celebrating Mass at several churches and that many congregations were forced to go without priests for weeks at a time.
Cardinal George Pell of Australia said the bishops had in effect chosen the status quo, in particular by reiterating the celibacy rule. "If you restate the central doctrinal positions of the church, with a massive unanimity on the nature of the Eucharist, that's something," he said. "If you reaffirm a particular discipline, or two or three disciplines, that's also something."
The theme of the conference was the Eucharist, the central sacrament of the Catholic Mass. But a wide range of issues were up for discussion, several of which were deferred for further study. Results of the synod's meeting will be presented to Benedict in the form of "propositions" that he may include in future letters on church policy.
Catholic divorcees who remarry without annulments, the bishops wrote, are not "excluded" from the church and should not feel alienated. But their action "does not conform to the commandment of the Lord," they wrote. Giving divorcees communion would be a sign of official acceptance, so "blessing these relationships should be avoided," the bishops wrote.
Vatican officials said the bishops also recommended that ways be found to speed annulments that would make second marriages acceptable to the church.
Although unmentioned in Saturday's summary, the bishops toughened the wording of advice on giving communion to politicians who support abortion rights, gay unions and other practices rejected by the church. An early draft of the propositions said bishops should apply "the virtue of prudence." The final draft, which also left the decision up to bishops, said they should exercise "virtues of firmness and prudence."
"Politicians and legislators must feel themselves particularly moved in their conscience, correctly formed, about the grave social responsibility of presenting and supporting iniquitous laws," the draft said.