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Issue Date:  October 28, 2005

Archbishop Gregory: 'Honest give-and-take' at synod


Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who guided the body through the most intense period of the sexual abuse crisis, feels like he’s dodged a bullet this October -- and he’s not talking about anything having to do with the Synod of Bishops. When the Atlanta Braves were knocked out of the National League playoffs earlier in the month, it meant this child of Chicago’s South Side would not face a potential World Series test of loyalties against the White Sox.

Now, Gregory is free to cheer for the Sox with a clear conscience.

Gregory sat down with NCR for an interview about the Synod of Bishops Oct. 19 at the North American College, the American seminary in Rome. The full text of the interview can be seen with the rest of the synod coverage at

NCR: If the final propositions resemble the draft presented yesterday, it would seem that the synod has largely reaffirmed existing discipline on matters such as celibacy, divorced and remarried Catholics, and intercommunion. Some might say that you came all the way to Rome for three weeks to finish where you started. Is that a fair perspective?

Gregory: I suppose that would be a fair perspective if I didn’t have the experience of seeing it from the inside. From my perspective, I would say there was an awful lot of honest give-and-take in the synod. The results may appear not to have been the result of an honest debate, but that’s not the case. There was some hard discussion. People expressed their opinions and their pastoral experience. At the end of the day, given the diversity of the church’s contexts, where it lives throughout the world, respecting this cultural diversity, respecting the difference between the church in established locations and in missionary communities, and so on, this was the best we could do right now.

Perhaps one thing this synod will be remembered for is its clear acknowledgment of the urgent problems created by the priest shortage.

Yes, if you take that in all its complexity. In some parts of the church, there is no priest shortage. The fact is, of course, that in many places there is a shortage, which is more acute in some areas than others. At the same time, there are places where there is a surplus. Both of these situations have to be dealt with -- neither can be avoided. We have to look at the pastoral realities that flow from that.

Some people were hoping that the synod might open the door on the ordination of viri probati, or tested married men. Are you surprised that the conclusion seems so negative?

It was clear that the question came up in the interventions of a number of bishops, and it certainly came up in the small group discussions. In the end, the universal nature and circumstances of the church did not lend themselves to the possibility of a resolution that would satisfy everyone. The status quo held because we could not find common ground on this issue.

If the synod does say a definitive “no” to the viri probati, do you believe that closes the conversation?

I’m not naive enough to believe in Roma locuta est, causa finita est [Rome has spoken, it’s settled]. I’m sure the conversation will go on. But the pastors of the church who assembled here have come to this conclusion, as a matter for the universal church. This does not prevent, however, a bishop or bishops’ conference, facing a specific set of circumstances, from coming to the Holy Father and saying, “This is our situation, can we take a look at it?”

So if there is to be movement on this issue, it will have to come from individual conferences?


What do you make of the draft proposition on Catholic politicians?

One of the best things about this synod is that 270 bishops came together from all over the world and had a chance to talk about this, especially in the small groups. One thing that came through is the uniqueness of the American Catholic experience, and the differences of our episcopal and pastoral context. At the same time, the world is too small. … Global communications have made it possible for people all over the world to react to political situations beyond their own borders. Whatever we do in the United States, our people can see what goes on in every other country, and the way we handle things is compared to other countries facing the same or similar challenges. I think people are looking for integrity, honesty and also a certain degree of uniformity. All this makes it difficult to handle this particular situation.

So we should not expect a uniform policy from the universal church on this question?

I think the only way to go is to leave it to local judgment.

National Catholic Reporter, October 28, 2005

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