'Significant Practical Developments' Will Result From Synod

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, played a key role at the recent 11th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. He was one of 12 participants charged with drafting the synod's concluding “Message to the People of God,” and one of the four bishops who were selected to discuss the synod's outcome at a concluding press conference Oct. 22.

Cardinal Pell spoke with Register correspondent Edward Pentin during the synod's last week of meetings.

What has been the most successful aspect of the synod for you?

A couple of things. One very obvious point which we can take for granted and that is the unanimity on the essentials of the Eucharist. I don't think there's one bishop who has not endorsed the classical Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. That's a source of considerable comfort.

And a smaller thing is the hour for the free discussions — the new format has certainly been an improvement.

So overall the synod was a good opportunity for discussion?

Yes. Whether we need synods every three years, I'm not sure of that, or every three, four or five, but it's certainly a very important opportunity for representatives of the bishops from around the world to get together to express their mind, to hear what the Holy Father has to say, and also to inform the Curia and the Holy Father as to what the different Churches are thinking.

Some criticize synods for being consultative and not deliberative and therefore not very useful. What is your view?

[Being consultative] doesn't impair its usefulness in any sense at all. Obviously, 250 bishops are not 4,700 bishops, which is the number of Catholic bishops throughout the world. The fact that it's consultative — I wouldn't use the word “only” consultative — if there's a strong consensus on any point whatsoever by a synod, that is of great moral significance for the whole Church and for the Pope, though he's not bound to follow it. But he'll certainly deal with it very, very respectfully and that's very powerful.

He's been listening hard, hasn't he?

Yes, for sure.

It's been said in the past that popes have usually made up their mind before a synod. Do you think that's true in any sense?

Do you think there'd be many important Church issues for which a pope hadn't a clear idea of what he would like?

Were great advances made on the issues of priest shortages and the Eucharist for divorced and remarried Catholics?

There have been no spectacular theological developments or breakthroughs, but nobody expected that. Even recently there's been a lot written officially about the Eucharist. But there have been significant practical developments.

The endorsement of adoration — of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament — was one of the emerging, Catholic signs of the times but in some parts of the Catholic world in Australia and Oceania, this represents a novelty because in pockets there's still a reluctance on the part of priests to encourage prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

It is significant that there was a bit of a push for the ordination of the viri probati [married men of “proven virtue”], and the synod has reaffirmed the importance of mandatory celibacy in the Church. That is one of the consequences of us refusing to, in any significant numbers, go down that path.

It's interesting that in the small groups, a non-Catholic Christian observer was pointing out very vigorously that ordination of viri probati wouldn't answer the spiritual challenges that we're facing.

Not a lot was said about the new English translation of the Mass.

No, there wasn't, because of the fact that these translations are going ahead, everyone knows that they're coming. It's an accepted fact, and I think there'll certainly be a significant improvement on what we've had. A lot of the work has been done already. It shows there's no great hostility to the new translations at all.

At what stage are you on the new translation? Is there a date for publication scheduled?

ICEL [the International Commission on English in the Liturgy] is drawing up a timetable, and not necessarily the approvals but the translations will probably be completed round about the end of 2007. But ICEL is working on a timetable now and I think that's a useful development.

What are the main difficulties still to be ironed out?

It's just getting competent translators who know the Latin. It is difficult work to write beautiful and appropriate sacral English that faithful translates the Latin. If you want mediocre English and want to abandon difficult elements of the Latin for theological or other reasons, then of course it's much easier to pump something out. It's much more difficult to do something accurately sometimes, and takes time. But it is being done, and being done well.

Many of the interventions from the developing world were about the Eucharist and social justice. What was your view on this?

The bread of life for a broken world — undoubtedly you're celebrating the Eucharist at its best and most effective when it's bringing consolation to people in the midst of suffering. I think it would be a bit unreal not mention these sorts of difficulties.

What are your own views on how to increase vocations and Mass attendance?

There's no quick fix, there's no easy answer. It's just long, hard, slow work to the call to conversion, and there's no substitute for faith and prayer.

What will you take back to your own flock in Australia?

One of the things I will mention to them is the boost that the synod has given for prayerful adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, which is supplementary to the Celebration of the Eucharist.

Digressing slightly, I was just talking to one of my auxiliary bishops today and telling him how successful the meeting of the youngsters, the first Communion with the Pope, was. That's perhaps something we might try to do.

The emphasis on the homilies, set of themes during the year, provides background on the Eucharist, Writings from the fathers, the Catechism and the Scriptures will help priests teach more effectively on the nature of the Eucharist. I think the Holy Father's point that the Eucharist is a sacrificial ritual as much as it is a meal is obviously very important.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.