“Priestly celibacy is but a tree which hides the forest of other questions facing the Synod of Bishops.” That, at least, was the running evaluation of Archbishop Roger Etchegaray of Marseilles, France, only a couple of days after the third General Synod of Catholic Bishops tried to refocus its attention on some of these other problems.

For many of the 210 delegates from around the world, however, the job of retraining the eyes was not easy. The trees kept looming up so that it was a bit difficult to make out the forest.

About halfway through the month-long meeting in Vatican City, there indeed appeared to be a formidable body of opinion—though by no means a majority feeling—that in many parts of the world priestly celibacy is undeniably one of the root problems facing the Catholic Church. Yet it became quite apparent to observers from most of Europe’s major newspapers and a handful of American publications that the best the bishops could hope for at this time was a better vantage point than they had had before the synod.

To the outsider, the church seemed in need of some major decisions. Spanish and Italian delegates put strong emphasis on proclaiming the evangelical counsels of the church. It takes too much time, they say, to administer the sacraments to the faithful; not enough time is devoted to preaching. Most Latin Americans echoed this concern, but from a different stance. They don’t have enough priestly manpower to administer the sacraments, let alone preach the Word.

Although there was no evidence that any of the bishops mentioned the fact (much of the discussion is lost because newsmen are excluded and the briefings are necessarily scant), it is known there is considerable concern over the impressive inroads that Protestants, ...

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