Catholic order rejects radical proposal for Mass

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VATICAN CITY, Sep 18 (Reuters) The leaders of the Catholic Dominican order today censured Dutch members who said unordained ministers, including gays and women, should be able celebrate the Eucharist if priests were not available.

A booklet sent to parishes in the Netherlands earlier this month sent shock waves through the Church by making a radical proposal to deal with the shortage of Roman Catholic priests.

It said unordained ministers chosen by their priestless congregations should be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist, the centrepiece of the Mass in which Catholics believe bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

''Whether they are women or men, homo or hetero, married or single, makes no difference. What is important is an infectious attitude of faith,'' the booklet said. The main point was to keep local faith communities together, with or without a priest.

Underscoring its concern, the Vatican distributed a statement by the Rome headquarters of the Dominicans saying the solution to the shortage of priests proposed by the Dutch Dominicans was not acceptable.

''While we share their concern about the availability of the Eucharist and priestly ministry, we believe this concern must be responded to in careful theological and pastoral reflection ...,'' it said.

How to deal with the shortage of priests and the closing of parishes in many areas of the world has vexed the Vatican in past decades. According to some estimates, about 200 parishes have had to close in the Netherlands in the past seven years.

But the Vatican has consistently reaffirmed that only ordained male priests can say Mass and has rejected calls to extend the priesthood to married men or women in order to solve the crisis.

Advocates of a married priesthood and optional celibacy say this would make some men more willing to join the priesthood and ease the shortage of priests in many parts of the world.

Priests were permitted to wed during the first millennium, but marriage was condemned by the Church at the Second Lateran Council in 1139. The Dutch Dominicans' booklet based its argument on the traditions of early Christianity.

The Vatican has also imposed restrictions on gays in the ordained Catholic priesthood, saying in a 2005 document that the priesthood should be barred to practising homosexuals or men who had not been able to overcome ''transitory'' gay tendencies.

REUTERS ARB VC1944

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