VATICAN 10-24 Oct 2010 Pope calls special session of Synod of Middle East bishops

 Pope Benedict XVI called a special meeting of the Synod of Middle East Bishops to discuss relations with Islam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the priestly celibacy issue might be unavoidable. Three Eastern Catholic patriarchs from Iraq and Lebanon have been invited for their expertise on Islamic-Christian tensions, but could be sounded out as well on priestly marriage. As it is allowed in the Eastern tradition, pro-reform Roman Catholics could see their inclusion as a hopeful sign.
 The Eastern rite Catholic churches are under the jurisdiction of the Vatican and they recognize the authority of the pope, but their traditions are closer to Eastern Orthodox traditions.
 Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly and Syrian Patriarch Ignace Youssif III Younan will participate as honorary president delegates. They come from nations that have seen bloody conflicts in recent years. Coptic Catholic Patriarch Antonios Naguib will be relator general for the meeting. Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus, a Maronite, will be special secretary. The official theme is: “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness.”
 Reformers believe that allowing married priests would help to attract newcomers to the priesthood. In Oct 2005, as reported by Times Online, some 250 cardinals and bishops gathered at the Vatican, and some suggested Roman Catholic priests should be allowed to marry as a way of overcoming the shortage of priests. The celibacy question, which was suppressed under Pope John Paul II, according to the Times, came to dominate the meeting under his successor.
 Bishop Roberto Camilleri Azzopardi, of Honduras, said that his diocese had only one priest for every 16,000 Catholics, while Bishop Lorenzo Voltolini Esti, of Ecuador, said that the number of people going to confession was dropping because priests were not available.
 Celibacy has no theological foundation,” Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, of the Melkite Catholics, said. If married priests were allowed in the Eastern rite, there was no reason for them to be banned in the Latin, or Western, rite, he said.
 Catholic Culture news notes that the working paper for the Synod session devotes considerable attention to relations with Islam: the need to cultivate amicable relations and the drive to secure reciprocal respect, so that Christians in Muslim nations receive the same legal rights that Muslims are accorded in Christian lands. The consideration of the Israel-Palestinian problem emphasizes a “two-state solution.” There is also discussion of the need for the Church to evangelize more effectively in Israel