US clergy, including five bishops, ask synod to 'stand firm' on marriage

A group of U.S. clergy is circulating a statement addressed to the delegates who will meet in Rome in October for the Synod of Bishops on the family, urging them to "stand firm on the Church's traditional understanding of marriage, human sexuality and pastoral practices."

The statement was crafted by Credo Priests, a group organized by Fr. Jerry Pokorsky, pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church in Annandale, Va. Pokorsky did not return a phone call requesting an interview.

The Credo Priests are asking other U.S. priests, diocesan and those of religious orders, to sign the statement, which is available at About 850 priests had added names to the website by Friday afternoon.

Among the signers are five U.S. bishops: Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill.; Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, N.D.; Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb.; Bishop Robert Finn, formerly of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.; and Rene Gracida, retired bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas.

"Following the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2014 much confusion has arisen concerning Catholic moral teaching," the statement reads. "In this situation we wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church's Magisterium for two millennia."

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The statement also calls on the synod to "affirm the importance of upholding the Church's traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and the millennial conviction that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony."

At the synod, some bishops drew a distinction between doctrine and discipline, but conservatives among the synod fathers said any change in discipline implies a change in doctrine.

"I signed the Statement of Belief to support American priests affirming fidelity to the doctrine of our faith regarding marriage and the family," Conley wrote in an email to NCR. "The statement is intended to encourage the Synod Fathers as they proclaim freedom in Christ, through the grace of knowing and responding to the truth. This statement is signed by priests who love and support the Holy Father, in response to his universal invitation for dialogue in anticipation of the Synod. Like all Catholics, I pray for the Holy Father and the Synod Fathers, and I encourage all Catholics to learn from the good work of the Synod."

Through a spokesperson, Kagan declined to comment on his signing the petition, and Paprocki's office did not return a phone call seeking a comment.

The statement matches a similar one issued by priests in the United Kingdom. In March, almost 500 British priests signed a letter urging synod fathers to issue a "clear and firm proclamation" upholding Church teaching on marriage. That letter was printed as an ad in the British publication The Catholic Herald.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, distanced himself from that letter, saying: "The pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the Bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press."

[Michael Sean Winters writes the Distinctly Catholic blog. Bertelsen intern Soli Salgado contributed to this report.]

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July 14-27, 2017