A top American bishop called Tuesday for Catholic priests to be better preachers, lamenting that many Catholics resort to watching other Christian services on television or attending different churches to get the "inspiring preaching" they crave.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the former head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told a meeting of the world's bishops that Catholics increasingly expect better homilies from priests at Sunday Masses.
"Ritual precision alone will not bring back those who do not attend Sunday Mass," he said.
Several bishops attending the Oct. 2-23 Synod of Bishops have expressed concern about the quality of the homilies delivered by Catholic priests, with many saying the sermons need to be better focused on the theology of the Catholic faith.
Gregory told his colleagues that some U.S. Catholics go to Mass but then go home and watch other Christian church services on television, or listen to them on the radio "simply because they're still hungry for inspiring preaching."
"Still others go so far as to attend religious services at these churches after they've attended Sunday Mass," he said.
"We bishops in our role as the primary preachers in our local churches must lead by our own good example rather than merely asking our priests and deacons to be better prepared homilists," he added.
In a separate speech Tuesday, the Vatican No. 2 official, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, reaffirmed the Catholic Church's belief that the sacrament of Communion should only be given to non-Catholic Christians in special cases and not be used as a way of forging unity with other Christian denominations.
Pope Benedict XVI has made unifying all Christians a priority of his pontificate and has reached out in particular to the Orthodox but also to Protestants and other Christian denominations.
Some speakers at the synod have suggested that intercommunion with other Christians might be a way of helping to achieve unity.
Catholic teaching, though, says Communion can only be given to non-Catholic Christians in special, individual circumstances, such as if they specifically ask for it and have the right disposition to receive it.
Sodano reaffirmed this position in his speech Tuesday, saying that "to favor unity with our separated brothers, we shouldn't be divided among ourselves. And the surest way to not be divided is by being faithful to the church's discipline that is in force."
The speeches by the 250 prelates are expected to wrap up on Thursday, after which the bishops will meet in small discussion groups to draw up specific proposals on the Eucharist, or the Mass, that will be voted on by the entire synod and sent to Benedict for consideration.
As November 4 approaches (on this day, Russia and Belarus are to sign union programs), disputes between supporters and opponents of the integration become increasingly heated