VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI lamented that the church is seemingly "dying" in Europe and the United States and raised questions about the soaring number of priests in Asia and Africa in a lengthy, off-the-cuff speech to Italian priests.
plight of divorced Roman Catholics who remarry without getting an annulment, reaffirming that they cannot receive Communion but stressing they should feel they still belong to the church.
The pope made the remarks to priests from the northern Valle d'Aosta region in a two-hour closed meeting Monday in Introd, near where he has been vacationing. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published a transcript of the remarks Wednesday.
The pope delved into the issues raised by the Aosta bishop on the concerns of priests, noting he was recently visited by bishops from Africa and Sri Lanka, where the number of priests is skyrocketing. In Europe and elsewhere, the number of priests has fallen sharply.
Benedict he said the "joy" at the growing numbers of clergy in the developing world is accompanied by "a certain bitterness" because some would-be priests are only looking for a better life.
"Becoming a priest, they become almost like a head of a tribe, they are naturally privileged and have another type of life," he said. "So the wheat and the chaff go together in this beautiful growth of vocations.
"Bishops have to be very attentive to discern (among the candidates) and not just be happy to have many future priests but to see which ones really are the true vocations --- discern between the wheat and the chaff," he said.
In his remarks, Benedict touched on one of his favorite themes: the state of the church in Europe. He said in contrast to the developing world, where there is a "springtime of faith," the West is "a world that is tired of its own culture, a world that has arrived at a time in which there's no more evidence of the need for God, much less Christ, and in which it seems that man alone can make himself.
"This is certainly a suffering linked, I'd say, to our time, in which generally one sees that the great churches appear to be dying," he said, mentioning Australia, Europe and the United States. Benedict also responded to a question about giving the Eucharist to divorcees who remarry without an annulment. The church says divorcees who remarry outside the church cannot receive Communion, arguing they are in a state that "contrasts with God's law."
The pope reaffirmed the teaching, although he acknowledged the suffering it has caused and said further study is needed. In reaffirming the policy, he said the church has to respect "the good of the community and the good of the sacrament" as well as help those who are suffering. He said priests should teach that suffering is necessary, "and this is a noble form of suffering." AP