The Pope bars synod debate on women priests

Rome - Pope John Paul II yesterday indirectly reaffirmed the church's ban on women priests, while opening a synod of bishops that will discuss the role of priests and nuns in the Catholic Church.

The Pope, 74, appeared relatively fit at the mass in St Peter's Basilica. He appeared to limp less than in recent weeks and he spoke in a firm voice.

The synod will discuss the life of priests, nuns and friars in the modern world and a crisis of vocations to the religious life, particularly in advanced countries. In his sermon, the Pope indirectly reaffirmed that the Catholic Church's ban on women priests will not be open to debate at the synod. He said that the theme of the synod 'should be read in the light of' two important Church documents.

One, from the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, speaks of the hierarchical structure of the Church. The second, a 1988 letter by the pontiff on the dignity of women, reaffirms their exclusion from the priesthood. Reuter