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The 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod and the Possibility of Married Priests, Even Female Priests

(Mike Hickson, One Peter Five – June 8th, 2018) The Vatican presented something important today, 8 June, at a press conference: the Preparatory Document for the upcoming 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod in which there is now talk about giving women some “type of official ministry” and of making “courageous” and inculturated proposals with regard to the Church’s “inclusive ministerial action.” One of the leading organiziers of this synod, Bishop Kräutler, says this reform should include married priests, male and female. The Preparatory Document itself refers indirectly to a decisive meeting that took place, in 2014, between the Pope and Kräutler.

As a Reuters report today sums it up, today’s press conference and the Preparatory Document for this Pan-Amazon Synod suggest “role for married priests, women in the Amazon.” Thus, even a secular news outlet such as Reuters has largely grasped the meaning of both the 23-page-long Preparatory Document, and also the interventions of the various speakers at today’s press conference. It also adds in its report the words of the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Baldisseri, as spoken at today’s press conference:

Pressed by reporters at a news conference about ‘viri probati,’ Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said: “The Church is not static … there is possibility of movement.”

But he urged patience and caution. “Let’s leave the time necessary for reflection about everything that is in here.”

The Preparatory Document for the 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod

In light of these words, let us now review some of the arguably stunning claims of that Preparatory Document. Afterwards, we shall present to our readers the ideas as they were laid out already in 2016 by Bishop Erwin Kräutler – a member of the pre-synodal council – who is the retired bishop of Xingu, Brazil (a part of the Amazon region).

To say it now at the beginning: the whole preparatory document is permeated with the spirit of inculturation, liberation theology, Mother-Earth-vocabulary, and grass-roots spiritualism. To sum it up, this is a new syncretistic religion. For example, in the attached questionnaire at the end of the document, one may find a question that it thoroughly incompatible with the missionary spirit of the Catholic Faith: “If there are Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation in your territory, what should the Church do to defend their lives and rights?”

Let us now go through the document more thoroughly. The text has a strong sociological and revolutionary tone, for example when it asks “How can we work together toward the construction of a world which breaks with structures that take life and with colonizing mentalities, in order to build networks of solidarity and inter-culturality?” [emphasis added] As is stated later, for these organizers, the coming of the Western civilization into the Pan-Amazon region was mostly a painful and negative event:

Also, the III Conference of Latin American Bishops, held in Puebla (1979), is a reminder that the occupation and colonization of indigenous lands was “an extensive process of domination”, which was full of “contradictions and deep wounds” (DP 6). Later, the IV Conference of Santo Domingo (1992) recalled “one of the saddest episodes in Latin American and Caribbean history”, which “was the forced transfer, as slaves, of an enormous number of Africans”. [emphasis added]

Having set the aggressive tone against undue Western influencing of the indigenous cultures of this region in the world (to include the missionary work?), the document highlights that we, the Catholic Church, can learn from those indigenous peoples. It highlights the role of “Wise elders – called interchangeably ‘payés, mestres, wayanga or chamanes,’ among others” who “promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos.” In light of the papal encyclical Laudato si and its attentiveness to putative ecological problems in the world, and thus to the need for an “ecological conversion,” the indigenous people are being presented as someone we should listen to and learn from. There is to be found another reference to that 1979 Puebla document by stressing the themes “participation and base communities (Puebla 1979).”

In light of the attentiveness to “Mother Earth” and creation in general, the Holy Eucharist thus becomes here “an act of cosmic love.” The text states:

The Eucharist, therefore, redirects us to the “living center of the universe”, to the overflowing core of love and inexhaustible life of the “incarnate Son” [sic], present under the species of bread and wine, fruit of the earth and work of human hands (cf. LS 236). In the Eucharist, the community celebrates an act of cosmic love, in which human beings, together with the incarnate Son of God and all creation, give thanks to God for new life in the risen Christ (cf. LS 236). [emphasis added]

In light of ecological dangers and unjust exploitation of the local people by capitalist organizations, and other related problems, the text speaks about the need for changes in light of a “prophetic dimension”: “Faced with the current socio-environmental crisis, there is an urgent need for guidance and action, in order to implement the transformation of practices and attitudes.” [emphasis added]. Here, once more, the whole creation is somehow included into the mystical life of the soul: “Ecological conversion means embracing the mystically-interconnected and interdependent nature of all creation.” Nature and Grace, the natural and the supernatural life are intermixed, or conflated.

Moreover, the synod text calls for yet another conversion, a “change of heart,” and it speaks of a “new paradigm,” saying: “Embracing life through community-based solidarity entails a change of heart. This new paradigm opens up new perspectives for personal and societal transformation.” [emphasis added]

While speaking about community-based matters, it is the indigenous people who now have to teach the Church: they “have much to teach us” (EG 198). The document continues:

For this reason, Pope Francis pointed out that “we need to let ourselves be evangelized by them” and by their cultures, and that the new evangelization implies “lending our voice to their causes, but also [we are called] to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them, and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them” (EG 198). His teachings, therefore, could set the direction of priorities for the new paths of the Church in the Amazon.

Here, it is worth mentioning that the text regrets that some in the West still look down on these cultures and even “demonize” them: “Today, unfortunately, traces still exist of the colonizing project, which gave rise to attitudes that belittle and demonize indigenous cultures.”

To sum up this part of this troubling document – points 1-13 – the tone is set that the Church should listen to the local cultures in order to help them save their own region from ecological and social disaster. The West, it claims, has cruelly colonized this region over the last centuries and thus now should humbly take the clues for the solution from the local people and their cultures, especially since they are so close to Mother Nature.

It is in this light that we need to consider the words concerning who should be responsible in that region, in order to fill the gap in the face of a serious lack of priests. As is stated, many parishes have only a few times a year a visiting priest, and with him the Holy Eucharist.

Moreover, the important chapter 14 is entitled “Ministry with an Amazonian face.

The document tells us that “the Church in the Amazon Basin has come to recognize that […] her pastoral care has been spread precariously thin.” Thus, there is need for “new paths for pastoral care.” Let us consider the longer paragraph:

These new paths for pastoral care in the Amazonia call for “re-launching the work of the Church” (DAp 11) in the territory and for delving deeper into the “process of inculturation” (EG 126), which requires the Church in the Amazon region to make “courageous” proposals, that is, the “daring” and “fearless” attitudes that Pope Francis asks of us [this is the reference to a conversation between the pope and Bishop Kräutler]. The prophetic mission of the Church is today carried out through its inclusive ministerial action, which allows indigenous peoples and Amazonian communities to be its “principal interlocutors”(LS 146) regarding all the territory’s pastoral and socio-environmental matters. [emphasis added]

These words apparently mean that the indigenous people have to tell the Church how to fill out the her “prophetic mission” and “inclusive ministerial action.” In order to “transform the Church’s precariously-thin presence and make it broader and more incarnate,” there is a the “need for ‘Eucharistic integrity’ (DAp 436) for the Amazon region,” so that all the baptized can “participate in the Sunday Mass.” It is here that the Preparatory Document reminds us, in light of Vatican II, that the “People of God share in the priesthood of Christ,” while maintaining a distinction between “the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood (cf. LG 10).”

Now the text proposes to “evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of ‘a Church with an Amazonian face and a Church with a native face [Quote from Pope Francis].’” [emphasis added] It is this concept of an “inculturated pastoral ministry” – formerly an especially cherished idea of the liberation theologians – that enters now the official Church documents. Inculturation means here to respect, for example, that women often are the leaders in the local communities and that men might dislike anyway celibacy. It is here that the document therefore proposes to consider giving women a “type of official ministery.” It is fitting once more to quote a longer passage:

One priority is to specify the contents, methods, and attitudes necessary for an inculturated pastoral ministry capable of responding to the territory’s vast challenges. Another is to propose new ministries and services for the different pastoral agents, ones which correspond to activities and responsibilities within the community. Along these lines, it is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values. Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life (cf. DAp 251). [emphasis added]

There was once a time where the Church sent missionaries to places where there was a need of priests; there was once a time where the native peoples in all the world were invited to conform to Christ’s teachings and to the Church’s sacred traditions and customs – while respecting, where possible, local differences. Now the new and “reformed” Church wishes to ask the native peoples what would please them. Not what pleases God, as traditionally taught through His Church.

Speaking about a “Church with an Amazonian face,” the following chapter 15 considers “new paths” and a “new shape of this Church,” adding that it will properly be “starting from its peoples’ experience of cultural diversity. Our new paths will impact ministries, liturgy, and theology (Indian theology).” [emphasis added]” Here, “the entire People of God, along with their bishops, priests, religious men and women, and religious and lay missionaries,” are to approach this “new journey with an open heart.” The “leading roles of the peoples themselves” are to be strengthened. “We should refine an intercultural spirituality to help us interact with the diversity of peoples and their traditions.”

Finally, some of the questions added to the attached questionnaire in the synod document also show us the method and direction of this revolutionary attempt at remodeling the Church of the Pan-Amazon region with regard to the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood:

3. Is there room for indigenous expression and active participation in the liturgical practice of your communities?
4. One of the major challenges in the Amazon Basin is the impossibility of celebrating the Eucharist frequently in all places. How can we respond to this need?
5. How can we recognize and value the role of the laity in various pastoral areas (catechesis, liturgy, and charity)? […]

10. What are the particularly Amazonian activities and ministries that you believe should be created and promoted?
11. In what ways can consecrated life and its charisms contribute to the building up of a Church with an Amazonian face?
12. The role of women in our communities is of utmost importance, how can we recognize and value them on our new paths? [emphasis added]

Bishop Kräutler’s Reform Plan Laid Out in 2014: Female Priests; Married Priests

Let us now turn to Bishop Kräutler and his ideas. In 2014, on 4 April, he had a private audience with Pope Francis. In this meeting, there happened two important things. First, the bishop presented the pope with a Spanish text filled with recommendations with regard to the pope’s upcoming document Laudato si, all of which were incorporated by the pope into this encyclical (according to Kräutler).Second, the conversation turned to the lack of priests in the Amazon region. It was in this context, as we shall see, that the pope asked the bishops of that region to make “bold and courageous proposals,” or, as the Preparatory Document itself states, to make “’courageous’ proposals, that is, the ‘daring’ and ‘fearless’ attitudes that Pope Francis asks of us.” [emphasis added]

In the aftermath of this papal audience, Bishop Kräutler helped found the Red Ecclesial Panamazonian Network REPAM, a network of nine Churches of the Pan-Amazon region (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam and French Guyana, Peru and Venezuela) which claims to have been “inspired by Laudato si” (which, in turn, was effectively co-authored by Kräutler himself.) It seems that Pope Francis himself initiated the founding of that network-organization during his 2013 visit to Brazil – his first papal visit. Bishop Kräutler is the coordinator of the Brazilian REPAM branch. Guiseppe Nardi, journalist for the German website Katholisches.info, has made a great contribution covering the role of REPAM, especially with regard to the upcoming 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod.

Not only does today’s Preparatory Document give four references to REPAM, but more importantly, as Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said in today’s press conference, the synod preparation was made in close collaboration with that REPAM network. Baldisseri said:

For this reason, since the beginning of the synodal journey, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops has worked in close connection with the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM), an organism that carries out ecclesial activities in that region.

Let us now consider what Bishop Kräutler himself has in mind concerning the problem of the lack of priests in this Pan-Amazon region. In a report that I recently made for LifeSiteNews, I highlighted the fact that this bishop stated in two different interviews in 2016 that he is in favor of not only married priests – the so-called viri probati – but also in favor of ordaining female priests. As I then wrote:

In a 2016 interview, the bishop [Kräutler] claimed that the 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis which rules against female priests “is not a dogma and does not even have the weight of an encyclical.” When asked whether one could revise that earlier papal document, the retired bishop responded: “Nothing is here impossible!”

Moreover, in his 2016 book, entitled Habt Mut! (“Be Courageous!” published by Tyrolia Verlag), Erwin Kräutler speaks about Pope Francis and his path of reform, but he also speaks on several occasions about his 2014 conversation he had had with the pope.

As Kräutler makes clear, Pope Francis was very sympathetic to his ideas. When Kräutler spoke about the lack of priests in the Pan-Amazon region, the pope himself brought up the experience of “a diocese in Mexico, where the bishop mitigated and softened, in part, the problem of the lack of priests by ordaining 300 married leaders of parishes as deacons.” Here, the Pope was referring to Samuel Ruiz García, Bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas (Chiapas). The German journalist Giuseppe Nardi showed that this bishop had an “indigenous priesthood” in mind when ordaining those 300 deacons in the 1990s. In 2001, when the bishop retired, the Vatican stopped this endeavor. However, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, appointed by Pope Francis to be the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, later gave permission to resume that practice, in 2014.

The strange thing about this Mexican experiment is that Bishop García not only ordained a large number of indigenous married men to the diaconate; but he also had their wives “co-ordained” in a very unusual way, taking into account the cultural role of the wives of indigenous leaders.

Here, it might be good to know that in 2015, when Pope Francis visited Mexico, he went to the grave of Bishop García (d. 2011) and prayed.

It is also worthwhile to mention that REPAM’s own managing director, Mauricio Lopez, gave in November of 2017 an interview where he makes reference to this experiment as started by Bishop García, indicating the idea of having a couple who is chosen by the community to “do the service” and to become spiritual leaders of that community. For him, it is about finding a new “Church model.” Again, REPAM is being directly mentioned as having helped to organize the upcoming 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod.

So when, in his 2014 conversation with Bishop Kräutler, the Pope refers to this Mexican bishop, it should earnestly trouble all faithful Catholics. But, regrettably, it even gets worse.

According to Kräutler,

The Pope also brought up the proposal of a bishop in South Africa – it is Bishop Fritz Lobinger – according to whom parishes without priests could be led by a “Team of Elders.” Bishop Lobinger recommends also that one should ordain them so that they can also celebrate the Eucharist with their parishes. The English expression [“Team of Elders”] has the advantage that the “elders” themselves do not necessarily need to be old in age. [emphasis added]

These “elders” are, rather, to be “experienced” men, but what Kräutler does not say here is that Lobinger himself pictured that, among these ordained “elders,” there could also be women included. In any event, it was in this specific context, according to Kräutler, that the Pope had then made the request for “bold proposals.” The Pope used the word “corajudos,” explains Bishop Kräutler, who is originally from Austria. This expressive word also connotes or deftly implies boldness, fearlessness, and openness.

Some of our readers might recall in this context that Pope Francis discussed, in 2015, with the German bishops the books of Bishop Lobinger. At that time, the Pope told the German bishops on their Ad Limina visit to Rome that he had read the three major books of Lobinger which deal with the shortage of priests and with possible solutions.

As Bishop Kräutler himself further explains in his 2016 book, Pope Francis hopes for a more decentralized Church. Kräutler, together with the Brazilian bishops’ conference, now works on such proposals (as now can also be seen in today’s Preparatory Document). It is about “new forms of Christian parishes and their leadership, to include the Eucharist on Sunday.” Here, the bishop brings up the idea “ad experimentum” to ordain to the priesthood the so-called viri probati (morally proven married men), but for him, this proposed solution is defective because it “would exclude the women.”

According to this Austrian bishop, Pope Francis would even be open to ordaining women to the priesthood. Kräutler says that “I do not believe that he would say a strict ‘no’ to the ordination of women, a quod non.” He would not just come and personally make such a change, Kräutler adds, for the Pope knows that he will need the approval of the bishops. Additionally, he should make such an allowance regionally, at first, not right away for the universal Church. According to Kräutler, the Pope well knows that sometimes in the Church’s history, there were decisions made “which a few decades earlier, nobody could have imagined.” Here, the bishop mentions as an example how the Church changed her positions with regard to the topic of separation of Church and state, as well as to the topic of democracy. He also mentions Vatican II’s text Dignitatis Humanae, “which did away for good with” the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX, especially with regard to religious liberty.

Bishop Kräutler concludes: “Certain convictions and interpretations, which once were presented with vehemence, and even defended as being unchangeable, have often, nevertheless, completely changed during the course of history.” Here, he insists that this is also how Pope Francis looks upon changes in the Church’s teaching: “I am convinced that Francis stands in this tradition which is finally open for the dialogue and for changes.”

Speaking about female priests, Kräutler admits that the situation is somewhat more difficult due to the 1994 document Ordinatio sacerdotalis as written by Pope John Paul II, even though, in Kräutler’s eyes, it does not represent “a doctrine ‘de fide definita.’” (A week ago, Onepeterfive reached out to Bishop Kräutler, asking him whether he will now change this claim in light of the recent 30 May statement of Archbishop Luis Ladaria, according to whom the interdict on female priests is part of the Church’s infallible teaching. So far, we have not heard back from him.)

Bishop Kräutler continues, saying that, since Pope John Paul II’s statement “is very determined,” the Pope “will not do anything alone in the question of priesthood, celibacy and female ordination, but, if so, then it will be together with the bishops.” Here, he “certainly also will not make a decision that will be immediately implemented in the whole world.” For this to happen, there would have to be “a prominent number of bishops’ conferences in Latin America, in Asia, in Africa” which desire a change. Only such a world-wide consensus “would have enough weight, in order to revise the earlier statement of a pope.” “But all by himself, Francis will certainly not do it.”

Kräutler’s own proposal is that there should be first some “regional solutions.” Even in Brazil, there are regions that do not lack priests. In the Amazon region, however, there is a great lack of priests, the prelate explains. For those regions, one could allow some changes. “But it has to be clear: it is not about a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to celibacy. Sometimes, people accuse me of wishing to abolish celibacy,” Kräutler adds. “No, I do not wish it at all, and the Pope does not wish it, either.” It is visible here that Kräutler and the Pope must have talked in detail about this matter, as well.

Furthermore, Kräutler details his idea that those women who are now preparing and leading the liturgy of the word on Sunday – as well as younger and older men – could be further prepared “so that they would preside over the Eucharist for their parish. For their parish! This limitation seems to me important.” The Austrian bishop thinks that this group of people are men and women who are ordained only for their own parish. “Ideally, this could be even two or three people, in the sense of the Teams of Elders, as proposed by Bishop Lobinger.” In this regard, Kräutler insists upon the ordination of these persons.

It was intentional to present Kräutler’s own ideas and recollections here in detail because they all might very well reappear, in one way or another, in the upcoming Pan-Amazon Synod discussions. Kräutler’s own plan as laid out here is most probably part of the papal agenda. We shall remain attentive to this matter of moment for the Catholic Church.