Maike Hickson

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Amazon Synod is a ploy for ‘radical re-structuring’ of Church: Dubia cardinal

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July 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Walter Brandmüller – one of the two remaining dubia cardinals – published today in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a critique of Professor Hubert Wolf's public and strong attempt at undermining priestly celibacy. 

Professor Wolf is a German church historian and one of the participants of the private and unannounced pre-Amazon Synod June 26 meeting in Rome which called for female deacons and for married priests. Shortly after this meeting, he gave an interview on July 18, in which he claims that obligatory celibacy is “neither a mandate of Christ nor a divine commandment nor an Apostolic mandate.” Thus, Wolf claims, the Church may change this discipline for priests.

Wolf explains that he is in favor of that change and that he wrote a book on this topic for two reasons. The first reason is “the sex abuse scandal,” which, according to the professor, showed that celibacy is “a risk factor.” As a second reason for his new book, Wolf names “the request of the Latin American bishops as to whether the Pope would still remain on the basis of tradition if he were to admit married priests in the Catholic Church.” Thus, he explicitly wrote his book, which is titled “16 Theses Against Celibacy,” in order to assist the organizers of the upcoming October 6-27 Pan-Amazon Synod.

In his own response to Professor Wolf, Cardinal Brandmüller places the statements of Wolf in the larger context of the Amazon Synod when he says: “Just in time, before the controversial Amazon Synod – which has been convoked for October – an article by Hubert Wolf on celibacy appears: 'Marriage and ordination are not in opposition.” The Cardinal is a world renowned-scholar of church history, having published numerous books on the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Reformation. He holds a doctorate in theology and is the former President of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences. 

However, continues the German prelate: “Nobody who observes the current situation in the Catholic Church carefully would really believe that the upcoming synod in October is truly about the fate of the Amazon forests and its inhabitants.” 

For Brandmüller, “the Amazon” is “merely a label.”

“'The spirit in the bottle' has another name: radical re-structuring of the Church according to the well-known program,” he said. 

A key point of that current reform program is, according to the 90-year-old German prelate, celibacy.

“If it [celibacy] falls,” he explains, "then the Church is also done for, as already the Church's enemies had claimed in the late 19th century." The new book by Professor Hubert – whose main claims have been presented by LifeSiteNews here – as well as his above-mentioned interview “are also part of this strategy,” Brandmüller adds.

Among other things, Wolf himself now claims that celibacy really only became the law of the Church when it was placed into the Code of Canon Law of 1917. Here, Brandmüller comments: “Instead of critically examining Wolf's individual claims, it seems more fruitful to point to the real topic. It is to be made clear that obligatory celibacy for candidates of the higher ordination is not based merely on a Church law, which could be omitted or changed by a juridical act on the part of the Pope or a Council.”

Responding to Wolf's claim that celibacy is not a dogma, the German cardinal shows that even this argument does “not convince.”

While it is true that “celibacy is not a doctrine of the Church,” Brandmüller shows how indeed any candidate for the priesthood is “called, alongside with the priesthood also to imitate the way of living of Christ and of His Apostles.” It is on this basis that Brandmüller sees that “celibacy is a genuine part of the Apostolic Tradition.” Tradition, he adds, is “that which the Apostles, by oral homily, by example and instruction have passed on what they have received from Christ's mouth, in dealing with Him, and through His own work, or what they have learned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” 

This Tradition, the prelate adds, “has the same binding nature as Holy Scripture. Both contain Divine Revelation.” 

Furthermore, Cardinal Brandmüller also points out that the Apostles, upon being called by Jesus Christ, left house and wife, “in order to follow Christ.” The practice of ordaining older man who were married and had children was then kept for a while in the Church, the church historian explains, but always with the condition that sexual continence is preserved.

“It is evident,” he continues, “that this practice was lived and kept, long before one put it formally into a law.” The fact that there was no strong opposition when the practice was put into law is for Brandmüller also a sign that the practice had long been accepted.

Concludes the prelate: “There is a direct line from the words and the example of Jesus and the Apostles, onto the Corpus Iuris Canonici of the Middles Ages, and right up to the Codex Iuris Canonici of the year 1983.”

Referring to the practice of some Eastern rites of the Church to allow married men to become priests, Cardinal Brandmüller states that this was done for the sake of unity with some Eastern churches that wished, after the Eastern schism, to return to Rome. Looking back, he would have wished the Church would have insisted that this concession be accepted only for the first generation of priests, but that it then had later be ruled out, just as Pope Benedict XVI did it with those Anglican ministers who came into the Catholic Church as married men and who were accepted as Catholic priests.

Cardinal Brandmüller states clearly that there have been many scandals in the Church with regard to celibacy, and that priestly celibacy was not always faithfully kept by priests. However, in spite of these difficulties, he insists that “times of ecclesial-cultural flourishment were always also marked by a loyalty toward celibacy – and vice versa.”

With regard to Professor Wolf's work, Cardinal Brandmüller states that there cannot be talk about “serious historical sciences,” when Wolf points to these detected scandals in the Church's history, but  “ignores” the work of “recognized authors” who published books on this topic, such as Henry Crouzel (1963), Roger Gryson (1970), Christian Cochini (1981/1990), Johannes Bours and Franz Kamphaus (1991), Alfons M. Stickler (1993), Stefan Heid (2003), Klaus Berger (2009) and Andreas Merkt (2015).

Cardinal Brandmüller concludes his essay with the reminder that, “in the last 150 years, there was nearly no Pope who did not stress the dignity, spiritual beauty, and fruitfulness of this way of following Jesus.” The reason for this lies, according to this prelate, “in the essence of the priesthood itself.”

The priest “who celebrates on the altar Christ's Sacrifice, does so 'in Persona Christi' and by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.” “He who is so existentially involved in Christ's work of redemption,” the prelate asks, “should he not therefore also live 'in Persona Christi,' that is to say, to imitate the way of living of his master?”

A well-respected professor of dogmatics, Helmut Hoping, has also issued a critique of Hubert Wolf's book, saying that it aims at showing that "celibacy is a pathogen, that is to say that it causes suffering and that it makes one ill." The intention of this book is thus clear to Hoping, who sees that it wishes to "overcome this pathogenous, clerical system."

July 24, 2019 update: This report has been upated to add material from Helmut Hoping.

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.