Maike Hickson

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Bishop Andreas Laun, Emeritus Auxiliary of Salzburg, Austria

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Austrian bishop: Pope said he won’t abolish priestly celibacy because he anticipates Judgement Day

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July 3, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Austrian Bishop Andreas Laun, in a short commentary published on the Austrian news website Kath.net, reminds us that Pope Francis said in January 2019 that he will not abolish obligatory clerical celibacy, adding that he does not “want to appear before God with this decision.”

Bishop Laun quotes these latter papal words after first presenting Pope Francis’ words that “celibacy is a gift for the Church.” 

With it, Bishop Laun points out that Pope Francis is aware that the abolition of obligatory celibacy on his part would be a decision that he would one day have to answer for before God. 

Comments Laun: “With [those remarks], Francis reminds us of a fundamental truth concerning the life of each person and of the meaning of one's life: that is to say, it is finally all about this one dramatic moment, when I will – must or may – stand before God and when I will hear: ‘Come in,’ or a terrible: ‘Depart from Me.’”

Here, the Austrian bishop shows us how to act in life in order to be able to be humbly hopeful concerning that one “dramatic moment”: “The Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church which flows from it give me the confident hope for the ‘Come’ which I in fact only myself have to will!”

Bishop Laun's short commentary might be read here as an indirect way of reminding Pope Francis of his own words on the matter of priestly celibacy and the gravity involved with possibly changing it.

Pope Francis thus spoke during his in-flight press conference on January 28 when coming back from World Youth Day in Panama. Having been asked whether he would allow married priests for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, as it is already permitted for the Eastern Rites, the Pope answered

“Of the Latin rite... I am reminded of that phrase of Saint Paul VI: 'I would rather give my life than change the law on celibacy'. It came to mind and I want to say it, because it is a courageous phrase, in a more difficult moment than this, 1968 / 1970... Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church. Second, I don’t agree with allowing optional celibacy, no. There might only remain a few possibilities in the most remote places – I am thinking of the Pacific islands... But it is one thing to reflect on when there is pastoral necessity, there, the pastor must think of the faithful.”

Subsequently, Pope Francis quoted the work of the retired Bishop Fritz Lobinger (Aliwal, South Africa), who has written extensively on the idea of ordaining married men to the priesthood. He said: 

“There is a book by Father Lobinger [Bishop Fritz Lobinger, Preti per domani (Priests for Tomorrow), Emi, 2009], it is interesting – this is a matter of discussion among theologians, there’s no decision on my part. My decision is: optional celibacy before the diaconate, no. That’s something for me, something personal, I won’t do it, this remains clear. Am I ‘closed’? Maybe. But I don’t want to appear before God with this decision.”

Returning to Father Lobinger: he said: 

“‘The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church.’ But where there is no Eucharist, in the communities – you may think, Caroline, of the Pacific Islands... [journalist mentions the Amazon region] ... maybe there... in many places... Lobinger says: who makes the Eucharist? In those communities the ‘directors,’ let’s say, the organizers of those communities are deacons or nuns or lay people, directly. And Lobinger says: one can ordain an elderly man, married – that is his thesis – one could ordain an elderly married man, but only so that he exercises the munus sanctificandi, that is, that he celebrates Mass, that he administers the sacrament of Reconciliation and performs the Anointing of the Sick. Priestly ordination gives the three munera: regendi – to govern, the pastor – ; docendi – to teach – and sanctificandi. This comes with ordination. The bishop would only give the faculties for the munus sanctificandi: this is the thesis. The book is interesting. Perhaps this can help in considering the problem. I believe that the problem must be opened in this sense, where there is a pastoral problem, because of the lack of priests. I’m not saying that it should be done, because I have not reflected, I have not prayed sufficiently about it. But the theologians must study [it]. An example is Father Lobinger... he was a fidei donum [priest], in South Africa... he is now an elderly man. I give this example to mean the points that they [the theologians] must study. I was talking to an official of the Secretariat of State, a bishop, who had to work in a communist country at the beginning of the revolution; when they saw how that revolution was going – in the 1950’s, more or less, – the bishops secretly ordained good, religious farm workers. Then, following the crisis, thirty years later, the matter was resolved. And he told me of the emotion he had felt when, in a concelebration, he saw these workers, with the hands of farmers, putting on their albs to concelebrate with the bishops. In the history of the Church, this has happened. It is something to study, to think, and to pray about.”

As may be seen in these comments, Pope Francis says he does not wish to abolish obligatory celibacy, but he still considers introducing married priests in certain regions of the world. 

In light of the recently published June 17 working document for the upcoming October 2019 Synod on the Pan-Amazon region, Bishop Laun might have seen it fit to remind us all of the gravity of any decision to change Church discipline regarding celibacy.

The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium clearly stated that all three munera are bound together and are part of the ecclesiastical office that is being exercised, on different levels, by bishops, priests, and deacons: 

“Thus the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised on different levels by those who from antiquity have been called bishops, priests and deacons.(63*) [….] By the power of the sacrament of Orders,(65*) in the image of Christ the eternal high Priest,(177) they [the priests] are consecrated to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful and to celebrate divine worship, so that they are true priests of the New Testament.(66*) Partakers of the function of Christ the sole Mediator,(178) on their level of ministry, they announce the divine word to all. They exercise their sacred function especially in the Eucharistic worship or the celebration of the Mass by which acting in the person of Christ (67*) and proclaiming His Mystery they unite the prayers of the faithful with the sacrifice of their Head and renew and apply (68*) in the sacrifice of the Mass [….] Exercising within the limits of their authority the function of Christ as Shepherd and Head,(69*) they gather together God's family as a brotherhood all of one mind,(70*) and lead them in the Spirit, through Christ, to God the Father.” (Lumen Gentium 28)

Regarding the Pope’s above-quoted words on the possible separation of the different munera of the priesthood and on the idea of having priests who merely administer the Sacraments, but do not teach or govern, it might be worthwhile to quote what Father Roger Laudry recently said in an article for the National Catholic Register:

“Because of a severe lack of educational infrastructure, most of those in the Amazon do not have access to adequate, quality formal education. We are not talking about the ordination of married men with doctorates, master’s or even bachelor’s degrees, in theology or anything else. We would be studying whether to ordain even those with only an elementary-level education, such that they might struggle even to read the Scriptures and the missal. Church history shows that is not a good idea. In the centuries before Catholic seminaries were founded in Europe, men simply apprenticed themselves for a time to local clergy, took an exam, and then were ordained, barely able to pronounce the Latin, not to mention understand it. The scandals caused by such poorly trained clergy helped precipitate the Protestant Reformation.”

As Stephen Morgan, a British Catholic Deacon who teaches in Macao, commented on Twitter: “This is a proposed reversal of the decision of an ecumenical Council (Trent) to respond to precisely this problem in Europe which had been partly responsible for the virtual triumph of Protestantism. The same will happen in the Amazon.”

It may not be, accordingly, that there are priests who are merely celebrating Mass and hearing confessions, but do not open their mouths to teach or govern a parish. It is a fragmentation of the priesthood that existed in the Middle Ages and that was subsequently corrected by the Church.

In light of these many problems related to even the limited idea of permitting married priests in the Amazon region, it is helpful that Bishop Laun reminds Pope Francis of the gravity of such a possible decision.

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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.