Maike Hickson

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Bishop Athanasius Schneider Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite

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Bishop Schneider: Brazilian Catholics aren’t asking for married priests

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

March 12, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Allowing married priests in the Amazon region is an idea from “white priests,” not locals, Bishop Athanasius Schneider recently said.

In an interview with LifeSiteNews, Bishop Schneider discussed the proposal to allow married priests in the Amazon region due to the lack of priests there. He says that he knows Brazilian Catholics well because he lived in Brazil for seven years and adds that they would not ask for married priests: “No, this is an idea put into their heads not by indigenous peoples but by white people, by priests who themselves are not living a deep apostolic and sacrificial life.”

Bishop Schneider, in speaking with LifeSiteNews’ Diane Montagna, insists that the married priesthood in the Latin Church is not the solution for priest shortage. He even considers “priestly celibacy” as “the last stronghold to abolish in the Church” and explains that “the sacramental life is only the pretext.” Having lived in the Soviet Union in his youth and thus having often been without Mass on Sunday, this prelate is convinced that a family can “survive strong in the faith.”

“The faith was lived in the domestic Church which is the family,” he adds.

Now commenting on the specific Brazilian situation, Bishop Schneider explains: “I also lived and worked in Brazil for seven years. And I know the Brazilians. They are very pious people, simple people. They would never think up married clergy. No, this is an idea put into their heads not by indigenous peoples but by white people, by priests who themselves are not living a deep apostolic and sacrificial life. Without the true sacrificial life of an apostle you cannot build up the Church.”

Two prominent Catholic “white priests” at the forefront of the push for married priests in remote areas of the world are Bishop Erwin Kräutler and Bishop Fritz Lobinger. Both are now retired bishops, and both grew up in Austria.

Kräutler was, until recently, the bishop of Xingu, Brazil, and he has been one of the key collaborators of Pope Francis in promoting the idea of married priests for the Amazon region. He met with the Pope in 2014, and it was then that the Pope asked him to make “bold proposals.” During this meeting, Pope Francis brought into the discussion Bishop Fritz Lobinger, of Aliwal (South Africa), who proposes to ordain a “Team of Elders” within a community so that they could offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These “Elders,” according to Lobinger, could be married. He even considers the idea of including women in this team. It was in this context of Lobinger and his ideas that Pope Francis told Bishop Kräutler to make some “bold proposals.”

In April 2018, the Austrian prelate was again with the Pope as a member of the preparatory council organizing the upcoming Amazon Synod from October 6 to 27.

It was also only recently that Pope Francis highlighted the importance of the work of Bishop Lobinger for the upcoming Amazon synod. On January 27, at an in-flight press conference, the Pope said that, in remote regions, there could be perhaps ordained married and morally proven men – the so-called viri probati – and here he again referred to Bishop Lobinger. When asked whether the Amazon region would be such a remote region, the Pope answered: “... 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.”

In 2015, Pope Francis recommended the work of Bishop Lobinger when speaking with the German bishops during their ad limina visit to Rome.

After the papal mention of Lobinger in January 2019, he was interviewed by Catholic News Service (CNS). Speaking about Pope Francis saying there is still need of much prayer and reflection on this topic, “Bishop Lobinger told CNS he is convinced that a good portion of that reflection, prayer and study will be evident at the Amazon synod and that Pope Francis 'is really steering the church in that direction.'”

In another January 2019 interview, Bishop Lobinger explicitly says that the Amazon region (together with all of Latin American and Asia) is “the best starting point” for such a new sort of priesthood. “I think at this moment – and at the Synod for the Amazon – we will look at the places in the Church which are best prepared for such a new step,” he explains. “This is something very new,” he adds, “and you better start, where there are best chances. And the Amazon area is one of those.” But in the end, he states, “the whole Church will need it, not only places with shortage of priests.”

Lobinger's idea is to have two sorts of priests. One type of priest would be a theologically formed full-time priest. The new type of priest would be a part-time priest who has another job to sustain himself and who does not have a deeper theological formation. In one article from 2003, Lobinger (together with his collaborator, Father Paul Zulehner) explains this new type of priest as “Corinthian priest” (“like the presbyters at Corinth, who are in charge of a community and preside over the Eucharist”).

He says: “Corinthian priests, on the other hand, will usually be part-time, ordained on a voluntary basis for a particular community, where they will work as a team and where, instead of in a residential seminary, they will receive their initial and later formation.” He furthermore points out that, according to his ideas, such priests could also be female, when he adds: “Long active experience in their parishes will have distinguished them as ‘proven’ community leaders and mature men – viri probati. They are likely to be married, and to have held jobs. Many would, one would hope, eventually be women.”

Bishop Schneider is convinced that an “indigenous married clergy will not lead to a deepening and growth in the Amazonian Church.” He sees that there will be “other problems” should there come a “married clergy in the indigenous culture of the Amazon and in other parts of the world of the Latin Rite.”

The relevant part of Bishop Schneider’s interview with LifeSiteNews is below:

LifeSiteNews: In October a Synod on the Amazon will be held at the Vatican. Your Excellency, you lived in Brazil for a time and are familiar with the region. It’s been said there is a shortage of priests in the Amazon, which some say justifies introducing married priests [viri probati]. Is it true that such a sacramental crisis and shortage of priests exists? 

Bishop Schneider: Well, there is a shortage of priests in Amazonia, but there is also a shortage elsewhere. There is an increasing shortage of priests in Europe.

But the shortage of priests is only an obvious pretext to abolish practically (not theoretically) celibacy in the Latin Church. This has been the aim since Luther. Among the enemies of the Church and sects, the first step is always to abolish celibacy. Priestly celibacy is the last stronghold to abolish in the Church. The sacramental life is only the pretext for doing so. 

The shortage of priests in the Amazon is for me an example of the contrary: perhaps priests lack a deeply committed and sacrificial life in the spirit of Jesus and the Apostles and the saints. They therefore seek human substitutes. Indigenous married clergy will not lead to a deepening and growth in the Amazonian Church. Other problems will surely arise with the advent of married clergy in the indigenous culture of the Amazon and in other parts of the world of the Latin Rite. 

What is most needed is to deepen the roots of the faith and to strengthen the domestic church in the Amazon. We need to begin a crusade in the Amazon among these indigenous families, among Christian Catholics, for vocations – imploring God for vocations to the celibate priesthood, and they will come. 

Our Lord said to “pray,” so this lack is a sign that we are not praying enough. And people will be tempted to pray even less because men are filling their heads with the promise that in October they will receive the possibility of having married priests. So they no longer pray for their sons to be priests like Jesus, who was celibate. And Jesus is the model for all cultures.

Even one good indigenous celibate priest, a spiritual man, could transform tribes, as the saints did. St. John Marie Vianney transformed almost all of France. Padre Pio is another example. I am not saying that we must expect this standard of holiness but am offering them as examples of the supernatural fruitfulness that can come through one holy priest. Even a simple, deep spiritual man who is dedicated to Jesus and to souls in celibacy, an indigenous priest from Amazonia, will surely build up the Church so much there, and awaken new vocations by his example. 

This has been the Church’s method since the time of the Apostles. And this method has been tried and proven through 2000 years of the Church’s missionary experience. And this will be true until Christ comes. There is no other way. Adapting to purely humanistic, naturalistic approaches will not enrich the Amazonian Church. We have 2000 years of history to prove this. 

I repeat: Brazilian people are deeply aware of the sacredness of the priesthood. This is what the Amazonian Synod should do: deepen the awareness of the sacredness of the celibate priesthood. The Church has such beautiful examples of missionaries. It should also deepen and strengthen the domestic Church, i.e. family life. And the Synod should start Eucharistic adoration and prayer campaigns for priests and new priestly vocations. Without the sacrifice of love, without prayer, we will not build up a local Church. With married clergy, no. 

I am not speaking against the married clergy in the Orthodox Churches or Eastern Catholic Churches. I am speaking of the Latin tradition in America and Europe. We have to keep this treasure without weakening it through the introduction of a married clergy, because it has been proven by so much fruitfulness when we look at it from a comprehensive point of view.  

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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.