February 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – An idea about ministries for women presented by Cardinal Walter Kasper in a 2019 statement seems to have found its way into Pope Francis' post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia.
The German cardinal had told LifeSite in June of 2019 that there are ways of giving women much more scope in the Church, and even a liturgical blessing, without giving them access to “sacramental ordination.” His idea was essentially about introducing a female ministry without ordination. Such women, according to this idea, would be able to wear a special garment, give out Holy Communion, hold a Liturgy of the Word, administer certain sacraments, and even rule over parishes, to include their priests. This idea practically appears word for word in Pope Francis’ new exhortation on the Amazon.
Last summer, Cardinal Kasper commented in a statement sent to LifeSite on the 2016 Commission on the female diaconate which did not find much evidence that there was ever a female diaconate similar to that of a male diaconate, saying that it “did not surprise” him and that “these female deacons [of the past] are not to be regarded as female counterparts of the male deacons.” In light of this evidence, Kasper stated that “according to my conviction, it makes little sense to continue to debate this question.”
Instead, he proposed a liturgical blessing for women.
“The Church is free to carry out the vocation of women to these offices with the help of a non-sacramental, liturgical blessing; and in the presence of the whole congregation and within the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (for example in the context of the Prayers of the Faithful),” he wrote in July of 2019.
Getting more concrete with regard as to what women could do in the Catholic Church today, Kasper then explained: “Today, women have many functions in the Church that go far beyond those that the female deacons had in the first millennium.” As examples, he mentions “extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, lectors at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, leaders and presiders of Liturgies of the Word, next to often important leading functions in the Church's charitable works and administration, as well as those offices in dioceses and in the Roman Curia which are not bound to sacramental ordination.”
In a similar vein, John-Henry Westen, editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews, predicted that the Amazon Synod might very well go into exactly this direction.
In a July 16 John-Henry Westen Show of last year, he stated that his “bet would be that the [Amazon] Synod will stop short of allowing for women’s ordination,” adding: “My guess would be the Pope’s hint about women in Germany [where they already preside over Liturgies of the Word] will be made into a new ‘ministry’ for women without proclaiming it an ‘ordained’ ministry since that would cause too many prelates to object. What will most likely occur is an official normalization of what already takes place in exceptional circumstances.” Here, Westen mentions, for example, serving at the altar, being lectors, as well as extraordinary Eucharistic ministers as roles that women are already now permitted to perform in Church.
Pope’s Amazon exhortation
What, then, did Pope Francis effectively place into his post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia?
He writes, in number 103: “In a synodal Church, those women who in fact have a central part to play in Amazonian communities should have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs. Here it should be noted that these services entail stability, public recognition and a commission from the bishop.”
The Pope also reminds us that in the Amazon region, “there are communities that have long preserved and handed on the faith even though no priest has come their way, even for decades.” And here, he describes what women already have been doing in these communities: “This could happen because of the presence of strong and generous women who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, catechized, prayed and acted as missionaries.”
Does this not sound like Cardinal Kasper's proposal mentioned above?
Either way, key figures have highlighted exactly this fact, that the Pope proposes a new “ecclesial service” for women with “a commission from the bishop.” For example, Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., explained in a February 12 interview with America Magazine that there are now new “possibilities” open for a “church ministry” for laymen and laywomen “which could be recognized, which would be publicly recognized, which would have the backing of the bishop.” “That,” he explains, “opens up a whole series of possibilities” not only for the Amazon region, but also, for example, “for the United States.” According to Czerny, “all” are now “invited to consider the proposals” of the Amazon Synod's Final Document.
‘Much bigger than the female diaconate’
Austen Ivereigh, the papal biographer and advocate for Pope Francis' reform agenda, pointed out in a February 12 article in The Tablet that actually this new lay ministry could be “much bigger than the female diaconate.”
He writes: “The really radical move, however, is in paragraphs 99 to 103, which best reflect Francis’s discernment of where God’s gift of creative new thinking is making itself felt. The synod final report had called for bishops to be able to endow lay or religious men and women with authority 'through a ritual act' on behalf of the Christian community, such that their authority would be recognised also 'at the civil and local levels'. At the time, one of the synod’s organisers told me that this was 'much bigger than the female diaconate', given the number of women who lead Amazon communities; and also better reflected the desire of those women to have their authority recognised but without being clericalised.”
“For those with eyes to see and ears to hear,” Ivereigh continues, “the Pope is not just following a path out of the debate over the viri probati, but looking to a whole new kind of female-specific leadership in the Church.” He adds that the Pope asks us “to transcend limited perspectives and ‘pragmatic’ solutions mired in partial approaches, in order to seek paths of inculturation that are broader and bolder.”
Concludes Ivereigh: “Years from now, people may see this as the major fruit of the Amazonian synod.”
Francis has stripped the priest of all his other powers and authorities
Professor Brian McCall, a law professor and editor-in-chief of the traditional Catholic newspaper
Catholic Family News, has come to a similar conclusion as Ivereigh. He writes: “In addition to paganizing the Mass, Francis also wants to radically remake the sacred priesthood. The priest is ordained and commissioned to a threefold ministry: (1) to teach the faithful by proclaiming the Gospel (including the moral code Francis disparages), (2) to sanctify the faithful as the guardian and dispenser of all seven sacraments, and (3) to govern the faithful by ruling over communities of the Church as their legitimate pastors.”
Here, McCall sees that the Pope reduces the priesthood to a very small part of his threefold ministry: “Yet, Francis tries to strip the priest of this threefold office by reducing priests to only two functions: (1) presiding over the Eucharist (he never uses the phrase, 'Holy Sacrifice of the Mass') and (2) absolving from sins.” McCall thus is not willing to rejoice about the fact that the Pope still preserves the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance for the priest, because “Francis has stripped the priest of all his other powers and authorities. His nightmare of a Church is one in which priests pop in to 'celebrate the Eucharist'” the law professor explains, while “the laity – especially women – do everything else.”
Professor McCall quotes the following passage by Pope Francis in order to underline his argument: “The laity can proclaim God’s word, teach, organize communities, celebrate certain sacraments, seek different ways to express popular devotion and develop the multitude of gifts that the Spirit pours out in their midst.” (QA, 89) He then also quotes Querida's passage (103) that we have quoted above and that shows the Pope's idea of a special ministry for women with a “commission from the bishop.”
Thus, for this journalist, Pope Francis “is de facto establishing female diaconate in all but name only.”
Now, some have sighed relief that he did not explicitly institute so-called 'deaconesses,' a claim which is not quite true as we shall see. Yet, these passages de facto do so. His description in sections 89 and 103 corresponds to what permanent male deacons have done since their novel introduction after the Council. They celebrate certain sacraments, direct communities, proclaim God’s Word, and, importantly, they do this pursuant to a 'commission' from the bishop. By specifically calling for 'commissions' from the local bishop for performing these priestly functions, Francis is de facto establishing female diaconate in all but name only.
This would also be Cardinal Kasper's proposal. LifeSite reached out to him, asking him about this matter, but he explicitly declined to comment.
Pope explicitly calls for lay leaders
There is also a German theologian, Professor Michael Böhnke, who writes in a February 21 commentary for the German bishops' official news website Katholisch.de that Querida Amazonia “ends a clerical monopoly.” He points out that the papal text, in footnote 136, explicitly refers to Canon 517 § 2 CIC 1983 which gives under certain conditions permission for laymen to rule over parishes. The canon states: “If, because of a lack of priests, the diocesan bishop has decided that participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish is to be entrusted to a deacon, to another person who is not a priest, or to a community of persons, he is to appoint some priest who, provided with the powers and faculties of a pastor, is to direct the pastoral care.”
Böhnke then also refers to Querida's paragraph 94, in which the Pope explicitly calls for lay leaders and which has the footnote 136 referring back to this can. 517 § 2: “A Church of Amazonian features requires the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority.” Additionally, the theologian quotes at length the above-quoted paragraph 103 about the leadership of lay women, with a commission from a bishop.
The theologian stresses that here, “in these two passages, there is talk about laymen as people with authority, about lay leadership of parishes,” and he points out that this is to be a “solution with permanence” representing a “synodal Church with an Amazonian face.” Thereby, laymen have “authority effectively to have a say (!), in a synodal manner, in decisions about the path of the Church.”
This is perhaps not a sensation, or is it?” Böhnke comments:
Pope Francis has decided to abolish the 'soli,' [meaning here the clerical monopoly]” the theologian continues, the rule which is contained in canon 274 § 1 CIC according to which “only clerics [soli clerici] can obtain offices for whose exercise the power of orders or the power of ecclesiastical governance is required.
Thus, says the theologian, the Pope abolished an essential law of the Catholic Church and “ruled that laymen may be given offices with authority to act sacramentally and with power of leadership.” That is to say, governance and authority are being separated from ordination.
“With other words,” Böhnke adds, “he [the Pope] has cracked a clerical monopoly, referring thereby to the long-standing practice of lay involvement in Southern America which is to be further developed.”
That “cracking” of a “clerical monopoly” was needed, as it seems, also for this new Kasper proposal of a new official ministry for lay women without ordination.