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Pope Francis receives a Pachamama statue in the Vatican gardens during an indigenous ceremony, Rome, Oct. 4, 2019.Vatican News / video screen grab

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June 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Thomas Schüller, a well-known Catholic German theologian, claims that Pope Francis' post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia shows that the Pope wants to give women real “leadership positions” in the Church, and he proposes that “one should seriously reflect in a courageous manner about the cardinalate.” 

In addition, this theologian even sees in this papal text the idea that there was a sort of “two-fold divine incarnational event, a male one in Jesus Christ […], and a female one in Mary” which empowers women “to be witnesses of the Gospel.” 

This papal document is about limiting clerical power and empowering lay women, he explains. Or, quoting another Catholic theologian, Michael Böhnke, this document, according to Schüller, is about the “end of a clerical monopoly.”

First acknowledging that Pope Francis has disappointed many by not explicitly endorsing the married priesthood and the female diaconate, Professor Schüller then quotes in his essay —  published by the German Catholic journal Herder Korrespondenz (5/2020) a close collaborator and long-term personal secretary of Cardinal Walter Kasper — Monsignor Oliver Lahl, who finds in Querida Amazonia a “hidden hint.” Let us quote here Schüller's words:

“Oliver Lahl, the wise Spiritual Counsellor [at the German Embassy] in Rome, who has loyally served the Roman Curia a long time on the side of the bishop of his home diocese, Cardinal Walter Kasper, thinks that one can read in these contradictions [on the one part, the rejection of clericalism, on the other part the description of the role of women according to Mary] the hidden hint that Pope Francis wishes to de-power male clergymen whom he wishes to limit to leading roles only with regard to the Holy Eucharist and to Penance, together with Extreme Unction, in order to endow women with leadership authority without ordination, and this in a very different, but canonically familiar, manner. Pope Francis [according to Lahl] aims at removing power from the priests and at democratizing different leadership offices which are also open to women.”

LifeSiteNews reached out to Monsignor Lahl who confirmed that his position was correctly presented by Schüller and that he had originally posted such comments on Facebook. It is worth quoting these words at length because they very well might reflect Pope Francis' agenda for the Church since Cardinal Kasper himself has been a close counselor of this Pope. Kasper – whose close collaborator was just presenting here the papal program – himself had told LifeSiteNews in July of 2019 that women do not necessarily need to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders in order to fulfill new leadership roles also with regard to the liturgy. As Kasper told LifeSite, women can today do much more than any female deacon would have done in the past. He mentions here “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.” They can be Eucharistic ministers, they can be lectors, and, as the current development indicates, they might soon officially even give homilies.

“The Church is free to carry out the vocation of women to these offices with the help of a non-sacramental, liturgical blessing;” Kasper told LifeSite, and this could be done “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)”

In a sense, one could say that Querida Amazonia (QA) seems to have incorporated yet another Kasper proposal, similar to Amoris Laetitia, also in light of the fact that Cardinal Kasper did participate at one of the preparatory meetings of the Amazon Synod in June of 2019.

Thomas Schüller seems to move in this same direction when he calls women “the true prophets” and demands that women should give “the homilies during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.”

As he explains earlier on in his essay, Pope Francis sees himself bound by Pope John Paul II's ban on female priests, and thus is looking for alternative ways to promote women's leadership roles in the Church. As the German theologian says, “the Church, as a price for excluding women from ordination,  endows them indeed with real leadership authority – and with it, with authority to make decisions.”

“Pope Francis takes this path very clearly,” the theologian continues and points to the fact that this pope has already named several female under-secretaries in the Roman Curia.

In addition, Professor Schüller predicts that curial policy will one day soon contain the sentence “that, in principle, all offices of the Curia are open to women and men, except in those cases, where they are linked with the exercise of the ordained authority.”

With regard to Querida Amazonia, this German theologian and canon lawyer refers to passages in this document where the Pope encourages those female and male Christians who already have roles of responsibility, and with the support of their local bishops, “to continue to proclaim the Word of God, to administer certain sacraments – here might be meant baptism, assistance at marriage ceremonies, and at sacramental Church burials –  to teach,” as well as to make use of their individual charisms for the promotion of popular piety (see QA 89).

Before we enter into the discussion of certain canonical aspects, let us first consider what Schüller states about Pope Francis' words on the “two faces of God,” which, he says, could “take one's breath.” They are to be found in Querida Amazonia's paragraph 101, where it says: “The Lord chose to reveal his power and his love through two human faces: the face of his divine Son made man and the face of a creature, a woman, Mary. Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother.” Comments Schüller:

“This sentence nearly seems to indicate as if there had taken place a two-fold divine incarnational event, a male one in Jesus Christ with its continuation in those men who work as clergymen, and a female one in Mary which empowers women to be tender and powerful witnesses of the Gospel. Both are said to be faces of God.”

Moreover, the theologian adds the question as to whether “the ordained men – excluding the deacons according to a decision by Pope Benedict XVI – are acting in persona Christi capitis, while the women are acting in persona Mariae, in order to rule with tenderness and proclaim the Gospel in an inspired manner.”

The theologian admits, however, that this sentence goes far beyond the concept of “Mary as Co-Redemptrix,” since here it “seems to give Mary a soteriological quality,” that is to say, she herself becomes a sort of savior. It is in this light that Schüller thinks that, in continuing the theological reflection as initiated by these papal words, “women should be in the future the primary and initial proclaimers of the Gospel. They are the true prophets.”

If one were to follow these ideas, the Church might wind up having priests as mere “administers of three Sacraments” that are necessarily linked to the Sacrament of Holy Orders – Holy Eucharist, Penance, and Extreme Unction – while women are prominent figures even on the altar during the Holy Mass by giving the homilies and by other prophetic roles of proclamation.

Since these are revolutionary proposals, let us also now consider Schüller's canonical comments, also for the sake of those who might wish to counter them.

The theologian points to footnote 136 of Querida Amazonia, in which Pope Francis refers to canon 517 §2 CIC. This canon provides for bishops to appoint laypeople for certain functions in the parish who represent a priest who is absent but who still officially supervises them. As Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes has pointed out, the papal document quotes this canon in a defective way, since it omits the point that priests are still the authoritative supervisors. Thus, in QA, this canon turns into a possible way of letting laypeople run a parish. As Schüller puts it, Pope Francis insists on the “inculturated and pneumatological” importance of the role of lay pastoral assistants who have received authorization from the bishop, and, at the same time, the Pope reminds priests – “in spite of their prominent role with regard to the Eucharist” – of the abuse of power. Thereby, the author adds, the Pope “expands – on the level of the theology of office, but also ecclesiologically – those fitting pastoral offices which are independent [i.e., not dependent upon a priest] and which are open to men and women without ordination.”

That is to say, Schüller claims that Pope Francis wishes to depart from canon 517§2 in a sense that the supervision by a priest is not anymore to be mandatory. The governance of the Church would thus be cut off from the ordained office, something that Cardinal Cordes says is impossible. Schüller refers here to QA 103, where Pope Francis speaks of laypeople with “real authority” who have been commissioned “by the bishop.” Following his logic, the German professor consequently says that here canon 145 CIC applies which speaks about the nature of an “ecclesiastical office” which is defined as “any function constituted in a stable manner by divine or ecclesiastical ordinance.”

It is clear to this German theologian that Pope Francis believes that “women, without doubt, are already and continue to be able to be bearers of authority of jurisdiction, that is to say of real authority of governance.”

But most importantly, the German theologian proposes that the Church do away with canon 274 CIC which states that only (“soli”) clergymen may take offices of governance. The canon states in §1: “Only clerics can obtain offices for whose exercise the power of orders or the power of ecclesiastical governance is required.” Or, to quote Schüller, this theologian claims that Pope Francis “leads ad absurdum” this canon, which, according to this theologian, is anyway not tenable because there has been an area in Germany in the 19th century – Herford – where the abbesses were able to install priests in their realm, as well as dispense authorizations, i.e., they were fulfilling governing roles.

Schüller also insists that the Church herself, in her 1983 Code of Canon Law has already shown her inconsistency by allowing, in canon 1421 CIC, that lay men and lay women may be judges on ecclesial tribunals, something which has now been even further liberalized by Pope Francis. Today it is possible that two judges may be laypeople on an ecclesiastical tribunal of three judges, and thus it is possible that laypersons can – and may – outvote one clergyman. “He who acts like this,” comments the theologian, “is the carrier of judicial authority with regard to the fields of legislation, of the executive, as well as of jurisdiction.”

At the time of this reporting, news has come in that Pope Francis has named Dr. Raffaella Vincenti as head of the Vatican Apostolic Library, and Prof. Antonella Sciarrone Alibrandi as a member of the Financial Information Authority board, thus increasing the number of women in leadership roles in the Roman Curia, and thus lending weight to some of the interpretations as set forth by Professor Schüller.

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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,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.