Cardinal Marx says married priests still up for debate: ‘By no means is it off the table’
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BONN, Germany, February 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Reinhard Marx has emphasized that the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Querida Amazonia” is not intended to replace the final document of the Amazon synod published last October. The final document had called for the ordination to the priesthood of married men living in the Amazon region.
During the presentation of “Querida Amazonia” to German media in Bonn, the outgoing president of the German bishops’ conference stressed that the Apostolic Exhortation published earlier today “neither wants to replace nor to repeat” the final document of the synod.
“By no means is it off the table with the publication of the exhortation! Rather, Pope Francis speaks of his desire ‘to officially present the final document’ together with the Apostolic Letter, and invites us ‘to read it in full,’” Marx said.
The archbishop of Munich and Freising addressed the expectations many people had ahead of the publication of “Querida Amazonia.” Both conservatives and liberals had speculated that Pope Francis might open the door to married priests in the South American region.
“Those who expected concrete decisions and instructions for action in the post-synodal letter of Pope Francis will not find them in this exhortation. Instead, the Pope has performed a reception of the synod and its final document that is relevant to the church in the whole world and supported by the papal teaching authority,” clarified the German cardinal.
Returning to the question of celibacy, Marx pointed out that in the final document of the synod, a majority of two thirds of the 280 participants who had come to Rome to talk about “New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology” in the context of Amazonia, a vast region in South America, “spoke out in favor of exceptions to mandatory celibacy.”
While the participants had expressed their appreciation for celibacy as a gift of God, the final document also explicitly stated their call for married priests.
“Considering that legitimate diversity does not harm the communion and unity of the Church, but rather expresses and serves it, witness the plurality of existing rites and disciplines, we propose that criteria and dispositions be established by the competent authority, within the framework of Lumen Gentium 26, to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community with a legitimately constituted and stable family, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region,” the final document maintains.
The members of the synod also “suggested further reflection on the question of admitting women to the diaconate,” Marx continued during his press conference in Germany.
“In the many consultations carried out in the Amazon, the fundamental role of religious and lay women in the church of the Amazon and its communities was recognized and emphasized, given the wealth of services they provide. In a large number of these consultations, the permanent diaconate for women was requested. This made it an important theme during the synod,” according to the final document.
Cardinal Marx explained that against the backdrop of the proposals for reform discussed in German, “these topics found a special echo in the eyes of the church and the public.” However, “they were not the main topics of the synod.”
“Accordingly, the post-synodal exhortation does not directly address these issues, but encourages the further development of the priesthood and in order to enable the regular celebration of the Eucharist.”
Pope Francis wrote in “Querida Amazonia” that in the “specific circumstances of the Amazon region, particularly in its forests and more remote places, a way must be found to ensure this priestly ministry.”
Francis said the while laypeople “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,” they still need the celebration of the Eucharist.
According to Pope Francis, “The way of shaping priestly life and ministry is not monolithic; it develops distinctive traits in different parts of the world.”
“If we are truly convinced that this is the case, then every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness,” the Pope underlined.
In this context, Pope Francis did not mention married priests, but only a promotion of prayer for vocations to the priesthood, as well as the activity of missionaries.
“This discussion will continue,” Cardinal Marx is convinced.
The archbishop of Munich also pointed to the post-synodal council consisting of 16 members that was established at the conclusion of the Amazon synod. The goal of the council is to implement the results of the synod.
In his statement to the press, Marx singled out only two members of that council, namely Cardinal Cláudio Hummes and Bishop Erwin Kräutler.
Hummes had previously expressed his openness to making celibacy optional. Already in a 2006 interview “with the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de Sao Paolo, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who had just been named head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, said that ‘even though celibacy is part of Catholic history and culture, the church could review this question, because celibacy is not a dogma but a disciplinary question,’” according to Catholic Review, the official publication of the archdiocese of Baltimore.
Kräutler, formerly bishop of Xingu in Brazil, had said in 2019 that people in the Amazon region don’t understand celibacy, as LifeSiteNews reported at the time.
Various organizations in Germany have interpreted “Querida Amazonia” in a similar light as did Cardinal Marx.
Pirmin Spiegel of Misereor, a relief organization supervised by the German bishops, said in a statement that Pope Francis did not take anything back that was part of the final document published last October. “He does not reject it. Therefore, it is still valid,” Spiegel concluded.
Another Catholic relief organization, Adveniat, said that the Apostolic Exhortation “Querida Amazonia” did not “put a stop to further developments.”
At the same time, Bishop Franz-Joseph Overbeck of Essen, who is the bishop responsible for Adveniat, lamented that married priests were not allowed by Pope Francis.
“I would have wished the parishes in Amazonia that Pope Francis had followed the decisions of the Amazon synod and – as a regional solution – had given access to priestly ordination to proven married men (as so-called viri probati) from the Amazon region by way of a dispensation,” the bishop, who has previously shown his openness to women priests, said.
The disappointment in Germany about the apostolic exhortation was also expressed in a first analysis published by katholisch.de, the news website associated with the German bishops.
Having married men as priests was “not even worth an interpretable footnote for Francis, unlike those divorced and remarried in the letter ‘Amoris laetitia’ after the synod on the family.” The piece said that his reaction to the lack of priests is “strangely fainthearted and unimaginative” of the Pope.
“But the Pope does have a proposal to fight the lack of priests and thus to make the Eucharist again accessible for the faithful: the prayer for vocations. Let us pray that prayer is enough,” the article ends with a sarcastic statement.