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Cardinal Gerhard Müller.Diane Montagna / LifeSiteNews

February 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — German cardinal Gerhard Müller said that now that Pope Francis has refused to allow female deacons and married priests in the Amazon region, the German bishops should perform a “religious about-face.”

“I hope that a religious about-face will now be carried out in Germany,” he said in light of Pope Francis’s exhortation Querida Amazonia, released yesterday. The German bishops in their “synodal path” had called for female ordination, the abolishment of celibacy, and a loosening of the Church’s sexual morality.

“Above all,” continued Müller, “the universal Church and the Holy Father must be asked for forgiveness for the schismatic act of putting the decisions of a body unauthorized for doctrinal questions above the teaching of the Church and thus above Revelation, as if one had never heard of Vatican II.”

Müller, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, acknowledged the pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation in a positive way, calling it a “pastoral letter of prophetic power.”

He said in a statement, originally published by German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, that while Querida Amazonia refers to the final document of the Amazon Synod, which took place last October, “the pope does not draw from it any dramatic and disconcerting conclusions.”

The final document had actually called for the ordination to the priesthood of married men living in the Amazon region, as well as the permanent diaconate for women. Müller expressed his happiness over the fact that the pope “does not want to fuel existing political, ethnic, and inner-Church conflicts and conflicts of interest, but rather to overcome them.”

The cardinal is hopeful that Querida Amazonia could have a reconciling effect, “reducing internal Church factions, ideological fixations, and the danger of inner emigration or open resistance.” In that context, Müller continued, it is to be hoped “that the interpreters of this document will refrain from unnecessary harshness and take up the concerns of the Holy Father like true sons and daughters of the Church in a spirit of agreement and collaboration.”

Müller showed his appreciation for the fine line drawn in the exhortation “between worship of the Creator and worship of the created as if it were God,” which must not be forgotten.

Bishop Marian Eleganti, auxiliary bishop in the Swiss diocese of Chur, also praised the document for its “loving, conciliatory, unagitated and pleasant, humble tone” across all pages.

Bishop Eleganti went into more detail, stating that in one passage, Pope Francis may have been defending the use of the Pachamama statues during the Amazon Synod.

On October 4, 2019, Pope Francis hosted a pagan ceremony with Pachamama statues in the Vatican Gardens and even blessed one of the statues. At the ceremony, people were bowing down to the ground, worshiping the statue. Additionally, the pope prayed in front of the Pachamama statue at St. Peter’s Basilica on October 7 and then accompanied it in procession into the synod hall. The pope confirmed that the statue was “Pachamama” and apologized for other Pachamama statues being thrown into the Tiber river.

In section 78 of Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis states that people should “not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples.” In section 79, the pope continues that it is “possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry,” adding that a “myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error.”

While admitting the truth of this statement, Eleganti offered some words of criticism. “That is true, but then one should not fall down before this symbol, nor should one carry it before oneself like a monstrance, as happened in the presence of the pope and other high church dignitaries during the Amazon Synod in Rome.”

Both Müller and Eleganti indicated their admiration for article 101 of the apostolic exhortation, in which Pope Francis speaks of Jesus Christ appearing “as the Spouse of the community that celebrates the Eucharist through the figure of a man who presides as a sign of the one Priest. This dialogue between the Spouse and his Bride, which arises in adoration and sanctifies the community, should not trap us in partial conceptions of power in the Church. 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.”

For Müller, this states clearly, in the sense of the defined doctrine of faith, “that the priest is sacramentally conformed to Christ, the head of the Church, by virtue of ordination. Therefore, only a man can symbolically and sacramentally represent Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church.”

“We can only be grateful to Francis for this unusual and unexpected clarity. It means, once again, a rejection of the priesthood for women. Francis sees the place of women in ministries (with effective influence also on organization and leadership) that do not require ordination,” Eleganti agreed.

According to Müller, Pope Francis’s approach to the nature of the priesthood falls short, as he defines it through the exclusive power to say Mass as well as to administer the sacraments of penance and the anointing of the sick. “Bishops and priests represent Christ, in whom [they have] the total ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing,” Müller clarified.

The German cardinal once again emphasized that ordaining married men, often referred to as viri probati, to the priesthood is not an option. Francis does not mention that issue at all in his apostolic exhortation.

“But a solution, which is praised all too pragmatically by many in the consecration of viri probati, would not be a relativization of celibacy in the Latin Church. For with it, the Church would, in the epochal challenge of postmodern secularism, dispense with the most effective remedy — namely, that the servants of the kingdom of Heaven symbolically renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God,” said Müller.

Bishop Eleganti again seconded the thoughts of Cardinal Müller, saying Pope Francis does not open the doors to married priests, but instead calls for priests to be sent to the Amazon region as missionaries.

Eleganti, a Benedictine abbot before he was ordained a bishop, was critical of Francis’s plan to extend the competence of the laity, something not mentioned by the German cardinal in his analysis.

In article 94, the pope spoke of “lay leaders endowed with authority,” referring to a provision made by the Code of Canon Law (CIC). “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,” canon 517 of the CIC states.

“Francis does not seem to think about the conflicts between ordained and non-ordained ministers of the Church, which remain a great weakness of his proposal,” said Eleganti. “The German-speaking countries have enough experience and conflicts in this regard which to this day could not be solved and have their origin in the creation of full-time non-ordained community leaders authorized or empowered by the bishops,” the Swiss bishop argued.

In conclusion, Eleganti praised the portrayal of Our Lady by Pope Francis as she who overcomes “this pagan idea and worship” on display in connection with the Pachamama statues.

“I see here the decisive counterpoint to the previous debate about Pachamama, a kind of pagan-indigenous deification and personalization of the so-called Mother Earth and her cultic worship,” wrote Eleganti.

The overall positive attitude toward Querida Amazonia did not take into account points made by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of the German bishops’ conference. According to his interpretation, Pope Francis refers the readers of his exhortation back to the final document of the Amazon Synod.

“By no means is it off the table with the publication of the exhortation,” Marx emphasized yesterday. Since the final document called for married priests and female deacons, those questions are still open to further discussion, Marx argued.

The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Thomas Sternberg, expressed his disappointment in the apostolic exhortation since it did not allow for married priests in the Latin Church or an opening of the diaconate to women. Sternberg is confident that the document “reinforces the existing positions of the Roman Church, both in terms of access to the priesthood and the participation of women in the Church’s ministries and offices.”

However, Sternberg also echoed Cardinal Marx. “We are convinced that the Eucharist, as source and summit, must remain possible locally, as Pope Francis again emphasizes in this letter. The question of the conditions for admission to the ordained ministry must take second place to this,” he explained.

Sternberg and Marx as the main protagonists and organizers of the synodal path in Germany are thus advancing an interpretation of Querida Amazonia that is quite contrary to what Müller and Eleganti take from the document.

Rumors that his decision not to stand for re-election as president of the German bishops’ conference was due to his disappointment in Querida Amazonia were denied by Marx at a meeting with members of the press. Marx also denied that he was about to leave for a position at the Roman Curia.