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Pope Francis greets Brazilian Bishop Erwin Krä

June 4, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – In the wake of the Vatican's strong declaration on the impossibility of women's ordination, Catholics should recall that a close episcopal collaborator of Pope Francis has publicly opposed this infallible teaching of the Church.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the retired bishop of Xingu, Brazil, and a long-term proponent of the married priesthood, was called a “co-author” of the 2015 papal encyclical Laudato si’ and was recently invited by Pope Francis to the pre-synod council that is preparing for the 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod. Kräutler is said to have written a draft for the pope's signature concerning the future ordination of married men, the so-called viri probati. In two 2016 interviews,  Kräutler personally went even farther than that plan: he wished for the priestly ordination of (married) women. These statements gain new importance in light of the recent intervention of Archbishop Luis Ladaria, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, concerning the female priesthood.

In a 2016 interview, the bishop claimed that the 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis which rules against female priests “is not a dogma and does not even have the weight of an encyclical.” When asked whether one could revise that earlier papal document, the retired bishop responded: “Nothing is here impossible!” (The original interview in German is here.)

In another interview that year, with Austrian regional newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung, Kräutler said “about the question of celibacy” that he is “in favor of the idea that everybody has the right to choose his own life plan,” adding: “But it is not acceptable that the Eucharistic celebration is dependent upon the availability of a celibate man.” When asked whether lay people could so easily take over such tasks, the prelate answers: “Of course they may.” One might not make such a decision within a day or so, “but one can reflect upon the conditions for the admission to the priesthood.”

Later in the interview, and touching upon the idea of ordaining women to the priesthood, Kräutler says that he is “skeptical” concerning the priestly ordination of the so-called “viri probati” (morally proven married men), because: “Then there would be half of humanity excluded! At the Xingu [River], there are two thirds of the communities that are now being led by women.” Here, the prelate makes it clear that he wishes for both female and male (married) priests.

Bishop  Kräutler's words have some weight also in light of an October 2017 report of the German newspaper Die Zeit in which this bishop is said to have written the draft for the permission of ordaining viri probati to the priesthood that was then placed on the desk of Pope Francis for him to consider, with regard to the upcoming 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod.

His voice is significant because he was a collaborator of the pope with regard to the papal encyclical Laudato si’ (he is even called a “co-author” of that text) and because he now works closely with the pope concerning the upcoming 2019 Amazon Synod. Pope Francis has called  Kräutler on 8 March to be on the team – called the pre-synodal council –  which is preparing this synod, and the bishop was also present at the preparatory meeting in Rome in April, with the pope in attendance and listening silently. This upcoming synod is also to discuss the topic of Laudato si’ in relation to the specific problems of that region. Bishop Kräutler will play a significant role at that synod also because he is the secretary of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference's commission for the Amazon region.

In that earlier, above-mentioned 2016 interview with the Tiroler Tageszeitung, Kräutler also refers to the German Fritz Lobinger, a retired bishop from Aliwal, South Africa, who is a proponent of establishing married male and female priests. Pope Francis himself once revealed that he had read three of Lobinger's books, and he said it when meeting in 2015 with the German Bishops at their Ad Limina visit to Rome. The pope positively referred to these books and he put them forth as a possibility in connection with the Amazon region's current lack of priests.

This is what  Kräutler said, in 2016, about the question of the shortage of priests, and about Lobinger's own ideas:

There are several approaches [to the lack of priests and the question who could be ordained a priest]. One of them, which is appealing in my eyes, comes from a German bishop who has worked for a long time in Africa. He, for example, speaks of a “team of elders.” In English, these are the experienced people – independent of age or sex [sic].

These two or three men or women per parish, according to Lobinger, would be sacramentally ordained, but would work in their civil professions during the week. Kräutler refers here to those forces within the Church who would resist such novel changes with regard to the priesthood. “They will never agree to that. They will prove with the help of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) that this does not work that way,” the bishop explained. “But the bishops are forced to act,” he added.

Moreover, Bishop Kräutler told the newspaper that Pope Francis had encouraged him in 2014 to make “bold proposals” with regard to this question of the shortage of priests in the Amazon region; and that he, Kräutler, subsequently spoke with the Brazilian Bishops' Conference. “They have now set up a commission so that one can make concrete proposals to the pope.” “The pope will not do anything by himself,” he added.

In January 2018, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, predicted that the upcoming Amazon Synod will discuss the question of the ordination of the so-called viri probati, and he explicitly brought up this idea of ordaining “elders” as proposed by Bishop Lobinger. Stella also discussed these ideas in relation to Pope Francis' own possible future plans.

With regard to the idea of ordaining female priests, there have been some recent strong interventions coming from Rome.

First, on May 16, the retired German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, one of the four Dubia cardinals, wrote a short commentary for the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost in which he described those Catholics who insist upon female priests (as well as ordained female deacons) as “heretics” and, therefore, “excommunicated.” According to the German prelate, the interdict on female priests is part of the infallible teaching of the Church, and thus this topic is closed as a matter of further discussion.

Shortly after Brandmüller's intervention, on May 30, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published a statement in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in which he also made it clear that, according to the infallible teaching of the Church, the ordination of female priests is not at all possible. He referred to John Paul II's 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis in which the pope made a definite rejection of the female priesthood. Additionally, the CDF prefect insisted that the ban of female priests is part of the Church's infallible universal ordinary Magisterium which was in effect even before John Paul II made it more explicit. Ladaria also stated that “it is a cause of serious concern still to see voices being raised in some countries that call into question the definitiveness of this doctrine.”

The pope has not ceased to work closely with Bishop Kräutler, even after Kräutler's different, above-quoted 2016 public remarks in favor of (married) female priests and after his specific undermining of infallible teachings of the Church. LifeSiteNews has reached out to the Vatican Press Office, asking for a comment, but so far has not received any response. We shall update the report if a statement reaches us.