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German-speaking Catholics disappointed pope’s Amazon Synod doc not liberal enough

While Cardinal Reinhard Marx insisted that married priests and female 'deacons' are still open to debate, others called 'Querida Amazonia' a disappointment for not pushing these issues.
Thu Feb 13, 2020 - 8:04 pm EST
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German bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck.

February 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Following the publication of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, numerous German-speaking bishops, theologians, and Catholic organizations have weighed in on the document.

As LifeSiteNews reported yesterday, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, emphasized that the apostolic exhortation did not expel the final document of the Amazon Synod, which calls for married priests and new ministries for women.

“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 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.”

The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Thomas Sternberg, accused Pope Francis of not finding “the courage to implement real reforms regarding the issues of the ordination of married men and the liturgical competences of women, which have been discussed for 50 years.”

Sternberg, who is one of the key organizers of the synodal path in Germany, drew also some encouragement from the apostolic exhortation.

“He expressly reaffirms again and again his conviction that the Church must become a synodal Church, in which the participation of the laity in the shaping of the Church and the proclamation of the Good News has a central role. With this message he encourages us, in our church in Germany, to consistently continue the Synodal Path, which we began very successfully in Frankfurt,” he said of Pope Francis.

According to Sternberg, the pope sees “the necessity to give our church a contemporary shape, oriented to the different cultural challenges, in order to be able to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people.”

Sternberg described Querida Amazonia as reinforcing “the existing positions of the Roman Church, both in terms of access to the priesthood and the participation of women in the services and ministries of the Church.”

“We are convinced that the Eucharist, as source and summit, must remain possible locally, as Pope Francis reiterates in this letter. The question of the conditions for admission to the ordained ministry must take second place to this,” he argued, echoing Cardinal Marx.

Bishop Franz-Joseph Overbeck of Essen, who is also the bishop responsible for Adveniat, a Catholic relief organization heavily involved in the Amazon synod, lamented that married priests were not allowed by Pope Francis.

“I would have wished to 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 female “priests,” said.

“Our relief organization for Latin America, Adveniat, has for decades been promoting the training of lay people and religious for pastoral tasks, including the leadership of congregations,” Overbeck emphasized.

According to Overbeck, Querida Amazonia allows for further discussion on the issues troubling the Amazon region. “And this discussion is necessary. However, it also shows that the Church is already taking big steps regarding her culture of debate. When I took up my ministry as bishop for Adveniat ten years ago, I could not have imagined such a lively and comprehensive debate covering all areas of the Church.”

In this context of discussion and debate, the bishop of Essen also mentioned the synodal path in Germany, which he considered to be an encouraging sign of the new culture of discussion and awakening.

Similarly, Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart pointed out that the papal document allows for new discussions, even if the ordination of married men to the priesthood had not been mentioned. “Bishop Fürst, however, continues to see the diaconate of women as a desirable possibility, for which he will continue to work in the future,” the diocesan press release stated.

“In the local church of Rottenburg-Stuttgart we strongly promote equal rights for men and women. We value the services of women very highly and want to further promote the filling of leadership positions also with lay people,” the bishop stressed.

Fürst also indicated that his diocese will join the pact of the catacombs. As LifeSiteNews reported during the Amazon Synod, “Cardinals and bishops and other participants in the Vatican’s Synod on the Amazon have re-enacted a ‘pact of the catacombs’ first undertaken by Liberation Theology promoters” at the Second Vatican Council.

“The group led by Pope Francis’ chosen head of the synod, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, released the language of the pact pledging to help the ‘native peoples’ preserve their ‘spiritualities,’” the report continued.

A Catholic women’s organization in Germany (kfd), which has about 450,000 members, called the apostolic exhortation “a devastating result for any woman who had hoped for equal rights within the Catholic Church.”

“After what women had expected in the wake of the synod, this is deeply bewildering. On the one hand, women’s work and commitment are praised. At the same time, women are accused of lusting for power because they ask for an official acknowledgment of these praised charisms,” the organization declared.

“Women express their commitment rooted in the deep conviction that God has created humans equal and with equal rights,” the statement continued. It cannot be supported “that the Church keeps denying women these rights,” which, according to the women’s organization, means degrading human beings based on biology.

Father Hubert Wolf, a professor of Church history in Münster, said it is again the bishops’ turn to move forward with the issue of married priests, given that Pope Francis did not replace the final document of the Amazon synod with his apostolic exhortation.

According to a report published by katholisch.de, the news website of the German bishops, Wolf “explained the pope’s reluctance with his responsibility for the unity of the Church, also in view of criticism ‘from the reactionary camp.’”

“I doubt, however, that Francis did himself a favor by this maneuvering, which can also be interpreted as weakness,” the professor mused.

With regard to the role of women in the Church, Wolf maintained that Querida Amazonia is likely “to be a great disappointment and unacceptable for many women.” The pope’s image of women is hardly communicable today, he said.

In Vienna, Jan-Heiner Tück teaches dogmatic theology at the university. Regarding the apostolic exhortation, he said the pope “decided not to make a decision.”

“No relaxation of compulsory celibacy, no viri probati, nothing. He does not reject the final report of the Amazon Synod on this point, but neither does he endorse it. Francis keeps his word — and disappoints,” Tück summarizes the document.

As LifeSiteNews reported on Wednesday, both Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Bishop Marian Eleganti, an auxiliary bishop in Switzerland, see Querida Amazonia in a more positive light.

Müller called the German bishops to a “religious about-face,” given that Pope Francis had refused to allow female “deacons” and married priests in the Amazon region.

The German cardinal acknowledged the pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation in a positive way, calling it a “pastoral letter of prophetic power.”

In his statement, he maintained that while Querida Amazonia refers to the final document of the Amazon synod, “the pope does not draw from it any dramatic and disconcerting conclusions.”

Both Müller and Eleganti praised section 101 of the apostolic exhortation.

For Müller, this section states clearly “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.

With many representatives of German-speaking Catholicism arguing that the door has been left open for further discussion on contested issues like female “deacons” and married priests, it remains to be seen how the situation develops. The synodal path will certainly continue looking at celibacy and the role of women, given that two of the four study groups are to focus exactly on those two issues, with the other two studying power and sexual morality.


  amazon synod, celibacy, franz-josef overbeck, pope francis, priesthood, querida amazonia, reinhard marx, synodal path, women's ordination

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