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Maike Hickson

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Papal advisor claims Francis would not give ‘strict no’ to women’s ordination

Maike Hickson

June 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The new preparatory document for the 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod of Bishops is calling for the Church to open an “official ministry” to women, and seeking “courageous” and inculturated proposals for an “inclusive ministerial action.” Bishop Erwin Kräutler, one of the organizers of this forthcoming October 2019 Synod, is promoting the idea of ordaining married men to the priesthood for that Amazon region, and even women. He carefully claims that Pope Francis would also be open to that larger idea of the ordination of women.

These claims stand in contrast to Pope Francis' own public statement during his flight from Sweden to Rome on November 1, 2016, namely that Pope John Paul II had closed the door to female priests with his 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis. Pope Francis said: “As for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last clear word was given by Saint John Paul II, and this holds.” Moreover, on May 30, 2018, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the Pope's Doctrine chief, restated this truth and insisted that the ban of female priests is part of the Church's infallible teaching. Those Catholics in favor of female ordination, however, have now interpreted this recent May 30 statement as a possible opening toward at least female deacons since Ladaria did not explicitly mention them in his text and also since Pope Francis himself had appointed Ladaria in 2016 to lead a study commission on the issue of women deacons.

Bishop Kräutler is a retired Brazilian bishop who is a member of the pre-synodal council that met with Pope Francis in April for a two-day preparational meeting. He has spoken and written amply about the idea of ordaining women to the priesthood, since, as he also insists, in the Pan-Amazon region women are often the leaders of the local communities. As LifeSiteNews recently reported, Kräutler said in a 2016 interview that he is “skeptical” about ordaining merely the so-called viri probati (morally proven married men) to the priesthood, because then “there would be half of humanity excluded! At the Xingu [a river in Brazil], 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. In another 2017 interview, he expressed his hope that the Pan-Amazon region at least could receive married priests and female deacons.

What now comes added to this statement is that Kräutler claims Pope Francis would be somehow open to such an idea.

As presented in greater detail in a OnePeterFive report, Kräutler published in 2016 a book in Austria which is entitled Habt Mut! (“Be Courageous!” – Tyrolia Verlag). In it, the Austrian-born bishop candidly sums up his private audience with Pope Francis on April 4, 2014. In that meeting he spoke with the Pope on the ecological problems of the Amazon region (in preparation for the papal encyclical Laudato si') and then about the lack of priests in his Diocese of Xingu, Brazil. In this context, the Pope asked Kräutler and his fellow bishops in Brazil to make “bold proposals” for mitigating the shortage of priests. (Reportedly, there are parishes in that part of Brazil where a visiting priest is able celebrate Mass only a few times a year.)

Kräutler himself favors for the Pan-Amazon region the ordination of local women to the priesthood. He discusses in his 2016 book the fact that Pope John Paul II, in 1994, ruled out female priests in his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. The bishop insists that “this is not a doctrine de fide.” He makes it clear that he believes Pope Francis would, nevertheless, be open to ordaining women.

“It is true that Pope Francis has his background in Argentina. Nevertheless, I do not believe that he would say a strict 'no' to the ordination of women, a quod non,” Kräutler explains. “I do not believe that he thinks in the logic of 'either – or',” he adds. “Of course he would not come and say 'everything that the popes said before me is checked off.'”

But in Kräutler's eyes, the Pope well knows that sometimes in the Church's history, there were decisions made “which a few decades earlier, nobody could have imagined.” Here, the bishop mentions as an example how the Church changed her positions with regard to the themes of separation of Church and State, as well as of democracy. Additionally, the bishop refers to Vatican II's text Dignitatis Humanae, “which did away for good with” the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX, especially with regard to religious liberty. “Certain convictions and interpretations,” adds the prelate, “which once were presented with vehemence, and even defended as being unchangeable, have often, nevertheless, completely changed during the course of history.” Kräutler claims that this is also how Pope Francis looks upon changes in the Church's teaching: “I am convinced that Francis stands in this tradition which is finally open for the dialogue and for changes.”

Bishop Kräutler continues, saying that, since Pope John Paul II's statement on the question of female priests “is very determined,” Pope Francis “will not do anything alone in the question of priesthood, celibacy and female ordination, but, if so, then it will be together with the bishops.” Any decision in that regard “certainly” should not be “immediately implemented world-wide,” but only regionally at first (for example in the Pan-Amazon region?). Kräutler's own proposal is that there should first be some “regional solutions.”

Referring back to Pope Francis, Kräutler adds that such a regional solution with regard to the priesthood “is not about a 'yes' or 'no' to celibacy.” He continues, saying: “Sometimes, people accuse me of wishing to abolish celibacy. No, I do not wish it at all, and the Pope does not wish it, either.”

Kräutler also details in his 2016 book the idea that those women who are already preparing and leading the liturgy of the word on Sunday in certain regions in the Pan-Amazon region could be further prepared “so that they could preside over the Eucharist for their parish. For their parish! This limitation seems to me important.” The Austrian bishop thinks that this group of people are men and women who are ordained only for their own parish. “Ideally, this could be even two or three people, in the sense of the Teams of Elders, as proposed by Bishop Lobinger.” In this regard,  Kräutler insists upon the ordination of these persons.

The name of Bishop Lobinger had been mentioned by Pope Francis during the 2016 private audience with Bishop Kräutler. Kräutler reports in his book that Pope Francis himself brought up two topics that came to his mind when considering this problem of a lack of priests. First, he spoke about an experiment as conducted by a Mexican Bishop, Samuel Ruiz García. In the words of Kräutler, Pope Francis spoke about “a diocese in Mexico, where the bishop mitigated and softened, in part, the problem of the lack of priests by ordaining 300 married leaders of his parishes as deacons.” Here, the Pope was referring to Samuel Ruiz García, Bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas (in Chiapas).

The German journalist Giuseppe Nardi has shown that this bishop had an “indigenous priesthood” in mind when ordaining those 300 indigenous deacons in the 1990s. Being mindful of the important role of women in this Mexican culture, he included some of the wives in a strange way in the ordination of these deacons. In 2001, after the bishop had retired the year before, the Vatican stopped this novel endeavor. (However, in 2014, under Pope Francis, the Vatican gave permission to resume that earlier practice.) Pope Francis himself gave honor to Bishop García (who died in 2011) when visiting his grave in Mexico in 2015.

Next to Pope Francis' reference to the unusual practice of ordaining many married men to the diaconate and also somehow including their wives in the ordination rite, the Pope then brought up the ideas of a controversial bishop from South Africa (Aliwal), Bishop Fritz Lobinger, also an Austrian by birth. Kräutler says: “The Pope also brought up the proposal of a bishop in South Africa – it is Bishop Fritz Lobinger – according to whom parishes without priests could be led by a 'Team of Elders.'” This  Team of Elders, in Bishop Lobinger's view,  should be ordained, so that they can also celebrate the Eucharist with their parishes. Important to know is that Bishop Lobinger propagates the idea of having women among that ordained “Team of Elders” who are persons respected by their own local community. It was in the context of considering Bishop Lobinger and his ideas that Pope Francis told Bishop Kräutler to make some “bold proposals.” As Bishop Kräutler explains in his own book, the pope used here the incisive word “corajudos,”  which means boldness, fearlessness, and openness.

A year later, in 2015, Pope Francis himself discussed with the German bishops also the books of Bishop Lobinger. At that time, the Pope told the German bishops on their Ad Limina visit to Rome that he had read the three major books of Lobinger which deal with the shortage of priests and with possible solutions.

After this consequential 2014 papal audience, in September of that year, Kräutler helped found the Panamazonian Ecclesial Network REPAM (a network of nine Churches of the Pan-Amazon region) which is currently working together with the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in order to organize the Pan-Amazon Synod in Rome. Kräutler himself is now the coordinator of the Brazilian branch of REPAM. Pope Francis appointed both REPAM's President – Cardinal Cláudio Hummes –  and its Vice President – cardinal-elect Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, S.J. – as well as REPAM's executive secretary as members of the small pre-synodal council. As Kräutler recently said in an interview: “REPAM will play a key role at the Synod,” since the pope “is really counting on our [REPAM's] contributions to the Synod.” Cardinal Hummes is a close friend of Pope Francis and he is said to have inspired the pope to take the name Francis for his papacy.

It will be seen how many of Bishop Kräutler's ideas as he presented them in his 2016 book will be picked up at the 2019 Synod. On June 8, the Vatican presented at a press conference its new preparatory document, the so-called Instrumentum Laboris, for this synod in Rome. This document indirectly quotes the 2014 discussion between Pope Francis and Bishop Kräutler when it asks synod participants to make “'courageous' proposals, that is, the 'daring' and fearless attitudes that Pope Francis asks of us.” This text also proposes to “evaluate and rethink the ministries” and to develop “methods, and attitudes necessary for an inculturated pastoral ministry” that would assist and suit the Pan-Amazon regions' needs in light of a strong lack of priests. It is in this context that the document brings up the idea of fostering “indigenous and local-born clergy” and of identifying “the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church.”

This 2016 book as written by Bishop Kräutler has been in the public for 2 years now, and there has been no denial of his presentation of his private conversation with the Pope who still works with him closely. (Kräutler also co-authored Laudato si'.) LifeSiteNews reached out to the Vatican Press Office, asking for comment. LifeSiteNews also reached out to Bishop Kräutler and requested a statement from him as to whether he has changed his position, now that Archbishop Luis Ladaria has stated publicly that the interdict against female priests is part of the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church.

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