Amazon Synod’s overhaul of priestly celibacy will spread right to Germany
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It runs to 59 dense pages, but these few lines from its paragraph 129 are enough to understand where Pope Francis wants to arrive:
Affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, it is requested that, for the remoter zones of the region, the possibility be studied of the priestly ordination of mature men, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by their communities, even though they may already have an established and stable family, for the sake of guaranteeing the sacraments that accompany and sustain the Christian life.
The last time the pope outlined this objective was at the press conference on the flight back from Panama on January 27, 2019, when to the question: "Will you allow married men to become priests?" he first responded by repeating with Paul VI: "I would rather lay down my life than change the law of celibacy," but immediately afterward admitted a possibility of that kind "in remoter areas" like in the "Pacific islands" and "perhaps" in the Amazon and "in many places." And he ended with a recommendation to read a book by Bishop Fritz Lobinger that presents among others the idea — "interesting" according to Francis — of ordaining these married men and granting them the sole "munus," the task, of administering the sacraments, not those of teaching and governing as well, as has instead always happened in every sacred ordination.
Lobinger, 90, was bishop in Aliwal, South Africa, from 1988 to 2004. But he was born and raised in Germany, where he lives to this day. And he is not the first German bishop or theologian whom Jorge Mario Bergoglio has enlisted in recent years to increase attention and agreement for the ordination of married men, with the Amazon as the launch pad.
Before him can be cited the theologian and spiritual master Wunibald Müller, with whom Francis corresponded in 2015 on this very topic, in letters that were later made public by Müller himself.
But above all one must remember the bishop emeritus of the Brazilian prelature of Xingu, Erwin Kräutler, 80, Austrian, a member of the preparatory committee of the synod for the Amazon, who in repeated meetings with the pope has always received warm encouragement from him to fight for this result, now also as a member of the synod preparatory committee.
Not to mention Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, 85, Brazilian but from a German family; he too for years an open supporter of the ordination of married men, president of the pan-Amazonian ecclesial network that unites 25 cardinals and bishops of the countries of that area, and tapped by the pope as relator general of the synod.
All with the unfailing blessing of Bergoglio's favorite among the German cardinals and theologians, Walter Kasper, 86, who in a recent interview with the newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau" said that Francis expects only to put his signature to a decision of the synod in favor of the ordination of married men.
The connection between the Argentine pope and Germany is not only characteristic, however, of this synod for the Amazon. It also has a before and after.
* * *
The "before" was the genesis of the twofold synod on the family.
When Bergoglio, elected pope for less than a year, entrusted to Cardinal Kasper the introductory talk for the consistory of February 2014 and Kasper upheld in it nothing less than granting Eucharistic communion for the divorced and remarried, the fate of the synod on the family was already written.
That synod, in the two sessions of 2014 and 2015, split down the middle on that question, but Francis decided anyway, on his authority, to arrive at the predetermined objective, albeit in the ambiguous form of a footnote in the postsynodal exhortation "Amoris Laetitia."
And since then any bishop of the world has been able to authorize, in his diocese, that communion for the divorced and remarried which was first backed, in the 1990s, by precisely some of the bishops of Germany with Kasper in the lead, firmly opposed, back then, by Pope John Paul II and by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
* * *
After the twofold synod on the family there was an intermission at the Vatican, this too with a whiff of Germany, or more precisely of that city of German Switzerland named Sankt Gallen, the site of meetings, before and after 2000, of that club of progressive cardinals — future grand electors of Bergoglio to the papacy — which had in the Germans Karl Lehmann and Kasper and in the Italian and Jesuit Carlo Maria Martini its leading representatives.
It was a matter of deciding the topic of the subsequent synod, and at the very top of Pope Francis's agenda was the question of the ordination of married men.
That is, another of those "key issues" which Cardinal Martini had proposed to address in a series of linked synods, in his memorable remark to the 1999 synod in which he listed them as follows:
"The shortage of ordained ministers, the role of woman in society and in the Church, the discipline of marriage, the Catholic vision of sexuality…."
But Bergoglio decided to temporize, and assigned to the synod scheduled for October of 2018 the theme of young people, with the implication of discussing there, perhaps, "the Catholic vision of sexuality," including homosexuality.
Then this implication did not take shape, because of a prudential decision by Bergoglio himself during the proceedings, and the synod on young people ended up being one of the most boring and useless in history.
But there was also the special synod for the Amazon scheduled for 2019. And here Martini's agenda has been taken up in full, not only with the ordination of married men practically decided before the synod has begun, but even with an enigmatic wish, expressed in paragraph 129 of the "Instrumentum laboris," for "identifying the type of official ministry that could be conferred on women," which would not be the "female diaconate," put off by Pope Francis for "further exploration," but would still be a "ministry," perhaps sacramental.
* * *
But it's not over. Because the synod for the Amazon will also have an "after." And it will have it precisely in Germany.
Last March the German episcopal conference, gathered in plenary assembly in Lingen, put into the works a national synod with three preparatory "forums" on the following themes:
- "Power, participation, separation of powers," presided over by Speyer bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann;
- "Sexual morality," presided over by Osnabrück bishop Franz-Josef Bode;
- "Form of priestly life," presided over by Münster bishop Felix Genn.
Once again the agenda is solidly Martini, and in the introductory talks of the plenary assembly in Lingen it was said "apertis verbis" that the intention is to arrive both at legitimizing homosexual acts (an unfulfilled objective of the synod on young people), and at introducing the ordination of married men in Germany as well (so no longer just in the remote outskirts of the Church like the Amazon).
There is also the insistence that for such decisions a majority vote is enough, without a minority being able to block it from going into effect and without requiring a go-ahead from the Catholic Church as a whole.
Everything makes it clear that Francis has not raised objections to this program of the Church of Germany.
Which is one of the most disaster-ridden Churches in the world, with all the needles in the red except for that of monetary wealth. And yet promoted by Bergoglio as the beacon of his pontificate.
Published with permission from L'Espresso.