CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Push for married priests not clergy

VIENNA (SE): The secretary of the Bishops’ Commission for the Pan-Amazon Region of Brazil, Austrian-born Bishop Erwin Kräutler, is making a strong push for a married priesthood and women deacons in his preparation for a 2019 Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis to study the Pan-Amazon situation.
 
Speaking on the day following the announcement of the synod by Pope Francis on October 15, Bishop Kräutler, who is also the former bishop of the sprawling diocese of Xingu in the heart of the Amazon region, quoted the pope as saying that several bishops’ conferences in Latin America, as well as other parts of the world, had petitioned for a synod of this nature.
 
The 78-year-old bishop explained that Pope Francis has placed the synod in the context of involving bishops with firsthand knowledge of issues in specific districts in the decision-making process.
 
He added that a significant player in the preparation for the synod will be a group called Rede Eclesial Panamazonica (Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network), a network set up by the Latin American Episcopal Council to respond to the particular challenges facing the Amazon.
 
Bishop Kräutler pointed out to Kathpress Austria that the pope cited two reasons in giving his support to the synod.
 
He stressed that the Amazon is the lung of the health of planet Earth and because its population is largely made up of indigenous people, who are mostly forgotten and overlooked in the general movements of the Church, special attention should be given to the issue.
 
The bishop explained that the Church is unable to respond to challenges such as those posed by the Amazon region with authoritarian, top-down solutions and does not have ready-made answers for every challenge, so that is why the pope has elected to take this approach.
 
He added that in a 2014 meeting with Pope Francis, he was told that the bishops should be courageous in seeking to find consensus and not be afraid to bring their findings and suggestions for reform to the table in Rome.
 
He described his old diocese, of which he was bishop from 1981 until 2015, as being in a drastic situation, as around 90 per cent of the people are deprived of the Eucharist and sacraments for most of the time.
 
Bishop Kräutler explained that culturally and otherwise the local people simply cannot live the life of a celibate priest and that even experiments to bring reinforcements from the south of the country have failed, as they just do not fit in.
 
He is insisting that a form of married priesthood is necessary, although he also makes an interesting distinction in saying that while these men may be priests in the sense that they celebrate the sacraments, they would not be clerics and would continue with their professional and family lives.
 
He is putting forward a suggestion that has been talked about in many countries for decades, but has been mainly championed in South Africa and the Amazon Basin area.
 
Bishop Fritz Lobinger, from South Africa, has written widely on the subject, especially in his work, Like his brothers and sisters—Ordaining community leaders.
 
An article in South Africa’s Catholic newspaper, The Southern Cross, says, “In surveying the vocations shortage, (Bishop Lobinger) points out, nothing is accomplished by nostalgically longing for the good old days when vocations were plentiful.”
 
He added that half of the world’s 5,000 bishops have already expressed sympathy for the notion. And well they might when half of the world’s Catholics do not have weekly access to the full celebration of the Eucharist.
 
He once told the British Catholic journal, The Tablet, that the way the Church is coping with the increasing shortage of priests, it is signalling that the faithful can manage without either sacraments or priests.
 
He pointed out that if the sacramental dimension diminishes in importance, the Church itself, as the fundamental sacrament, will be devalued in the eyes of the faithful.
 
Both bishops are promoting a model whereby parish communities are led by teams of elders, who would not be clerics, but ordained to celebrate the sacraments and, as women are the primary leaders of many communities, they could be ordained to the diaconate.
 
However, there would be overall supervision of the Church in various areas by a cleric, who would be a priest in the traditional model that is common today.
 
Currently, Bishop Kräutler laments that the development of the liturgies of the word in the affected areas have not reached the level of excellence that the Evangelical Churches have managed, so as there is little difference in the services at the Catholic and Evangelical Churches except for the quality of production, people choose where to get value for the minutes they put in.
 
He quoted the pope as having told him, “Regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome.”

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