Analysis: Will the 2019 Synod discuss married priests?

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a supporter of married priests and friend of the Pope (Getty)

Last year, the National Catholic Register reported that Pope Francis wanted a synod on married priests – only for the proposal to be voted out by the synod council.

But it appears that a different meeting of bishops may now focus on the proposal: October 2019’s synod for the Pan-Amazon region, which Pope Francis announced earlier this month.

One influential bishop from the Pan-Amazon region, Bishop Erwin Kräutler, has told Kathpress that he thinks the synod might consider the ordination of married men, as well as women deacons.

Bishop Kräutler, who led the Diocese of Xingu, in Brazil, from 1981-2015, is more likely than most to understand Pope Francis’s intentions for the synod. In 2014, the bishop spoke to Francis about ordaining married men. In 2015, they revisited the subject, and the Pope said he wanted to hear “bold, daring proposals”.

In his latest interview, Bishop Kräutler says he thinks the synod might look at “the proposal of the emeritus bishop Fritz Lobinger”. Bishop Lobinger has suggested that local “elders”, or “viri probati”, might be ordained to celebrate Mass and the sacraments. In this vision, there would be “two different forms of priesthood”: the viri probati would not receive seminary education, could marry, and would be “as distinct as possible” from priests. The Pope made reference to the notion of viri probati earlier this year, inviting the Church to “reflect” on the matter.

Bishop Lobinger does not stop there: he has also written that “Because the majority of proven local leaders are women, it is unavoidable that the question of their inclusion among ordained elders will arise, though present church law does not permit it.”

Bishop Kräutler is himself a supporter of women priests. He told Die Presse in 2014 that while Pope Francis said the door to women’s ordination is closed, that means the door could be opened – and that he, Bishop Kräutler, believes it ought to be.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II ruled that the Church’s teaching was definitive, saying: “In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Another key figure in the Pan-Amazon synod is Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, one of the Pope’s closest associates among the College of Cardinals, who has often raised the topic of married priests.

In December, theologian Leonardo Boff said that Cardinal Hummes had talked to Pope Francis about priests who had left their ministry to get married. Boff claimed that “The Brazilian bishops, especially the Pope’s close friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, have expressly requested Pope Francis to enable married priests in Brazil to return to their pastoral ministry.”

Boff said that the Pope wanted to fulfil this request, as an experiment “for the moment confined to Brazil”.

Like Bishops Kräutler and Lobinger, Boff and Cardinal Hummes have spoken about further reforms beyond allowing married men to be ordained.

Cardinal Hummes said in 2014 that Jesus had not ordained any women, but that “We do not know the reasons.” He added that the Church might revisit the matter if it found “reasons” to do so. (Cardinal Hummes said in the same interview that he “did not know” whether Jesus would have supported gay marriage.)

Boff, who has claimed that he helped the Pope to write Laudato Si’, was censured by Pope St John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the grounds that some of his writings “endanger the sound doctrine of the faith”.

He has argued that the Church “simply may not…maintain its traditional prohibitions” on women priests, and has quoted a fellow-theologian as saying that the priesthood itself must be changed: “Only when it has been transformed from within, and reconstituted in relation to the community as a whole, might it become something transferable to women.”

The 2019 Pan-Amazon Synod may be a local affair, but its implications will make it far more than that.