The Austrian bishop Erwin Kräutler, long-time former pastor of the Brazilian diocese of Xingu, has predicted that the Synod for the Amazon will introduce married priests and “at least” the female diaconate, if not priesthood.
Driving the news
The working document for the Synod, to be held in Rome this October, includes two petitions to be studied by the bishops and experts present that, if approved, could prove a watershed moment for the global Church.
“Affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, it is requested that, for the most remote areas of the region, the possibility of priestly ordination be studied for older people, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by their community, even if they have an existing and stable family, in order to ensure availability of the Sacraments that accompany and sustain the Christian life”, reads the first request.
The second request calls on the Synod to “identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role they play today in the Church in the Amazon”.
The big picture
Married priests and women deacons “at least” are both pressing needs for the Church in the Amazon region, Kräutler told Austrian television in an interview for his 80th birthday.
“Approximately 800 small communities in our prelature are run by laymen and two-thirds even by women”, said the bishop, adding that the fact that the 30 or so priests in Xingu pass by the remote communities but two or three times a year – thereby depriving local Catholics of a regular Mass – amounts to “almost a scandal”.
“We must ask ourselves: What can we do as a church so that these people can celebrate the Eucharist? The community life works beautifully, but it lacks the center” of a regular priest visitor, said Kräutler.
“If two-thirds of these communities are managed with competence and empathy by women, why can’t the woman be ordained and preside over the Eucharist on Sunday?”, he added.
The prelate explained that the shortage of priests is not just a problem in the Amazon, but also in Europe and in other places.
On the Old Continent, said the bishop, many priests are overwhelmed: they “go from one community to another and have little personal relationship with the people of God, so we have to come up with something”.
One level deeper
Kräutler further explained his thinking in another interview published Sunday in an Austrian Church newspaper.
“We want every church to have a priest who lives with the people, takes the smell of the sheep, is there for them, and not just visits them once or twice a year”, said the bishop.
But the question of the ordination of women is not just a matter of making up priest numbers, according to Kräutler: it is also a matter of gender justice.
“Women are not stop-gap solutions when men are lacking, and the argument that women were not present at the Last Supper is not convincing, and if that were so crucial, women would not even be able to receive communion”, explained the bishop.
Kräutler also referred in the written interview to the issue of the sometimes fierce criticism the organisers of the Amazon Synod have received. Precisely for having put married priests and women deacons on the agenda, and for seeking to further inculturate the Church in the region.
“All the attacks we’ve received so far are from people who are barely pastoral, never been to the Amazon, and aren’t interested in our problems”, lamented the bishop.