Cardinal Walter Kasper, celebrated Austrian theologian and close collaborator of Pope Francis, has argued that the Church’s discipline of compulsory clerical celibacy is robbing the indigenous people of the Amazon of their “right” to the Eucharist.

Driving the news

Kasper published a new reflection Wednesday on the website of the REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.

In the text, the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity offers some suggestions for discussion at October’s Amazon Synod in Rome.

Novena’s coverage of the Amazon Synod

The big picture

Kasper devotes his latest reflection to highlighting “the link between the celebration of the Eucharist, the sanctification of life and the cosmos”.

“With the sanctification of the seventh day God gave an order and a rhythm to time that is inscribed in reality itself and which is therefore a human right, based on human nature”, the cardinal writes.

So it is that all humans have the “right” to celebrate in the Mass the “eucharistic transformation” of human work, culture and the entire cosmos.

The people of the Amazon, with their deep spiritual connection to the natural world, often have a deeper “Eucharistic” sensibility than people in developed countries, Kasper points out.

But if that is the case, “how can we not grant this Eucharistic symbolism to the [Amazonian] people, who understand it better than we do and who need it for their daily life, often tough? How can we deny them the celebration of the Eucharist with forms and songs appropriate to their culture?”


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Go deeper

Kasper points out the tension between this natural human “right” to Eucharistic symbolism, the Church’s insistence that those who don’t go to Mass on Sundays and days of obligation are in “mortal sin” and the lack of priests in the Amazon region.

“How can a local Church like that of the Amazon be a Church in the apostolic tradition without the regular celebration of the Sunday Eucharist?”, the cardinal asks.

“Without the Eucharist, aren’t they [the faithful] missing something: aren’t they missing the centre, don’t they lack the essential for being Church?”

Kasper explains that all Catholics have a “right” to the Mass – in the sense, at the very least, in which it is “right” for the faithful to regularly take Communion.

“If in normal cirumstances communities suffer from spaces and distances that permit them to have access to the Eucharist only once or twice a year they are missing something essential to being Church”, Kasper insists.

The cardinal says such remote communities “have the right to expect the bishop do everything he can to change the situation”.

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Why it matters

Kasper defends in his text two concrete changes to the Church’s current practice that he says would shore up Amazon Catholics’ “right” to the Eucharist.

The first change is an authentic inculturation of the Eucharistic celebration according to Amazon customs and traditions.

“Inculturation is not just acculturation, that is, an adaptation that introduces some elements of indigenous culture in the Christian liturgy. Inculturation goes further and deeper: It implies an interior penetration and a transformation of the culture from within”, writes Kasper.

The second change the cardinal suggests is to the Church’s discipline of celibacy for its priests.

“Celibacy is undoubtedly a value and a wealth of the Church that must be defended and promoted, but there is a hierarchy of values”, Kasper says.

“Celibacy is not the supreme value, which has priority over all values by divine law, such as the sacramental structure of the Church.

“Celibacy is a charism, a free gift from God, that wants to be accepted and lived in full freedom. Therefore, the theology of celibacy, however commendable, mustn’t be turned into an ideology. The Church should beseech God, but it can’t force it”, writes the cardinal.

“Celibacy can help and facilitate pastoral ministry, but it should not lead us to a Church of visits instead of a Church that remains, accompanies, is present and shares everyday life and serves to sanctify it”, Kasper continues.

“Therefore, one should listen to what the Spirit suggests to the Churches, [and] reflect and meditate conscientiously if in this situation it is desirable, with the consent of the Pope, to ordain to the priesthood men of proven faith who live married and family life”, Kasper argues.

“In the same way, it is necessary to identify what kind of official ministry can be granted to women, taking into account the important role that they already play in indigenous ecclesial communities”, the cardinal says.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.