Sandro Magister's latest column (Married Priests. The Germany-Brazil Axis) published today, carries more concrete proofs of Pope Francis' openness to creating "exceptions" to the law of priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite, with support from German and German-Brazilian clerics. This time we are no longer dealing with mere rumors or speculation, but direct affirmations by two well-known clerics who have corresponded or spoken with the Pope that he is indeed willing to consider the possibility of married Latin-Rite priests, at least in certain regions of the world (beginning with the Amazon), with the hope that the reform will then "develop a dynamic of its own".
Hand in hand with the push for married clergy is the call for openness to having "celibate" homosexual priests, which the German liberals evidently treat as part and parcel of any "solution" that relaxes the current laws regarding priestly celibacy.
Magister does not mention "decentralization" in relation to this issue, but it is clear that the issue of "regionalizing" the question of clerical celibacy is completely in line with it. Take note that the next meeting of the Council of Cardinals (February 8-9, 2016) will already discuss the decentralization of the Church. In that same month, Cardinal Baldisseri will convene a seminar with "specialists" that will discuss how to make the Catholic Church more "collegial" and "synodal" and how to further revise the synodal process itself.
Raising the issue of celibacy so soon after the debates over communion for "remarried divorcees" also risks causing splits among African Catholics; it is no secret that celibacy is a matter of controversy among many African Catholics who are otherwise conservative on matters of morality.
From Magister's column (emphases mine):
Last November 25, the “Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur,” the press agency of the German bishops, published news of the correspondence and of signals of “openness” from the pope. And on January 4, the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” interviewed [Benedictine theologian Wunibald] Müller and asked him for more details:
Q: You wrote a letter to Pope Francis.
A: I asked for a relaxation of celibacy. There should be married priests as well as celibate, homosexual as well as heterosexual.
Q: And the response?
A: Francis thanked me for my reflections, which made me very happy. He says that my proposals cannot be realized for the universal Church, but I think that this does not rule out solutions at the regional level. Francis has asked the Brazilian bishop Erwin Kräutler to find out if in his diocese there are married men, of proven experience, who could be ordained priests. The pope is seeking places where something can be changed that can then develop a dynamic of its own.
Erwin Kräutler ... the bishop who is retiring for reasons of age from the immense Amazonian prelature of Xingu but is still very active as secretary of the episcopal commission for the Amazon, is precisely the Brazilian bishop who a few days before Christmas had yet another conversation with Pope Francis about the possibility of recourse to a married clergy in territories dramatically devoid of celibate clergy.
Vatican Radio covered the news of the conversation between him and the pope in an interview with Kräutler on December 22:
Q: What did the pope say about communities without a priest to celebrate the Eucharist?
A: He told me that we must make concrete proposals. Even bold, daring proposals. He told me that we must have the courage to speak. He will not take the initiative on his own, but in listening to people. He wants the creation of a consensus and the beginning of attempts in a few regions aimed at making it possible for the people to celebrate the Eucharist. If one reads the apostolic exhortation of John Paul II “Dies Domini,” this says very clearly that there is no Christian community if there is no gathering around the altar. According to the will of God, then, we must open up ways so that this may happen. In Brazil a commission is already working on what these ways may be.
Q: So what should we expect on this point from the pontificate of Francis?
A: A turning point. Even more, we are already at a turning point. I believe we have already come to a point of no return. Even the next pope or the one after him will not be able to turn back from what Francis stands for and is doing today.
In a previous article of July 12, 2015 in the Italian magazine “Credere,” Kräutler had confirmed that “the pope asked the commission for the Amazon for a concrete proposal as far back as last April,” and since then “we have been hypothesizing a few ways for all communities to have the possibility of participating in the Eucharist more than three times a year.”
Among these “ways” is precisely the ordination of married men, in order to compensate for the fact that - as Kräutler went on to say - “for 800 communities we have only 30 priests, and the region is truly very vast.”
It must be said, however, that the lack of vocations to the priesthood in Brazil could also be due to the terrible example that part of the clergy of that country are giving, if there is truth in the depiction provided a while ago by a Catholic magazine as authoritative and unexceptionable as “Il Regno”:
“The faithful have no alternative but to gather in church to celebrate a sort of priestless Mass even in the cities where there is no lack of priests. On Sunday they could fan out to the various churches, but instead they prefer to concelebrate among themselves and leave the faithful to the mercy of unbridled fanatics, when the fanatics are not the celebrants themselves, who sometimes modify the liturgical texts as they please because they are not even capable of understanding them, who turn the singing of the Sanctus into a dance rhythm, who do not commemorate the pope, the bishop, the deceased. Priests so shiftless that typically on Mondays, like the barbers in Italy, they take a day off and do not celebrate Mass, not even in the cathedrals. Or do not visit the sick, do not bring viaticum, do not celebrate funerals. And they cannot always justify themselves by bringing up the scarcity of their numbers.”