Cardinals Parolin and Ouellet are lining up in defense of the celibacy of the Latin clergy, in a conference at the prestigious pontifical university. But once again the pope has let the German bishops know that he wants to break with this tradition
by Sandro Magister
ROME, February 4, 2016 – This afternoon at the Pontifical Gregorian University a conference will get underway that in many respects is surprising,
The surprise comes first of all from the theme: “Priestly celibacy, a journey of freedom.” A theme in stark contrast with the ever more frequent signals of an imminent relaxation of the discipline of celibacy for the Latin Catholic clergy, at the behest of Pope Francis:
> The Next Synod Is Already in the Works. On Married Priests (9.12.2015)
But also unusual is the status of the personalities who will speak at the conference.
The first speaker will be Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the congregation for bishops, who will talk about “Celibacy and Christ’s nuptial bond with the Church.” Ouellet belongs to the Society of Priests of Saint Sulpice, which has always been focused on the formation of candidates for the priesthood and the spiritual care of the clergy.
But the final speaker, on the morning of Saturday, February 6, will be Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state, who will talk about “The priest ordained ‘in persona Christi.’”
And right before Parolin the speaker will be Archbishop Joël Mercier, secretary of the Vatican congregation for the clergy, who will illustrate the 1967 encyclical of Paul VI “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” as “entirely valid in our own time as well.”
The complete program of the conference, curated by Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a psychiatrist and priest of the diocese of Paris, where he is also a professor at the Collège des Bernardins, is on the website of the Gregorian, the most prestigious of the Roman pontifical universities, managed by the Society of Jesus and currently headed by Fr. François-Javier Dumortier, a relator at the synod last October in the “Circulus gallicus B” headed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, certainly not an innovator:
> Il celibato sacerdotale, un cammino di libertà
The latest signal of Pope Francis’s intention to proceed with the ordination of married men to the priesthood came a few days ago from Germany, as was also the case with previous signals:
> Married Priests. The Germany-Brazil Axis (12.1.2016)
This time, the interpreter of pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s thought was the auxiliary bishop of Hamburg Hans-Jochen Jaschke, in an appearance on the television talk show “Nachtcafe.”
Jaschke, in recounting the meeting between the German bishops and the pope last November 20, said that when the discussion turned to the hypothesis of resorting to married priests in order to celebrate Mass in far-flung regions with a scarcity of clergy, especially in Latin America, Francis “made no sign of refusal.”
Of course, Jaschke added during the broadcast, the pope “is not a dictator” and will act so as to make such innovations “universally acceptable” to the Church as a whole. But the fact that he wants to proceed in this direction would seem to be a certainty.
These statements of the auxiliary bishop of Hamburg – together with others in favor of “a relaxed approach to the issue of homosexuality” – were reported on February 1 on Katholisch.de, the portal of the German episcopal conference:
> “Der Papst hat nicht abgewunken”
A rumor is also making the rounds among the bishops of Germany that while on his journey to Mexico in mid-February Francis is thinking of ordaining as priests several married deacons of the diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, in Chiapas.
But the first to contradict this rumor was the bishop of that diocese, Felipe Arzmendi Esquivel:
> The Other Chiapas. Indigenous Clergy Yes, But Celibate (12.12.2015)
And the next was the master of pontifical liturgical celebrations Guido Marini, who assured this website that during the journey to Mexico “at no Mass will the pope conduct ordinations.”
In any case, the November 20 meeting between the German bishops and the pope has left a rather lively aftermath, even apart from the question of married priests.
As he almost always does at the end of visits “ad limina,” this time as well Francis did not read the speech prepared for the occasion, but simply gave out the text, preferring to spend the time in an informal conversation.
Only that when the German bishops read that text addressed to them, they found it tremendously punitive.
And it’s perfectly true. In the written text there is an implacable harangue against all the disasters produced in recent years by the pastors of the Church of Germany, culminating in a genuine “erosion of the Catholic faith”:
> “Dear Brothers…”
And in fact Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and president of the German bishops, as well as being a member of the council of nine cardinals who assist the pope, says that he asked Francis about that speech and was assured that he knew nothing about the text, and hadn’t even read it.
In effect, there was not even a trace of Bergoglio’s style, nor of his fondness for the German episcopate, in that text which instead seemed to have come from the “workshop” of Benedict XVI, almost a sequel to the memorable rebuke that he issued in Freiburg on September 25, 2011, to a German Church excessively “satisfied with itself and at ease with the criteria of the world,” instead of with “her vocation to openness towards God, her vocation to opening up the world towards the other”:
> “Dear Brother Bishops and Priests…”
Returning to the speech disowned by Pope Francis, if one really wants to assign it to an author the imagination goes straight to Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, a countryman and longstanding adversary of the reformist Marx, in addition to being the little-heeded guardian, today, of the dogma and discipline of the Church.